Everyone has their game face on. This is serious. Every target counts and scores will be posted on the master scoreboard later. For many of us, the atmosphere turns electric the split second our tires roll onto the tournament grounds. It’s called tournament pressure. The harsh realization that our skills, patience and a host of emotions will soon be tested, commonly produces a wellspring of palpable apprehension. From the first Station to the last, body language, facial expressions and heart rate all say, today is the day. How much this affects each individual varies from person to person but it’s rarely what’s called fun.
Here are a few suggestions to manage these upsetting emotions more effectively.
"To control your performance…
First, control your thoughts."
The truth is, the pressure you feel to succeed is normal and you are not alone with these emotions and thoughts. “I’m glad no one else can hear my heart pounding when I step into the box.” Trust me, there are legions of people in sports everywhere who share the same experience. The truth is, all these mental and physical reactions are simply the mind / body preparing you to compete. By acknowledging that this is all perfectly natural can significantly offset the performance clogging “choke” affect. Many competitors use these feelings of nervousness to motivate their performance. This you can do. This increase in adrenaline flow can very well be used to stimulate rather than disrupt your performance.
Expectations on the other hand – the ones that accompany us to the tournament grounds – are the hidden, performance trapdoor. And tournaments are fertile ground for expectations, realistic and otherwise. It is our nature to be “outcome” focused – that winning is important to us – and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. But expectations can very quickly separate a skill level from a performance level.
Everyone wants the target to break. However, should that desire intensify into “needing” a target to break, that’s when uninvited missing shows up. Expectation unmet – taking the miss personally – now we’ve got internal or verbal self-criticism in the box, taking our shooter further and further away from the next X. Here he decides to “be more careful” on the next Station and vows to “try much harder.” These strategies are a recipe for disaster, resulting in a stressed, unsuccessful swing totally different from the one practiced.
Unrealistic expectations have many ways to bring you and your score down. Here’s another. Climbing the score ladder takes time. Novice and intermediate shooters often fall prey to the temptation of comparing their scores to those who’ve been shooting for many, many more years. The logical question that follows is “Why can’t I do that?” Well, you can, once you’ve climbed the learning curve like they have. Here again, natural but unreasonable expectations create disappointment and erratic performances.
Speaking of “time.” When things don’t occur on our time table, irritation often comes next. For example, those who may be in their normal “go fast” mode, mistakes often occur after a hasty set-up and frantic swing execution. OO OO. This sense of urgency comes from a belief of not having enough time – when we actually do. Accomplished shooters deliberately take their time. They are intentional and calculating before the shot. The reason they don’t look anxious or hurried in the box is because they aren’t. There’s a pearl worth noting.
"It takes mental strength to let go of what we can’t control,
and keep our attention on what we can control."
Many years ago, I was having a difficult practice session on the archery range. The PA State shoot was less than a month away. My arrows were clustered everywhere but in the bullseye. My friend and coach Ron Dixon asked, “What’s the problem, Dan?” Looking at the target, I thought the problem would be obvious to anyone not wearing a blindfold. Another arrow launched. Missed. Ron asked the question again. As my frustration and tension level escalated, Ron finally said, “What are you trying to do?”
Pointing at the target I said, “Trying to put the arrow into the bullseye.” Ron replied, “That’s your problem.” Say what?
He then asked me how much control I had over the arrow a nanosecond after it cleared the arrow rest. I said “None.” At least I got that part right.
And here came the epiphany. Ron asked, “Then why are you putting more attention on where the arrow lands than what you are doing?” That’s called “outcome thinking.
My attention was on trying to force an outcome – 30 yards downrange – where I had no control. By shifting all my attention back to a precise set-up – which I could control – each arrow found its mark. This attention shift took me to a PA State HOA. How much control do you have over your shot string 1/8th inch on the other side of the muzzle? Not even a little. Which means our attention should be on gun control (gun management) – which we can control. These are our tasks.
No one can touch the pressure we feel in the shooting box because it is a mental state we “create.” If we create it – we can control it. You’re right – maybe we can’t make this pressure go away – but we can use it to our advantage. A little more patience – a more objective assessment of what is really happening to us – a more effective Pre-shot routine – a shift of our attention over to our tasks – these are workable solutions, bringing our best game back, out of the “choke” abyss.
Happy New Year – be safe – and I hope to see you 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!
Newest Release...Take Your Best Shot (Book I), 3rd Edition isTHE Gold Standard Primer for shooters of ALL skill levels...
Solid, valuable, concise informationthat has helped thousands of shooters shoot more consistently with higher scores. It provides the steps and succinctly lays out the fundamentals required for good shooting. This book is used by recreational and competitive shooters...high school and college shooting teams from around the world.
To The Target (Book II) Builds on the steps outlined in Book I. Emphasises Gun Management skills when the trap fires, creating a consistent, reliable, trustworthy swing.
Beyond the Target (Book III) is for shooters of all levels, filled with valuable information, clay target truths. Entertaining and a culmination of 3+ decades of Dan's life's work as a teacher, competitor, published writer and much more.
"Take Your Best Shot is the best clay and wingshooting shooting primer on the market that I have ever seen. The brilliance of its simplicity aids in getting across the correct messages for successful shooting for ANY clay/wingshooting shooter, let alone a new shooter. As a master instructor, founder/Head Coach of the Jacksonville University Shooting Team (a national championship program), and JU faculty member, Take Your Best Shot is standard reading for ALL of our varsity shooters. Dan has managed to capture the basics beautifully, and he has placed them in an easy, simple-to-follow, witty presentation. My students love the book and read it time and again. Highly recommend, no matter what your level of shooting experience and expertise."
David T. Dobson, M.B.A.
Paragon Master Instructor
NSCA Instructor, Level III
NSSA Instructor, Level III
Mark EngenThese 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.