Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Growing The Sport Through Clinics - Here's How LaRon Harris Is Making A Huge Disc Golf Difference


Introducing people to disc golf no matter their age is always a bit of a tricky situation - you want to share your passion, and dare we say obsession, with them, but being able to meet them on their current athletic level may prove to be a challenge. Explaining the rules of the game is easy enough, but how can you accurately teach someone the nuances of the sport?

It’s been 30 years since LaRon Harris started playing disc golf, and for him, the answer to our question above has been fine-tuned over decades. If you don’t know LaRon by name, you certainly know him from his smiling face seen all around Kansas City, Missouri. A member of the Dynamic Discs team, avid player, and perhaps one of the most involved teachers in the sport, LaRon took some time to chat with us about his own personal disc golf history and how he’s been able to reach so many kids and adults through his clinics.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Playing disc golf is truly second nature for LaRon, but he didn’t grow up in the game like so many of his teammates have. Instead, during May of 1989, he was just wrapping up a 17-year career within martial arts, finding that he was getting incredibly burned out. A friend took him to Swope Park, a well-known course in Kansas City. After one round, Harris was hooked and began his headfirst dive into disc golf that so many of us remember like it was yesterday:

“I saw it and said ‘I think I can do this.’ I took a lot of the martial arts philosophy to the sport to help me focus. Once I realized that your whole body was involved in throwing, it kind of made it easy for me to watch and learn from my own movements. Once I got the basics down it was all about finetuning my technique - I kept asking questions and kept trying to figure the game out.”

Despite the fact that at the time he was working one full-time job, one part-time job, and was divorced with four sons, LaRon made disc golf a priority. He’d spend more time on the field than playing actual rounds, relying on his muscle memory to see him through each tournament. Between 1989 and 2006, he considered himself to be a steady player, but life ended up handing him a different set of plans.

Transitioning To Teaching

In 2006, he discovered that he had a degenerative tissue disease and that his hips were literally disintegrating. While LaRon took himself out of the game, his passion for the sport didn’t stop. By this time, he had formed solid friendships with many local players and was particularly close with Eric McCabe. The two had played and traveled together for some time, and while LaRon had started offering private disc golf coaching in 2007, Eric’s World Champion win in 2010 really spoke to him. “It proved that if you stuck to the process and didn’t get ahead of yourself, it proved what you can do. That was my first notion that I needed to get info out of there,” he said.

LaRon’s work with local Kansas City players continued, and in 2014 after a double hip replacement, he began slowly reintegrating himself back into the game. While competing was still on his radar, his teaching had ramped up to the point where he could see it was really where he was needed within the sport. Harris started integrating clinics into his offerings as well, and the response was overwhelming. Just when things were looking up, a prostate cancer diagnosis that resulted in 36 radiation treatments temporarily sidelined him.

However, that didn’t stop things from moving forward, as a call in 2014 from McCabe showed LaRon just how valuable he truly was:

“Eric called and said they wanted me on the team. I was reluctant at first because I wanted to be 100% physically ready - but they wanted me on the team for what I was doing and how I was giving back. That gave me a second wind that ‘ok, I can continue to do what I’m doing as far as education and build my body up and still play.' I still love competing but I had this urge to teach more.”

Focusing On The Masses

By 2015, LaRon’s clinics were in full swing, and while he still offered private lessons (he trained with Cynthia Ricciotti for two years before her 2018 Junior Worlds win), the need in Kansas City for larger teaching opportunities was too important to ignore. “I average about 900 people a year as far as clinics - the first year was over 1000. I’ll teach at schools, churches, community centers, and with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” he explained.

So what actually happens at one of LaRon’s events? He described that no matter the age of the group he’s teaching or just how many people there are, he starts everyone at the basket. He’ll go over the basics of putting, how to grip a disc, discuss how wind affects your putt, and more. LaRon takes teaching to a more personalized level when possible, although a full day at a school tends to be a bit different. “Sometimes we get 600 kids and have to treat them like cattle,” he said with a laugh.

After some time near the basket, Harris will have people back up to roughly 100 feet and work on their approach shots. He’s also developed props for use in the field as well, offering people a visual of where they are supposed to be throwing:

“I bought a lot of PVC and now I have 6’ tall pipes and 10’ tall pipes. I’ll make tunnels and gates, and I have a 4’x4’ net and two 6’x6’ nets. I can move those anywhere, so now when I have certain types of clinics I can use them. Originally I built it all for myself to help me hit better lines.”

LaRon has several clinics coming up this spring, with a stop in April at an elementary school. His May clinic is with a private business who has always shown a love for the sport - they put on an annual tournament but decided to incorporate an educational element to it several weeks beforehand. “I run into this a lot where one golfer works at a company and they reach out to me to come in. Most people in Kansas City know who to contact when it comes to clinics,” he explained.

Doing What LaRon Does

The need for in-depth training opportunities through clinics and private lessons is sorely needed across the nation, but many times people simply don’t know what to do to get started. While teaching came very naturally for LaRon, there was also an element of networking and strategy that helped him to get where he’s at today. His advice? “Talk to your club and see if there’s a need for it. Talk to local community groups, YMCAs, community centers - all those people might have a need for an alternative sport,” shared Harris.

With so many disc golfers in Kansas City, including the Kansas City Flying Disc Club and a Dynamic Discs retail store right in town, LaRon has his work cut out for him when it comes to promoting his clinics. Even if you don’t live anywhere near the Midwest, he’s always available to talk with people about their game and encourages locals to reach out to him via email at laronwharris98@gmail.com or through his Facebook profile.

It’s time for more disc golfers to take a page from LaRon’s book and put themselves out there. Speaking with your first community group or two may be intimidating at first, but before long you’ll have the confidence needed to easily communicate to others just how beneficial disc golf is for people of all ages. Getting to create your own curriculum offers a creative outlet that most players don’t get to enjoy, and the reaction you get after a clinic is priceless. “I’ve never left a clinic where the kids weren’t happy,” LaRon said, and that right there is the ultimate measure of success.
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