Almost anyone can play disc golf, and that includes children. Since being good at disc golf is largely a matter of technique and tactics, it's a great alternative to the many sports where inherent size, strength, and/or speed advantage some kids and disadvantage others, e.g., basketball, volleyball, soccer, and so on.
But effectively and safely teaching kids to play disc golf involves a lot more than putting discs in little hands and letting your pupils chuck their way toward baskets. To help you learn more about the right way to introduce youth to disc golf, we talked with Zoe AnDyke, the director and founder of disc golf education non-profit Universal Play Disc Golf (Uplay). With Uplay, AnDyke has taught thousands of kids how to play disc golf and discovered plenty about what does and doesn't work along the way.
Recently, AnDyke and others who work with Uplay collected the knowledge they've gleaned from hundreds of gym class takeovers and other events into a book: Uplay Disc Golf Basics: The Fundamentals of How to Play and Teach Disc Golf. Though what you'll find below is a great start for any would-be youth disc golf instructor, it's just the tip of the iceberg compared to the detailed information and many skill-building games in Uplay's book.
At What Age Can Kids Start Learning Disc Golf?
Between five and six years old is when most kids will be ready to learn disc golf in a group setting. For one-on-one instruction, kids can be even younger, but with groups, they'll need to be able to follow basic instructions, communicate easily, and control impulses that could cause safety issues.
"As long as a child is physically able to be in school and communicate their needs, they're ready to play disc golf," AnDyke said.
Best Group Size for Teaching Disc Golf
With children ages nine and below, the student-to-instructor ratio during a disc golf learning experience shouldn't exceed 6-to-1. With older students, that ratio could go up to 10-to-1, but only if the instructor is experienced with managing groups of young people.
"Groups of between seven and ten are manageable [with older students], but it all has to do with individual comfort level supervising children," AnDyke advised.
Keep in mind this doesn't mean that kids can't learn disc golf in groups larger than six or 10. It's just that once you go over those totals, you should make sure there are other adults who can help you teach and supervise.
How to Make Disc Golf Safety Easy for Kids
Safety is the biggest concern when teaching disc golf. You have to reduce the chances that a flying disc will come into contact with a human being to as close to zero as possible.
Some precautions are likely obvious, such as spacing students appropriately and assuring one group is never throwing toward another. Instructors also need to make extra sure they themselves are in safe positions and never forget how unpredictably a disc can leave the hand of a beginner.
Along with these basics, AnDyke offered up some great tricks that make throwing quickly and recklessly less appealing to students:
- Teach challenges that make kids want to keep discs near them.
Whether it's challenging kids to balance a disc on their heads or seeing how many times they can get a disc to spin without it ever going up in the air, encouraging them to do something fun with discs that doesn't involve throwing is a great and subtle way to promote safety.
"The first thing I do with safety is paint it as a fidget skill," AnDyke explained. "When we're standing in a circle or I'm standing in front of everyone, the first group challenge is to just spin-catch, spin-catch without the disc really becoming airborne. Then I challenge them to see how many spins they can get, and we talk about how fun of a fidget skill this is while we're waiting in line. It not only helps them build muscle memory of that wrist-hinge but gives them something fun to do while they wait where the whole goal is for the disc not to fly in the air."
- Don't let kids retrieve discs until everyone has thrown.
AnDyke also said that if you're doing any sort of putting or driving drill where discs fly, always 1) have a specific point where kids throw from and 2) never let kids retrieve their disc(s) while other kids in line still have one. Instead, once a student has thrown, have them go directly to the back of the line, leaving their disc wherever it landed. Once everyone in line has thrown and there are no more discs flying, the students can all go get their discs at the same time without worrying that an impatient person in line will let fly while they do.
Using this policy also reduces the incentive to break in line or throw quickly. The faster you throw, the faster you don't have a disc. And if you've taught the challenges mentioned in the previous bullet point, many kids will want to hold on to their disc as long as possible because it has become a source of entertainment while they wait.
How to Structure a Disc Golf Lesson
Uplay has tested many formulas for teaching kids disc golf, and one of them has become their go-to. To do all the steps below, you'll probably need a minimum of two hours but can easily stretch them to fill two and a half to three.
1. A Game of Catch
If time allows for you to get to know your students, playing catch is a great starting point for any lesson. Ideally, you'd bring a normal Frisbee or a very gummy putter, but you could also play with a normal putter if kids are at an age where they can toss it safely to one another. Alternately, kids can just pass the disc to the person next to them if throwing seems unsafe.
AnDyke's favorite version of this introductory game mimics one most people have done at camps, team building events, or classes at school:
- Gather the group in a circle.
- You (the instructor) explain that you'll say your name and toss the disc safely to someone else. When they catch it, they say their name before passing it on, etc. Students should always toss the disc to someone who hasn't caught it yet.
- After everyone in the group has had a turn, do the same thing again but add a new element, e.g., name + favorite food. Follow the same process as before and make sure each student catches the disc once.
- If time allows, add a third element in the next round, e.g., name + favorite food + favorite animal noise (AnDyke particularly loves the noise).
- If time allows, you could do a final round where people have to say all the info about another person before they toss it to them.
"It's always nice for people to understand who they're hanging out with and playing with," AnDyke said.
2. Disc Golf Warm-Up
Though it's lower-impact than many sports, disc golf still requires powerful athletic movements and for bodies to move in ways they're often not used to. That's why it's important to get going with a warm-up.
The one Uplay uses is Seth Munsey's Disc Golf Strong warm-up, which you can see below:
3. Talk a Little About Disc Golf
After kids have had a chance to get to know you and gotten warmed up, gather everyone and explain the basics of disc golf. Maybe show off a bit to get the kids excited about what's possible with discs, too.
Here are some good things to do:
- Talk about the basic goal of disc golf: Getting a disc into a basket in as few throws as possible.
- Make a putt or two to show kids when a disc is "in" the basket and to get those chains clanging. Kids love the clanging.
- If space allows, throw a pretty long forehand and/or backhand and watch kids' eyes go wide as the disc flies into the distance.
This isn't the time to go into any detailed rules about disc golf like throwing order, foot faults, and so on. Keep it light and fun to build up excitement.
4. Teach Disc Golf Putting
Putting is the best skill to start a lesson with because it offers a clear goal and, as you might guess, kids simply love throwing discs into chains. You should teach both stagger stance (AnDyke calls this "track stance") and straddle stance. If you're not sure what we mean by those stances, check out the video linked below in '2. Technique.'
Here are the basic steps for teaching disc golf putting:
- Grip: Teach students how to hold a disc during a putting stroke (thumb on top, pointer on rim, other fingers spread out on the bottom).
- Technique: Demonstrate how to shift weight to add power and accuracy to a putt rather than doing everything with just the arm. Have students go through the motions slowly without throwing their discs. If you'd like some examples, you can check out a beginners' video on disc golf putting from AnDyke we included in our post "5 Great Videos: How To Throw In Disc Golf (Beginners)."
- Organized practice: Place Marker 1 in front of a basket at an appropriate distance for the age group you're working with. AnDyke recommends three meters/10 feet for students under 10 and five meters/16 feet for older students (one big adult step equals about one meter). Place Marker 2 about two meters/6.5 feet behind Marker 1. Students line up behind Marker 2 and, when it's one student's turn to putt, that student steps up to Marker 1. The two markers assure the student putting has space to comfortably throw. After a student attempts a putt, they don't retrieve their disc and instead go immediately to the back of the line.
Once all students have thrown, everyone retrieves discs and lines back up behind Marker 2.
Repeat this practice until all students have successfully made a putt (time allowing).
- Game(s): After students get a feel for putting, turn the fun up a notch by playing a competitive game. An easy one is a relay to see which team of students can all make a putt the fastest using just one disc per team. They pass the disc off after making a putt like it's a baton in a typical relay race. Uplay's book mentioned in this post's intro has a ton more putting game options, too.
Depending on how much time you have, you can do this sequence twice, one for stagger/track stance and one for straddle. Alternatively, you can show both during the "technique" section, have kids alternate during the practice, and then have them choose their favorite for the game.
5. Teach a Backhand Disc Golf Throw
The structure for teaching disc golf backhand throws is very similar to putting:
- Grip: The most important things to emphasize when teaching backhand grip are: 1) Getting pointer fingers under the discs rather than on the rims and 2) making sure thumbs aren't too close to the edges of discs. Other than that, demonstrate a four-finger power grip and a fan/control grip (check out a video on disc golf grip basics if those terms are unfamiliar to you) and have students mimic you. Ultimately, students will likely figure out quickly which grip feels best to them.
- Technique: Foot placement (toe of back foot even with heel of front), bent knees, shift weight to back foot while turning shoulders away from target so throwing arm is straight out from shoulder and non-throwing arm is down by the side, use hips and lower body to bring disc forward with elbow leading.
It's also a good idea to make students aware of what rounding is and why it's detrimental, but you don't need to go deeply into it.
Do slow, no-throw run-throughs of this before practicing.
- Organized practice: Follow the same methods with the markers as with putting. This time, move the baskets about 20 meters/66 feet away for students 10 and under and 30 meters for older students. Tell students the goal is to get near the basket. Aces are great but unlikely, and flying way too far is a sign of good form but wouldn't be good in a round of disc golf.
- Games: Use some games to make things interesting. Again, you can do a relay where everyone in line has to get the disc in the basket (for this, have them throw backhand from the marker and then throw from where the disc lands until they get it in the basket). Like before, Uplay's book (see this post's intro) has quite a few other fun options for backhand practice games.
A good note here is that you should just focus on students releasing flat when introducing backhand throws. Talking about hyzer or anhyzer angles is a topic for a multi-day set of lessons.
6. Teach a Disc Golf Forehand Throw
Forehand is often the most difficult throw for people to learn – unless they have a natural talent for it or an athletic background that makes it intuitive. If you're really strapped for time, you may even consider nixing extended forehand practice and games and just demonstrate the forehand grip and motion so that students are aware it exists and can try it themselves.
That said, it's clearly valuable for new players to develop forehands, and – you guessed it! – you teach them with the same process as the previous throwing styles:
- Grip: AnDyke said forehand grip is one of the strangest things to kids because they typically have no experience with the movements or physics behind the throw.
"They don't get the wrist hinge and that they're pressing the wall of the disc forward," AnDyke said. "They hold it awkwardly and dead-air spin it – it doesn't even spin half the time."
AnDyke said you'll probably need to physically place some kids' fingers in the right place.
However, another important note from AnDyke is that with younger students with smaller hands, you shouldn't be concerned about how many fingers are under the disc. Some kids find success using three or even four finger grips during the forehand motion and, in AnDyke's opinion, that's fine. At this point, doing what's successful is far more important than doing what's "right."
- Technique: Foot placement (lead toe toward basket, other foot at an angle that allows hips to move weight backward), bent knees, shift weight to back foot while disc goes slightly upward and back, use hips and lower body to bring disc forward while trying to keep disc parallel with the ground. Emphasize keeping the hand flat and not rolling the wrist (but also know that almost every student will roll their wrist to start).
Do slow, no-throw run-throughs of this sequence before practicing.
- Organized practice: Follow the same methods with the markers as with putting. Like with backhand practice, baskets should be about 20 meters/66 feet away for students 10 and under and 30 meters for older students.
- Games: Again, a relay is a great option here, but you can find a ton more options in Uplay's book (see this post's intro).
7. Play a Round of Disc Golf
After students have learned and practiced the basic disc golf skills, it's time to actually play disc golf. Here are the most important things to emphasize:
- Throwing order is determined by who's farthest from the basket.
- For safety, stay behind players who are throwing and don't run up ahead to your disc.
- Gentle reminders that falling putts within 10 meters/33 feet of the basket are not allowed.
If you're not doing your lesson in a place with a course, you'll need to set up your own. Here are suggestions when setting up your course:
- Keep holes short.
"Distance is not valuable in the beginning," AnDyke said. "100-foot [30-meter] holes are totally appropriate and – guess what? – more fun."
- Keep holes safe.
Organize your baskets and tees in a way that reduces the chances of anyone getting hit with a disc to an absolute minimum.
- If short on baskets, use multiple tees to single baskets.
If you want to create a six or nine-hole loop but don't have that many baskets, consider placing tees in various locations that play to the same basket. If playing in multiple groups, just make sure you set up the course so that no groups are ever playing to the same basket simultaneously and won't have huge wait times because one set of tees to one basket is way easier than another.
- If short on obstacles, use markers/cones to force shot shapes.
You might find yourself teaching disc golf in open fields with few obstacles to make a course interesting. To add some challenge, you can place markers or cones at strategic points on your fairways and tell students they have to throw to the left or right of them to complete the hole. You can either create a drop zone or, if that's too complicated, just make students who pass the marker in the wrong direction play back around it in the right direction.
8. Let Students Know How to Keep Playing Disc Golf
The students who really enjoyed your lesson will want to know how they can play again. Give them information about where they can buy discs nearby and how to find courses (friendly hint: there are international store and course directories in the UDisc app).
Additionally, encourage them to tell friends and family about disc golf and show them what they learned.
Other Important Parts of Teaching Disc Golf to Kids
AnDyke had a few more great pieces of advice anyone teaching disc golf to young people should keep in mind.
Fun Trumps Technical Perfection
Making sure students are excited to throw is way more important than overburdening them with advice on how to improve their throwing style.
"Always focus on fun and success first," AnDyke said. "A kid may be able to throw it in or near the basket without good technique, and that's successful."
Since Uplay works with many pro disc golfers who are familiar with the mechanics of disc golf but not education, she often coaches them before sessions on how to give kids appropriate feedback. Her suggestion to them is to pick just one thing to tell students they can improve after any given throw. More than one is too much.
And if their form is already perfect?
"That's great!" AnDyke said. "You give them a high five and say, 'Great shot!'."
Don't Let Equipment Stop You From Teaching Kids Disc Golf
AnDyke said something that frustrates her is when people who'd like to teach disc golf to kids don't do so because they're worried they don't have the 'right' discs.
"Some have the mistaken belief that children should only be throwing lightweight and gummy plastic," AnDyke said. "I've heard time and again that people can't get 150-class discs, so they just aren't out teaching kids...but just having access to discs and getting to throw them is better than not."
In essence, if you can get a supply of any remotely appropriate discs, whether putters, mids, or drivers, they'll do the job you want: Getting discs in kids' hands and letting them try the sport out.
If Alone, Have Backup Ready to Help
With an outdoor sport like disc golf, you never know if a bee sting, a twisted ankle, or some other emergency will pop up. AnDyke said if you're planning to run a disc golf teaching session by yourself, it's good to inform someone who's nearby and available to come help should you need it.
Where Can I Get More Information About Teaching Kids Disc Golf?
As we've mentioned a few times above, the best place we know of to get more details about teaching disc golf to youth is Uplay Disc Golf Basics: The Fundamentals of How to Play and Teach Disc Golf. In it are more extensive details and tons of visual examples related to all the information above as well as sections and drills for teaching different throw angles and practicing accuracy.