Competition Nerves

All gnawing one:

I am deeply depressed. I have been struggling mightily for a long time to manage my tournament nerves……with very marginal success. I tend to become adrenaline poisoned when shooting in competition, to the point that my hands visibly shake at times; also have trouble digging out of a lot of self criticism when I drop easy targets. I’ve finally made an appointment with a sports psychologist to meet me on the sporting clays course in two weeks. I’ve done a lot of reading on relaxation techniques, self talk, visualization etc. Problem is most of the techniques they suggest must be practiced.

Second problem is that I don’t have the “symptoms” unless I’m in competition, therefore, very difficult to practice, or tell if anything is working. And during a tournament, which is at most once or twice a month, is a helluva time to be practicing. I’m sure you must have dealt with similar problems among those you’ve coached in the past. Can you offer anything resembling suggestions for dealing with this situation? Or should I start looking for a strong hemp rope?


Dear C.

This is a little harder one for me. Different people react in different ways to competitive pressure. I find that pressure tends to make me focus. My problem is not paying attention when I am not interested. Most of my background and coaching (International Skeet) involved nose-to-nose competition where you could enjoy watching the other poor sob sweat.

Not so in most sporting clays. It’s like golf in that you operate in a vacuum until a shoot-off, if any. All the pressure you have is pressure that you put upon yourself. Often that pressure is unmerited. I can’t tell you how many times I have shot what I felt was poorly only to find that everyone else did also and that I finished far better than I hoped.

Since you are shooting in a vacuum in sporting clays with no other score or performance to shoot against, you are either shooting against the mythical perfection of the perfect score or against yourself. You can’t shoot against 100% as sporting isn’t skeet or trap. You will drive yourself crazy. When competing, I would often repeat to myself “You may miss one down the road. That’s OK. It happens. But it isn’t going to be THIS one.” This took some of the pressure off and allowed me to concentrate harder.

As to shooting against yourself, that shouldn’t be too hard as you do it every day. Many people put pressure on themselves because they don’t want to “look bad”. Lemme tell you something. No one gives a hoot how you shoot. In fact, when you shoot poorly everyone is going to love you because it means that they have just beaten one more person. When you shoot like a pig, you will be popular! Everyone gets to give you advice and tell you how they made the shot that you missed.

Generally competition nerves improve with more exposure to competition. Since more competition isn’t possible for everyone, it pays to practice under competition pressure as nearly as possible. Shoot with a friend and bet lunch on the outcome of the day’s practice. Put pressure on yourself in practice. Tell yourself that you will clean the cellar if you can’t shoot above a certain score. That sort of stuff. You will either shoot better or have a cleaner cellar. Pretend that every bird in practice is a do-or-die situation. Practice won’t be as much social fun, but you will get more out of it.

Anyway, competition is work, not fun. People who have a grand time while competing generally aren’t in the winner’s circle. Winning is serious business and takes tremendous effort.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid at <>
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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1 Response to Competition Nerves

  1. Jim Fischer says:

    Try the book The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallaway. Works in every sport.

    Here is random article about people using it.


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