Like traditional golfers or tennis players, disc golfers who get serious about the game typically want to get better as quickly as possible. In those mainstream sports, there's a ready supply of certified instructors in most areas meeting the demand from people willing to pay to expedite their improvement.
In disc golf, that's not the case.
Occasionally there are local pros who offer lessons or one of the world's best disc golfers comes to town while on tour and puts on a clinic. But great players don't always make great instructors, and in a sport like disc golf with little history of formal coaching, some of the advice experienced players give could be based on outdated notions of good disc golf form.
And even if the advice learners receive during these one-off lessons is top-notch, it's not the same as feeling accountable to someone who they'll see for weeks straight and whose sole profession is helping others improve at the sport.
One person who has recognized this gaping hole in the market is Josh White, part of the duo behind popular disc golf instruction YouTube channel Overthrow Disc Golf. Formerly a full-time professional tennis coach, Josh – who has a wife and two children – switched his primary job to disc golf instruction and content creation just a year after launching the Overthrow channel.
In true modern fashion, he does the majority of his instruction virtually. Students send him videos of their latest field work, Josh analyzes them before a coaching session starts, and they have a conversation about his findings in a Zoom call. Josh demonstrates the drills and exercises most likely to fix students' biggest problem areas, and the students are expected to practice and make more film for the next session.
We spoke with Josh about how his background as a tennis coach prepared him for his new profession, current trends in disc golf instruction, as well as his ambitions to help formalize disc golf coaching methods and expand the network of knowledgeable, capable disc golf instructors.
From Tennis to Disc Golf To Tennis To Disc Golf
Josh first took up tennis seriously during high school, playing what he called "an absurd amount." In college, he had a group of friends who traveled often and played disc golf everywhere they went. He fell for the new sport and dropped playing tennis completely for five years while he scratched the disc golf itch.
Then, much like a ball being batted back-and-forth across a court, Josh got into tennis again when he landed a job as an instructor for a local club with help from his friend – and future co-founder of Overthrow Disc Golf – Mikey O'Brien who was already working there (also as an instructor). For this new work, Josh became a certified tennis coach who spent long hours figuring out how best to teach efficient, effective athletic motions.
The two friends worked together almost every day for a long time until Mikey accepted a job as Tennis Director at a different club. Still buddies, they continued to pal around outside of work when they could.
"We wanted to hang out," Josh said. "He was playing disc golf with his brothers, and I joined them. It was like, 'Oh, yeah, this throw is like this from tennis.' I'd played a bunch of disc golf before, but the tennis coaching had developed my eye for bio-mechanics."
From there, Josh said it seemed like a "natural fit" to use their skills as trained athletic coaches to help other disc golfers improve. Since Mikey also had videography and video editing experience, the two decided to launch an instructional disc golf YouTube channel.
Overthrow's first video went live in early January 2021, and the channel's high video quality, easy-to-follow sequencing, and straightforward explanations quickly gained it substantial views and popularity. By October of that year, the venture was going so well that Mikey left tennis behind to do disc golf work full time. Josh did the same in early 2022.
The Need for New and Various Voices in Disc Golf Instruction
The principles of good disc golf form taught on Overthrow's channel and that Josh emphasizes in his lessons are part of a new wave in thinking about the essential elements of proper technique that has been building for years.
As a small example, it used to be generally accepted that forcibly pulling a disc with the arm was necessary for a great backhand throw. Today, newer generations who've been able to analyze hours and hours of video footage of top level players frame-by-frame on YouTube have realized that pulling is detrimental to distance and accuracy. Instead, power from the lower body should make a relatively loose arm act like a whip.
See the difference in an older and very popular instructional video that promotes pulling and a drill explanation on Overthrow where pulling is specifically called out as undesirable (both videos are set to play short, relevant sections on first viewing).
- Older video:
- Overthrow video:
Josh readily admitted that Overthrow wasn't part of the vanguard for such re-evaluations of old teaching methods. In fact, instructional videos from others helped confirm his suspicions that quite a bit of common form advice didn't match up with what top players were really doing.
"When I first had the thought, 'This is totally different from pulling in a straight line – this is a swing path,' I looked on YouTube, and one of the first videos I saw was a Spin and Throw video from Bradley Walker1," Josh recalled. "I didn't go deep into all his stuff. I just saw enough to know, 'Someone else is teaching this, so I'm not crazy.'"
But once assured of his sanity, he relied on his own eye and coaching experience to break down what made top players' techniques effective.
"When I learned tennis mechanics, I looked at other good teachers," Josh said. "It already had good, up-to-date instruction. But when I came to disc golf, I did the opposite. The instruction that was there I just didn't understand...so I started looking at slow motion stuff and I had enough understanding [of bio-mechanics] to conceptualize what players were doing."
Today, Josh's main focus as a disc golf instructor – whether he's hosting Overthrow videos or in one-on-one sessions – is to make it as clear as possible to learners what he's asking them to do. He tries to keep his language basic and break down complicated movements into easy-to-follow steps. Keeping things simple helps compress time frames for player improvement, which Josh believes is the primary job of any coach.
But no matter how hard he works to make his points understandable to everyone, he thinks it's healthy for the sport that there are people who prefer other instructional techniques.
"Disc golf needs challenges between different coaches and not to be solidified [into a single method]," Josh said. "The way they instructed 10 years ago is totally different to how they're instructing now. We're seeing this new wave, but there'll just be another one later, and we need those challenges to make it happen."
"Moving the Rock" in Disc Golf Coaching
It will take progress in a couple of areas for disc golf instruction to become a more common profession. For one, the talented players most likely to be interested in becoming pro instructors will need to give up weekend tournaments to make a living.
"A good time for people to have lessons is on the weekends which just so happens to be a really good time to have tournaments," Josh said. "It's rare for coaches to have time to practice and compete. I recently saw a tennis instructor I follow who posted that he's getting to play his first tournament in 10 years."
Additionally, instructors will need to find enough clients willing to pay them livable rates – even if they're not a well-known pro or YouTube personality.
A possible solution to both of these issues? Creating a coaching certification system that will reassure potential clients that a coach's methods are effective. Confident customers will likely pay high enough rates that coaching will be more enticing to skilled players than the fun of competition.
Creating such a system is one of Josh's goals. He said that though he enjoys one-on-one instruction, his long-term plan is to "be a coaches' coach" and help others have successful careers as disc golf instructors. These ambitions are a big reason he stepped away from his tennis work and transitioned to full-time disc golf coaching.
"This is building a business for Mikey and I instead of building up a country club's clientele," Josh said. "I could keep grinding it out as a tennis coach, but I'd rather come into disc golf and start moving the rock there."
Thanks to the recent boom in disc golf's popularity, he thinks the sport can support a good number of professional instructors – as long as their teaching methods get results, that is.
"A good coach doesn't need to worry about job security," he quipped.
1. Walker's Spin and Throw method is another new wave instructional technique that eschews most older notions of the necessities of a good throw. It built a relatively small but fervent following on YouTube and Facebook.