Disc Golf Incorporated into Therapy at SECU Youth Crisis Center

Certified Occupational Therapist Josh Ritchie shows a YCC participant how to hold a disc and how to throw into the hoop or cage.

Left: Josh Ritchie, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) at Monarch’s SECU Youth Crisis Center, shows a person being treated the correct grip to use for disc golf; (top, right) the discs or putters often come in a variety of colors and are more flexible than a traditional Frisbee; (bottom, right) Josh is shown next to the disc golf basket that is used when playing.

Disc golf is a modern take on the casual game of Frisbee played in backyards and on beaches. The sport has grown from a leisure activity played on community courses to a professionally sponsored sport with a global circuit of competitors.

Joshua Ritchie, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) at the SECU Youth Crisis Center, a Monarch program in Charlotte, is also a professionally sponsored disc golf player in his spare time and backed by world-wide disc golf equipment distributor, Discstore.com.

Thanks to a generous donation given to the YCC by Discstore.com, Josh can show youth treated at the YCC how disc golf skills can strengthen mental health coping strategies.

Discstore.com donated the movable chain basket and 20 colorful discs (also called putters), smaller and more flexible than traditional Frisbees, enabling Josh to share his sport with the youth served at the YCC. The donation is valued at approximately $500.

Josh’s passion for supporting youth with mental health diagnoses began when he was in his teens, working as a youth counselor at a camp for children with physical disabilities, mental health needs and autism. Enthusiastic, along with a youthful, high-energy spirit, Josh connects with individuals being served at the YCC by aiming to always associate a lesson within his conversations calling it “positive reframing.”

Josh assures that learning disc golf is similar to traditional golf. Players learn techniques and the mechanics of throwing, both key to understanding the sport. “I start off every lesson with how to hold the disc teaching that you use the middle finger and the thumb . . . showing them where their feet need to be. We practice the swing motion and I have them toss the putter. I don’t care if they get the disc in the basket. We start by breaking the movements down, starting off slowly,” he explains.

Josh’s new YCC curriculum teaches safety awareness, impulsivity, leisure exploration, stress management, cognitive flexibility, interoception (the ability to identify, access, understand, and respond appropriately to the patterns of internal signals such as when to eat when you are hungry), as well as educational aspects like setting goals.

“We can identify what went wrong, what happened and how we can fix what happened. In disc golf we try to teach an internal focus of control. You have the power to change what has happened,” he illustrates.

After he earned his Psychology degree with a Health Education focus through Appalachian State University, Josh worked as a teaching assistant in a middle school and as a behavioral therapist working with children diagnosed with autism. He, and his twin brother, Caleb, went on to earn their Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) certification in May 2022 from Cabarrus College of Health and Sciences in Charlotte, and currently both brothers work within the behavioral health field.

During the COTA certification clinical mental health rotations, Josh spent time with adult and youth. During the clinical rotations, he used disc golf during recreation time and developed a curriculum that he using to launch the YCC curriculum.

The siblings have been playing disc golf professionally together for 10 years and are currently sponsored by Discstore.com, competing mostly in the Charlotte area but also traveling to national locations. He notes that the disc golf community is supportive of one another’s interests on and off the course.

“I am creating a therapeutic skilled intervention for the children here at the YCC by involving the controlled experience of stress, trying something new in front of your peers, and applying coping skills such as diaphragmatic breathing to show the effects in-real-time to increase using the coping skill when they leave the YCC,” he describes about the curriculum he has created.

Josh says witnessing youth understand the skills needed to play disc golf and how those same skills can be used to strengthen mental health coping skills, is a turning point: “It’s nice when they can admit some things that have gone wrong. They can then set boundaries. It’s like a bunch of locked doors and twisting handles until you find one that opens. Finding an avenue that they can relate to or that clicks for them, is the best reward.”

Posted on: Monday January 30, 2023