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Is Silence Really Golden?


Is silence taking the joy out of spectating? Photo: Dan "Stork" Roddick

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of DiscGolfer Magazine.

OK...I realize that some readers may not love these ideas. I just wanted to get them out there and hope you’ll at least give them some thought.

Here’s the thing: We have the opportunity to make our games as fun and satisfying as we possibly can. Most other parts of our lives are just not like that. Try changing how your boss sees the world or revamping our immigration policy. Our ability to change such things is very, very limited. A refreshing exception to that is these games that we so recently invented for ourselves. We still determine how they will be played — that’s really quite extraordinary. An individual PDGA member can actually make a big change in the game over a pretty short period of time. Member suggestions are frequently put into play rather quickly — not just rule changes, but how we play the game. Local clubs often come up with innovations that spread very quickly.

In this article, I’m asking that we reconsider one aspect of how we have chosen to play the game. In the very beginning of competitive play, we found ourselves inevitably attempting to emulate our older cousins who play golf with a stick and a ball. For simplicity, I call that game “bolf.” Now there are lots of admirable things about that ancient game, and many of them that it is to our advantage to adopt. However, I also think that there is one particular feature that we have taken on to our detriment.

how_quiet_is_too_quiet_by_janet_capanna.jpg

The author of the article, Dan "Stork" Roddick, pokes fun at the need for quiet. Photo: Janet Capanna

Is Ball Golf the Right Model?

As you know, the ball hitters have come to the conclusion that they can only swing the club effectively in complete silence. That results in a tremendous amount of effort to control spectators at events. There are legions of marshals assigned specifically to make sure that the gallery is dead quiet at the moment of the sacred swing. That’s right — we have attempted to construct an 18-hole sports church, or maybe a library. Admittedly, part of the reason for the silence is it makes the activity seem more important. The fact is, there’s no real reason that silence is required to execute a golf swing. It’s all about the context that we have chosen to create. We need only compare a throw with a player shooting a foul shot in the NBA finals; there are 30,000 people screaming and the player calmly strokes it through the net. In many ways, it’s a challenge similar to putting in both bolf and disc golf.

Yeti Wins a World Championship With the Crowd Cheering

Of course, other sports insist on this same kind of silence. Bowling traditionally quiets the crowd prior to the player’s approach to the line. However, there is a current series of tournaments that actually encourages fans to express themselves as the bowlers are playing. It should be noted that there doesn’t seem to be any reduction in the effectiveness of the bowlers in that noisy environment, and it’s clearly a good bit more fun for the spectators. Speaking of which, we have some history of that ourselves. In 2008 at the Pro/Am World Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jay “Yeti” Reading won his first (of, count ‘em, five) World Putting Championships in a theater in front of 1,000 fans. As Yeti recalls, it was hard to keep the crowd completely quiet for the three finalists. So, rather than chance being distracted by some random yahoo, Yeti decided to encourage the crowd to cheer him on during his putts.

It was epic. They hooted and hollered and Yeti drained putt after putt to take the title.

Actually, I’m guessing that almost all readers here would reluctantly agree that disc golfers could throw their shots even if they didn’t have complete quiet. That’s because we do it all the time in practice. That’s the “normal” way to play.

So it comes down to weighing the costs and rewards of both options. Increasingly, I have felt that the costs of silence are unnecessarily burdensome for spectators, organizers and even players — especially when I see new spectators at one of our events who are intimidated by all the expectations. Not only is it often difficult for them to determine where the flight paths are going to be, but they also have to keep themselves and their children dead silent (and still) so as not to disturb any surrounding players. It’s just not that fun. In fact, it feels pretty grim. Is that really what we want?

Expectation of Silence Can Backfire

Organizers, of course, have to also be prepared to enforce these expected standards. I included players in those sharing the burden because I truly believe that this expectation of silence works against the best chances of full concentration and focusing on execution of the task at hand. Seriously … the distraction expands to fill the space. Once the gallery has been silenced, now the player’s ear is attentive to the unexpected squawk of a bird or the click of a camera. It’s ridiculous, but true. I’ve seen almost imperceptible distractions disrupt players, let alone the one clown who yells, “MISS IT, NOONAN!”

Of course, the same is true of visuals. We have come to the agreement that we owe a player a completely still background. This often includes movement that is quite far away. Players wait for distant traffic to clear from neighboring roadways. Woe be to the hapless spectator who mistakenly adjusts her hat or picks up his child during a player’s putting motion. I think that we end up creating an unnecessarily sterile setting in which spectators are much less likely to cheer great shots and enjoy our play.

And again, we simply must remember that in baseball, hockey, soccer, football and many other sports that players routinely make critical plays while taking little notice of raucous noise and chaotic visuals. Of course, they do just fine. It’s all in how we choose to define the situation. I’m not suggesting that we have galleries actively taunting the players; we should obviously follow our courtesy rules and common sense. I’m just hoping that we can allow more normal activity while we play. Traffic should not need to stop. People in the gallery should be able to enjoy the moment without fear of being tarred and feathered.

OK, well, I warned you that this might not be love at first sight. I’m just hoping that our readers will consider this possibility and think about their mentality when they play.

For my part, I think I’m going to start giving out a mini that reads, in part, "I play 'No Worries' golf. When I'm throwing, you're welcome to do whatever you like" to players in my group before we tee off.

Then, if some others enjoy doing the same, maybe we’ll end up offering some events that are announced as “No Worries” rounds. Seeing those experiments is really the only way we will be able find out if we like it. I truly think we would be happier with our game and further favorably distinguish ourselves from other sports.

no-worries-mini-yellow.jpgAnd while we’re next door to the subject, let’s not continue to perpetuate the silly “don’t nice my disc” thing. It’s just another way to lose focus and shift blame. The disc is gone. Nothing we can do now will have any effect on the outcome of your shot. If someone is kind enough to compliment your throw, just say, “Thanks.” If, unfortunately, something unlucky happens to your disc, it was still a good throw. Such things happen. We’ll all throw better if we can free our minds from such distractions. A nice throw is a nice throw.

Life is short. Have fun out there.

Comments

Submitted by Cphil58016 on

I respectfully disagree. The silence is a courtesy to the individuals who are playing under high pressure conditions that FEW of us will understand and/or experience in our disc golf careers.

Disc Golf has evolved to the point that it is a ONLY source of income for a great number of professional players, therefore EVERY SHOT matters.

Is it REALLY that difficult to be courteous to the players that we can't allow them the best circumstances to perform their shots ?

If you feel the need to yell and scream while watching an event....there are two options.

1) Cheer for the person or persons AFTER the shot is complete

or

2) Sit in the comfort of your home, watch the live (or delayed) coverage of the event and yell your fool head off !

With all due respect, Dan....even with your Disc Golf accomplishments you haven't played in front of the huge galleries that are often present at modern day PDGA Majors, so there is no way for you to put yourself in their shoes.

I say...…..be courteous.....and cheer & clap & stomp your feet at the appropriate times !

It IS fun...….AND respectful at the same time.

Submitted by Stork on

Hey Cphil,

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’m sure there are a good many readers who had similar reactions. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised with the response to the article. I assumed that almost everyone would disagree. Your well-stated points led me to think about the situation a bit more.

This isn’t only about big gallery, pro finals. My guess is that the tension of those situations will always produce a subdued crowd. But, as we know, this expectation of silence (and motionlessness) has migrated all the way down to even the lowest levels of competitive play.

The motivation for the article is my feeling that the expectation of complete stillness and silence brings some clear negatives for players and the game. We all want the best situation for players to play well. And, I have come to believe that a player’s concentration is actually at more risk in such a vacuum. For one, we all know players who clearly spend a good part of their energy and attention insisting on the silence rather than focusing on the execution of their shot. But even more of a problem is that in dead quiet any unexpected sound can be unsettling. We’ve seen it happen. A huge gallery is dead silent and the player gets spooked by the click of a camera shutter. I contend that the player may be better off playing with the expectation of some normal background noise. I’m certainly not suggesting intentionally disruptive behavior. I’m fully in favor of our current courtesy rules. They are common sense and should be enforced as needed.

In comparison, however, it is worth remembering the NBA example. They have top athletes executing very similar skills in front of much bigger crowds for much bigger money. And they get it done very effectively despite the crowd’s best efforts to distract them. it’s all a matter of the expectations we set.

This piece was mainly a social psychological observation to stimulate some counterintuitive thinking and productive exchange. My hope is that it might help us find the most enjoyable and effective way to play our game.

Again, many thanks for reading the article and taking the time to put forth your useful response.
Stork #003

Submitted by davidbraud on

Cphil58016 - This is an interesting thread and I have read all the way to the bottom of it. I think that Stork wasn't encouraging a loud and raucous environment - or taunting other players - just saying that in general, we've gotten a bit high-maintenance. I think you are right that at NT events or other really big final rounds at tournaments folks should be quiet and stay pretty still, but when I'm at my local bag tag and golfers expect sacred silence it just seems a bit much. I'm an MP40 guy these days and so we're naturally a little more chill, but don't you think that the spirit of this game should encourage being a little less stuffy?

Submitted by Dgarc7 on

Great idea! I don’t think it’s discourteous at all if the expectation is there will be noise. Personally I think it would make it a lot more exciting for spectators and players!

Submitted by Cphil58016 on

That's the issue. There is NO expectation of noise. You are suggesting that the whole process be turned upside down, and that the players NOW are to be expected to perform under NEW conditions. Completely abandoning the YEARS of training, and preparation and normalcy that exists in today's Disc Golf environment.

The NBA comparison is an apples to oranges comparison, for many of the same reasons. The crowd noise is less effective in that venue because THOSE athletes have become accustomed to the noise in that arena.....it is the NORMAL for that sport.

OF course I understand that there are two sides to this argument, and I'm not saying it is wrong to have an opinion one way or another. I have been involved in disc golf for 40 years, and I believe asking these great athletes to suddenly adjust to a RAUCUS crowd cheering while they are trying to line up a potential World Championship putt might be too much to ask. Remember the NBA player has CONDITIONED himself to perform in certain conditions...…….the same should be considered for the professional disc golfer.

I believe Silence (in this case) is INDEED golden.

Peace.

Submitted by Dgarc7 on

I can see why it seems like it would be turning the sport upside down. But I wonder what it would be like if an athlete learned to focus on one thing, execution.

Submitted by Cphil58016 on

Tell me how LOUD and RAUCUS spectators would allow a player to "focus on one thing" ??

This idea ranks right up there with making the disc golf baskets smaller because too many circle 2 putts are being made.

Research how many MAJOR events in 2019 were LOST due to LOW putting percentages !!!!

I say this one last thing, and then will opt out of this discussion.

If it's NOT BROKEN, don't "FIX" it !!

Submitted by htstngr on

If athletes of other sports can learn to focus on execution, rather than the crowd, so can Disc Golf athletes. As far as asking these athletes to change their years of training...Many “Bolf” professional golfers change their entire swing mid career, change can happen. The vision I see on this topic isn’t the “Raucous” crowd you describe but a crowd that can cheer, encourage, and maybe even help a player get a little more pumped up with the crowds help when driving. I know some players really enjoy this. I understand that visions can be different. I don’t think anyone is trying to fix anything. This is just a discussion. Wether or not this qualifies as broken or fixed depends on your perspective I guess. Have a great day

Submitted by Cphil58016 on

Changing your swing could be compared to changing discs, or switching to a straddle putt. It has nothing to do with dealing with loud, raucous, possibly verbally disrespectful crowds.

Again, comparing apples and oranges.

I have been involved in disc golf for 40 years. If I was suddenly told that I need to "get used to" loud crowd noise, which would, of course, include people rooting AGAINST people who are in competition with a favorite player. That's not acceptable. A BAD idea.

In my humble opinion. Why submit these athletes to something that COULD effect outcomes of MAJOR disc golf events that are totally not necessary? I have attended DOZENS of disc golf events....enjoyed every single one of them, and NEVER came away thinking, "I wish I could have screamed my fool head off while players were trying to make a shot". Never once.

This is my opinion, an informed opinion. Believe me, players are pumped up during these events, I know they appreciate the spectators, LOVE the spectators. So we should afford them the same respect and let them concentrate and FOCUS on their game. Not waste their efforts trying to overcome some possible verbal negativity, that would most assuredly take place.

Peace...…..Out

Submitted by ShayneSL on

I agree. My reason is : most tournament players i know mostly play/practice with other tournament players and practice as close to tournament conditions as possible so they have spent years conditioning them self for the conditions tournaments will bring. Practice how you want to perform. Casual rounds in my opinion are important as well but for the constant struggle to be consistent and for those that have conditioned themselves for years for tournament play this would be a problem not for all but some. Unless everyone was on board which is next to impossible to expect then the benefit would not go to the payer. Just my opinion.

I love it. There is a huge difference between being intentionally distracting and normal noise levels. These stuffed shirts who insist on silence are just making excuses for their poor putting.

Submitted by Cphil58016 on

Well, Timothy while I appreciate your taking the time to read this thread, you clearly have misunderstood it's intent.

It's not just about putting, it's about showing respect, and allowing these amazing athletes the best possible conditions in which to compete and be successful.

Judging by your PDGA number you are fairly new to this sport, and don't understand or appreciate the pressure these people are facing. EVERY SHOT matters....not just the putt.

I have stated my OPINION, nothing more, nothing less. I'm not claiming to be right, or even in the majority. I can only speak for myself. I have attended dozens of events, I have been a TD, and have promoted both events, and individual players.

I am NOT a professional player, and (like you) have never had the pressure of putting for a championship, or even in the hopes to MAKE A LIVING at this sport.

My opinion is based on common courtesy, nothing more, nothing less. Maybe the touring pro's would disagree with my opinion. But without that kind of input....without ASKING the PROFESSIONALS we have no way to know how they feel on this subject.

Like I said, (on several occasions now) this is just my opinion.

My 2 cents...(and may not even be worth that much.....)

Peace.....ROC the chains !!!

Submitted by davidbraud on

Dan - I love this concept! My putting suffers quite a bit in tournament play as I oftentimes stress out over short 10-20 foot putts. I think the silence and zero movement might actually create a more stressful situation where I tense up. I also think this game that we love has gotten just a bit too serious and keeping it casual will keep it fun! Thanks for your thoughts! Cheers, David Braud #15849

Submitted by gnduke on

My expectation is consistency, I don't care whether there is noise/conversation/crowds or silence when I am trying to make a shot, as long as is it somewhat consistent. An abrupt change to the sound level is distracting.

I think it is normally easier to be consistently silent than consistently noisy. I agree with Yeti's actions for the same reasons he explained. In that situation it was easier to maintain a consistent level of noise than impose silence on the crowd.

Submitted by brian2 on

I think most players would be ok with consistent background noise. If we allowed that we would have someone that would take advantage of it and start making loud or annoying noises to distract players. Then you would need to define what is acceptable as noise. It is much easier to tell everyone to be quiet.

So a real world example. A player in my flight was teeing off and another player crushed his pop can with his foot as the player was releasing his disc. The player throwing was distracted by the noise and it caused him to flinch resulting in a throw that landed on a tee pad. In our club if a disc lands on a tee pad the offending player has to pay a dollar to each person in the flight. So it cost $4.00. It is too hard to monitor noise levels and I think it is best not to permit noise. Also I'm tired of players walking in front of me when I'm throwing. Everyone should stand behind the thrower not in front. Many times I'm ready to release and someone always walks between me and the basket. And this was done to me multiple times by one of the top players in my state. I believe in rules and decorum, and in disc golf thst seems to going out the door. Also golf means club in Scottish. So don't try to change meanings of words.

Strongly disagree with the sentiment in this article. I enjoy the fact that the sport of disc golf is becoming more professional. I know Steady Ed said "he who has the most fun wins", but the reality is that whoever has the lowest score wins. Sorry Stork, but this sentiment seems to be coming from a different era of the sport.

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