The Perfect Frisbee Toss

Dec 21, 2021 | Biography, Coaching, Shared thoughts

Photo by Josh Rocklage on Unsplash

My three sons and I are fantastic Frisbee throwers and catchers. Please excuse the modesty failure, but we are. I’m trying to apply a couple of meta-truths from that excellence to other areas of my life.

Five or six years ago, while on a caravan holiday, the four of us found a patch of land, spread out, and started throwing in a cycle, the same order, over and over. Two of the ‘legs’ were diagonals and the others were sides of our square. After a bit of a warm-up, we began counting to see how many consecutive throws we could complete without a failed catch. Earlier that year, we had exceeded 150.

Keep in mind that my youngest would have only been around 11 or 12 at the time. The cycle came around to him every four throws, for both a catch and a throw. I’m proudest of him for standing up to the pressure of seeing himself as the weakest link. That day, we reached the record we’ve never beaten – 345 consecutive throws and catches without a drop.

Now, we probably hadn’t reached the mythical 10,000 hour mark in building to our mastery, but we had played with the Frisbee A LOT. Our sessions often took place in a park with plenty of other people and activities around, and with a funky cafe overlooking from the hillside. We would notice the patrons watching us and sometimes hear them commenting. Ego boost. There, I’ve admitted it. Regulars would see us weekend after weekend.

With all of those throws and catches, a number of shifts happened in our skills, but the one I want to talk about (which we’ve spoken of amongst ourselves) is how our throws improved as we stopped trying to aim them. By improved, I mean they went more perfectly where we intended them to go, as if we were aiming them. This may strike many of you as odd, but those who were pitchers on their baseball or softball teams will know what I mean.

Once we relaxed from aiming the Frisbee and instead let our bodies and eyes cooperate without our minds getting in the way, the throws began to arrive with spooky consistency right into the ‘sweet spot’ of the catcher’s reach at chest level.

Another thing happened that supported this relaxation. Once we passed a certain threshold of competence, we really just began enjoying ourselves without overthinking or fuss. We took delight in the activity and in sharing it with one another. The budding mastery, the physical flow and the communal aspect all conspired to just make it a hell of a lot of fun.

Without wanting to stretch ‘lessons’ too far, what are some things I take from this?

  • Consistent practice and application were the foundation. None of this appeared simply from bright ideas and good intentions.
  • We did care about doing it ‘right’ for a while, paying attention to the motion that constituted a good throw and how to watch the Frisbee into our hands for the catch. We didn’t just monkey around (although maybe that would have been fun in its own right).
  • As our competence grew, so did our trust in ourselves and in each others’ ability. This in turn allowed us to relax, focusing less on doing it ‘right’ and more on the beauty of these throws (at first occasional, then growing in regularity) that traveled as if on a string to the effortless grasp of the receiver.
  • Even as we brought in games of measurement and ‘achievement’, somehow this momentum toward relaxation and enjoyment persisted. We didn’t crank back up the perfectometer.
  • I still think back on that simple activity that brought delight both to us and to onlookers, testament to the power of pure enjoyment in our lives.

What is the analogy in broader life of the ‘aiming’ that we had to move beyond to reach the mastery we did? What (if anything) is the generalised meta-lesson? 

Maybe this. Some things (happiness, peace, and success are good candidates, I think) are best pursued indirectly (not aiming). Reaching for them directly is like reaching for one magnet while holding another, with identical poles facing one another. As you near it, it moves away, repelled by your very approach.

What might be the aims that deliver these tricky ones as by-products? What about growth, curiosity, mastery, adventure, enjoyment, autonomy, love, service? These are often included in lists of intrinsic motivations. Maybe happiness, peace and success travel in their wake.

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