Going Mental


Dear Technoid,

I had an experience that really caught my attention and I thought I would relate it to you for your thoughts.

I am a casual trap shooter. I usually get out twice a month and shoot four rounds. I average in the low to the mid eighties. One day recently, I had a day to kick back and do whatever. I threw my favorite pistol in the car along with my shotgun. I went to the > pistol range first and did some serious work on trigger control, breath control, and concentrating on the target. After two hours of this, I was getting some pretty good results.

Next I went to the local trap club and proceeded to shoot a 99. I missed the 99th one. I thought I was concentrating on the target before. Not even close. Compared to this day, I was just looking at them. I was focused so hard, it seemed like the clay was moving at half speed. I felt like I had all the time in the world to get on target. About halfway through I started to vary my stance and my initial aim point to see what would happen. Didn’t matter, I was dead on.

Is this a fluke or is the mental game that big? I went back the next week without the pistol work and no matter how hard I tried to get that focused I couldn’t. The score reflected that also. Two hours of pistol practice is an awkward way to spin up mentally. Do you or any of the serious competitors you know have a drill to go through to get that edge?
Your comments please.
Matthew

Dear Matthew,

Talking about the mental game is difficult because it is so very different for each shooter. The Army shotgun shooting manual for the USAMU is 1/4 technique, 3/4 mental preparation. When I coached at the Olympic Training Center, a high percentage of my time was devoted to instilling a positive attitude in my shooters. Some guys go into a zen-like state to concentrate. It doesn’t seem to matter with others. I’ve shot some of my best contest scores in a social squad of new shooters. I also do well in shoot-offs because I have been trained, and now train others, to enjoy watching the other guy sweat.

I remember that one of the shooters on our ’76 Olympic skeet team used to listen to Star Wars music on his headphones in between rounds. I think he actually believed that the “force” was with him. The other guy on our team was a pro and just relaxed and chatted until it was his turn to shoot. Then he concentrated hard. All the good guys have the ability to concentrate like crazy from the moment just before they say “Pull” to the time the target breaks. If you think about it, that isn’t really all that much to ask of yourself. On the other hand, if you concentrate too long or spend your time worrying about other people’s targets, you’ll wear out and exhaust yourself. You can’t control what the other guy shoots.

Pistol shooting before shotgun? I guess that anything that helps you concentrate is fine. I often shoot pistol before shotgun at my club, but not to aid concentration. I just like it. I do notice that I do better if I shoot pistol first and then shotgun. The heavy moves and recoil of shotgun, when shot first, throw off my pistol bullseye precision.

I wouldn’t be too quick to ascribe magical curative powers to a one day phenomenon. In my experience most shooters have some days that they just can’t seem to miss. This happens to me about 10% of the time. Another 10% of the time, I have days where I couldn’t hit a barn if I were locked inside. The rest of the 80% of the time, I get what I deserve. The goal of practice is to raise that 80%. The goal of mental training is to summon on demand that top 10%. Very few people can ever do the latter and no one can do it all the time. The great shooters have simply raised their 80% performance to championship levels. And that awful 10% percent bites everyone, pro and am alike. Awful to a pro is just different than awful to an am. One of the big differences between the superlative shooter and the casual shooter is that the amateur has huge swings in scores on a day to day basis. The pro’s scores are all within a much narrower range.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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