Mar 7, 2020 | By: Daniel Schindler, Master Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap and Wingshooting Instructor
Ever heard of it, the elusive mental game? Just kidding, of course you have…mental toughness; sport psychology; peak performance; in the Zone; Zen….I own a small library on this subject written by authors who’ve worked successfully with the world’s best athletes. I’ve personally kept Office Max in business buying pens to take notes. Notebooks full of pages covered with handwritten revelations and confirmations. Why? Because you can’t reliably learn from homespun, off the cuff comments from someone with pins and patches. It takes decades of tenacious cross-examination demanding “Sparky, are you sure about that?” while laboring through hundreds of pages of “stuff” looking to perhaps find a pearl of useful information. Forgive my compassionate sarcasm, but after all this study, where the heck do you find the step-by-step instruction manual that is reliable? Please read on.
"Better to trust the man who is frequently in error than the one who is never in doubt."
Any experienced Instructor with humility knows not to teach an untested, unproven process until every part of the technique is first subjected to critical examination for dependability. So, after said decades of focused trial and error, here’s a proven, working program that you can absolutely trust to improve your scores.
First, the fine print. Please step away from those who are telling you to just “let go” by trusting a skill that you don’t understand and/or have not yet mastered. That doggy, my friends, as you’ve possibly learned, just won’t hunt.
Regrettably, too many are told to just turn an inconsistent swing loose and then to expect CONSISTENT results from a gun that is now completely out of control.
PLEASE THINK ABOUT THAT. For trust to actually work – CONSISTENTLY – there has to be a proven, uber dependable set-up and swing structure involved. These non-negotiable basics; in a planned order – and correctly in that order – must be first hammered into place shot by shot. Not just practice – but perfect practice. These PRECISE basics are your best friend, or – in their absence – exactly what predictably produces mediocrity in your game. The use of these Paragon basics is, first and foremost, STEP ONE. They are mandatory. Their correct use will soon be the obvious evidence on your improving scores. Again, these basics are your foundation. Without this foundation, creating progress in your game is merely wishful, and I might add, expensive thinking.
Once this foundation is securely developed with the shot set-up – your required shooting method – your swing cadence – and your sight pictures, the familiarity with the skill set all begin to materialize. Hold onto that word familiarity. It is pure magic and allows you to trust, to safely lean on your experience. It will not betray you. As your trust in this experience increases – target launched – your having to micromanage every component of your shot process proportionately decreases. Increasing your trust is your next major step forward and is definitely on your to-do list – after step one.
Familiarity is a solid way to measure what experience or situation you believe you have mastered – and how much you really have mastered it. It’s perception versus reality suddenly becoming VERY real.
"Without familiarity, self-confidence will be conspicuously absent."
For example, with a pocketful of empty shells, stand 5 feet from a trash can. Toss in 1 empty hull. Done. No problem because you’ve done it before. It’s familiar. Step back another 5 feet. Another goes in. Familiarity. OK, LeBron, now it’s time to get serious.
Move back to 30 feet. It’s still doable, right? You are sort of sure, but not 100% sure. There is a lot less familiarity. So, you’re going to be a little more careful this time as you no longer have experience at this distance. But the toss is smooth and in it goes! And the voice in your head goes wild!!! You have arrived!!!! Well…not so fast….
Now the real fun starts, Hoss. Here are 25 more empties. Please, one by one, put them all into the trash can without missing. This is where familiarity, experience, inconsistency, and consistency all come into play. You are at the door of the next level of mastery. TRUST is forming that the next shell tossed will go into the can. Yes? Right? Your “consistency” formula ultimately looks like this: the level of your experience and familiarity will decide how much you unconditionally trust…which will decide the level of your downrange inconsistency or consistency.
Pick your target presentation. How much mental swing micromanaging will this take? How loud is that voice in your head – “Chirp” – reminding you why you can’t do this? Or, can you quietly, calmly, deliberately just let go and meet the target at the scene of the accident with deadly consistency? Can you unconditionally trust your set-up and swing with no micromanaging? Do you know before uttering “Pull” – this target will in fact break?
In my experienced opinion, your familiarity with the entire process will always be a prime deciding factor. The lower the experience level – hence the lower the familiarity – the louder Chirp will be casting doubts in your mind. More micromanaging of the swing will occur, separating you from trusting your training in a hasty retreat from your being “in the Zone.”
XX XX XX XX. This is where you’ve already broken all 8 and are loading your gun for the next pair. Here, FOR THE SECOND TIME, the referee again says, “Sir, out with 8. You may unload your gun.” Take a time out and savor this moment; you are “in the Zone.”
All the experts seem to agree that a trained athlete’s performance is 90% mental. There is no argument from this Coach. Those same experts agree that the performance must take place in the subconscious mind where it is quiet – granted to us by familiarity. This is opposed to the conscious mind where Chirp is trying to fill you with doubts, sabotaging your skills set...and you HAVE HEARD that voice – haven’t YOU???
The question begging to be answered is, what must you trust? The skill? Yes, of course. But I’m suggesting, again, your level of familiarity with this target presentation will affect how much real confidence – how much trust you’ll be able to put into this swing.
"As you close and raise your gun with a scorekeeper or crowd behind you, having quiet familiarity is not only decisively reassuring but gives you unbeatable confidence."
My mentors, Peter & Wendy Crabtree of the West London Shooting School taught that the majority of an advancing student’s practice should be spent on the more challenging targets. This practice tests skills until the correct set-up and swing formula is confirmed and hammered home, and not just by random X’s.
As importantly, what concurrently being experienced and learned was invaluable familiarity with these presentations. This familiarity allows shooting in the quiet subconscious, the Zone if you will, which is the destination for those of us who take our improvement seriously and are now posting higher scores.
Trusting one’s self in the shooting box isn’t always easy. Quiet, reassuring familiarity is the tool you will reach for when Chirp is yammering doubts about your ability.
Thank you Bob Lockett, Paragon Senior Instructor, who encourages you to watch for the next upcoming articles which will briefly reveal each step of the planned program.
Be safe and I hope to see you folks out on the course.
Dan Schindler is one of only 50 worldwide members of the Guild of Shooting Instructors (UK) and is one of the most highly respected Sporting Clays and Wingshooting Instructors in the US. Dan is an NSCA Level III Instructor (since 1995) and founded the Paragon School of Sporting with one goal in mind. Whether it be for the advanced competitor or providing the basics to the entry-level shooter, Paragon provides the simplest, most practical and most effective Instruction, Coaching and Mental Training for the Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap & Wingshooting enthusiast. Dan Schindler helps shooters alleviate a lot of their frustration by taking the mystery out of breaking targets, calling their own misses and make their own corrections. Lessons are fun, enlightening and our clients learn to shoot better in minutes! Dan teaches locally at River Bend Sportsmans Resort in Inman, SC.
Shooters from around the world read Dan's books 2, 3, 4 or more times and refer back to them often. These three EXCELLENT books - Take Your Best Shot, To The Target and Beyond The Target take the MYSTERY out of missing targets so you can shoot more CONSISTENTLY! Order Books!
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Mark Engen, DVM These three books are a must-read for all clay target shooters. They are clear, concise, logical instructions on how to shoot clay targets and how to improve your scores. Taking a lesson from Dan would be very advantageous & help hasten the learning process. He has been my instructor for 15 years. With each lesson, I always come away amazed at how much I have learned & how my scores improve. He also emphasizes how important it is to practice regularly & stay with his advice & recommendations to really learn new skills to improve your scores. He has helped me tremendously & I highly recommend him.