The Mental Game


Most of your questions deal with the mechanical components of the shotgun. I know that you have a great deal of experience with the mental side as well. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for a shooter who wants to break more targets using his brain and not his chokes, ported, back bored trick gun?

What is the best state of mind to have when I step in the cage and begin to shoot? How hard should I focus? When is too much mental stuff a detriment to zen like shooting?

Allen Tx

Dear Rich,

Good question, hard answer. Everyone is different as to the mental game. When I was coaching International Skeet at the Olympic Training Center, my students were mostly members of the US Team. Their techniques were in pretty good shape. At the most we did a little bit of fine tuning. At that level, the mental game is THE game.

The problem is that it is a one by one deal. Some people needed confidence, some need not to be over confident. Some people needed more aggression, some less. Since most IntSk was nose to nose, I tried to teach my people not to think about how afraid they were, but to enjoy watching the other poor bastard sweat. I always told them that the other guy was sweating because he was afraid that you were going to pound him into the ground like a tent stake. IntSk is the most aggressive of all the shotgun games and this technique worked well for many.

I remember at one evening coaches clinic, they put all of the rifle, pistol and shotgun coaches up on the stage and had ALL the shooters ask questions. I thought that it was pretty pointless as shooting Free Pistol or Olympic Three Position Rifle has absolutely nothing to do with International Skeet. But it certainly did prove a point.

The first question was “Coaches, what do you think of just before you take the shot?” The pistol coach was Don Nygord, US national champion so many times everyone has lost count. Don said “I think of sight alignment before the shot.”

Next was Lanny Basham, rifle coach and Gold Medal winner at the ’76 Montreal Olympics. Lanny said that before he fired he concentrated on trigger control.

When it was my turn and I was asked what I thought of just before I called for the bird, I responded that I always said to myself “I’m gonna whack this sonofabitchin clay sucker!” Crude, to be sure, but very, very effective. It also shows that individual mental attitudes and what various sports require are very different.

Sporting clays is much less nose to nose, until you get into the shoot offs. I think that the most important mental game plan for sporting is to realize that the match is won or lost on the “easy” targets, not the hard ones. Everyone misses some of the hard ones. If you can concentrate extra hard and make sure of ALL the easier birds, you will be in good shape. You only win or lose a shoot by one bird. It would be a shame if the miss that kept you out of the winner’s circle was a 20 yard crosser. Let the other guy lose his concentration and miss those. You can put those in the bank. The nice thing about the easier targets is that you already know how to shoot them. All you have to do is shoot the way that you already know how to.

When I am faced with targets that I know I should hit, I simply remind myself to keep my head down and follow through. I let the auto computer handle the lead and speed because I have seen these easier targets so often before. I just concentrate on head down/follow through. That’s it.

On the harder stuff, I try to do work out my game plan completely before I step into the box. Then all I have to do is head down/follow through. If I miss, I stop a moment and concentrate even harder on head down/follow through. If I am still missing after the second pair, THEN I try new leads or pick up points. No point in trying to make your car go faster by holding the steering wheel tighter. Change something.

Every shooter has different opportunities for improvement. You and I may be different. but I can tell you what worked for me. I have never lacked aggression or self confidence. I do lack concentration. When I do poorly, it is usually because my mind was not 100% on what I was doing. The target looked easy to me, so I didn’t feel that it was important enough to merit my full attention. I never said I was smart. For me the easiest way to handle it is to think to myself “I know that I am going to miss some targets here. I am just not going to miss the next one.”

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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1 Response to The Mental Game

  1. James Jones says:

    Great advice. My version: look at the target. Don’t think.


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