Sporting Top 10 Mental Tips
1. Visualise, visualise and visualise on the feeling you have when you shoot well. It is so important to get this right. The visualisation should be focused on how you feel when you shoot certain targets - you will never visualise all of the targets presented to you, but there will always be a number of similar targets. You will always have a crosser, an incomer, a going away and an overhead, a quartering, a midi, a mini, and a battue. The key is to visualise how you feel approaching those targets. Visualise where you pick a target up, what your movement is, where you shoot the target, but most of all how you feel when you shoot well – what is/are the feeling(s) you experience?
2.Training for Competition – this is one of the most difficult questions we get but one of the more simple to answer. If you are going to be shooting over a day and spending 20-40 minutes on a stand waiting and shooting, then that is what you have to train for. When you are waiting you need to learn to switch off, when you get on the stand then you need to focus on the shooting of the target. We use the phrase, as an example, “don`t think of an egg yolk” and low and behold you are thinking of an egg yolk. It is the same with shooting; “don’t miss this one” or “don’t think about those waiting to shoot”, then you find yourself think of one or both of these examples.
To train for Competition you need to use your training specifically with two purposes; one is for technical training – refining your style or work on a specific target. The second purpose is to train for competition. When you are training, use the routine you would in competition – if you would shoot 5 pairs, then shoot 5 pairs regardless on the score. Go to another stand and wait for 5 minutes then step on and shoot 5 pairs. Try as best as you can to simulate your training as a competition.
3. Set mini goals for the coming months. This time of year you can`t change the way you shoot massively from a technical point, especially if shooting for averages and in competition, but you can set your score goals for the coming months. The best way to do this is to plan out the shoots you are going to shoot and give yourself two goals – one goal is your actual score at the end of the season (your average), the second is to give yourself a Performance Goal – how well you performed on the day (this would normally be a number of aspects, but to start with give yourself a score out of 10 for the way you shot on the day – remember you could have shot really well, but scored well under your average).
If you set these goals from now until the end of September and see when you get to the end what your scores looked like from this you can plan for the off-season. There will be lots of different articles coming up regarding off-season training and how to plan your year for technical and mental training.
4. Routine Bubble – you need to create your own bubble when you shoot. This is a mental bubble that you step in when you step onto the stand. To use this takes time, but the bubble protects you from negative thoughts, it also protects you from those watching, it is your way of tunnelling your vision and focus on the shooting in front of you.
This technique is a specific one and is not always to be used by all, but it does work for many. Lets look at how it works. You need to see in your mind that you step into a bubble, the bubble is open at the front allowing you to shoot, but behind you it is a wall. The wall stops all the negative thoughts and there is no one with you on the stand. You can visualise this technique and you need to believe in it – it does help. If you don’t feel this is for you, then that is fine.
5. You pull the trigger. In Sporting there are many 'experts', but they always seem to Mr or Mrs Average with their advice. When you look at a target you know roughly where you will be pulling the trigger. My friend, John Bidwell, is a great example of this with his trick shooting – John pulls someone from the crowd - someone who has not shot before - he asks them where they would shoot at the target (not the lead) in the sky, most times it is the same as John or any shooter would. When John and another great clay shot Mickey Rouse shot from the hip, the instinct takes over.
For you to shoot well you need to have confidence in your ability - measure your success on your past performance and trust yourself where you will pull the trigger. There is a huge amount of ballistic science to shooting, but fundamentally you know where you would pull the trigger at a given point – trust in yourself in competition, not where someone else says.
6. Pressure cooker – does the pressure get to you? Do you get tense over shooting the next pair, especially when you are on a straight? Many shooters experience this and, in Sporting, this is equally true. You shot the other targets so why should you not hit the next? It takes the slightest change in your routine and your movement to miss, even with all that lead from your cartridge.
The key when dealing with the pressure is to control it, or keep to a routine. When you let your mind wander for the slightest moment then you have broken the routine which is why you miss. You have broken the state of focus you were in. The key is to be talking to yourself with simple keywords, look at the target – establish two or three words you want to use and speak to yourself in your mind. This is a very simple self-talk exercise. Even if you use the words move-mount-shoot or, as many do with pheasant, bum-belly-beak. Using words is using your concentration, and you can only focus on one thing at a time. Try talking on a subject and reading from a book on a different topic at the same time – can you do it?
7. Keeping score – why? Do you keep score when you are shooting? The key here is to see what purpose this serves for you and what level you are shooting at. It comes back to always being in control of what you are doing. The view point is that your score is your score. If you perform to your best then you score what is the best for you. If you look at the very top shots they have a rough idea of what the field is scoring, but equally they don`t need a kick to perform at their best (generally), the decision to perform is based on preparation, confidence, self belief and the mental toughness on the day. In real terms the top shot is going to be near the top of the field 9 times out of 10, the position is determined on how they shoot the round in the day.
You will always add pressure if you are adding your score through the day. You will get to the final round or stand knowing that a straight will give you x,y or z. That just adds a huge amount of pressure; you drop targets and your score disappoints you. That is why setting your goals according to you standard and adding a target or two more will see a greater progress.
8. Shooting in a squad FITASC – the FITASC squading brings a new dimension to many shooters. Having to shoot in a squad brings a question of tempo to your shooting. The tempo you shoot is dictated by you - this is where many shooters get pushed along by a squad. You are either swept along by others or feel you should speed up.
You need to train for squad situations; get yourself a tempo that you always use, and feel you have control on your tempo. You can train for this and make it happen for you. When you train, train as if you are in a squad, take time between your turn to shoot – this might sound silly but you can do this when you are at a ground, especially if you are shooting on your own and potentially using a Claymate system - you are only paying for clays.
9. Mental warm up. It is key to go through a mental warm up routine before you shoot, even if it is a final thought process of your routine on the stand and entering the bubble. It also is very important that you don`t change your routine that you normally use – unless, of course, it really doesn't work for you. For this you need to use visualisation, practice a few shots in your mind, get your gun out and being ready with everything you want to shoot with. Many people stick to a superstition of a particular glove, towel or cartridge – a superstition can act as a key to focusing, so they can be really useful.
10. Record Book – where you can keep a record book or journal for your shooting. This is a really helpful way to work through the clay shooting routines, keep an eye on scores and make notes on challenges from a technical and mental point of view. There are evaluation forms found in the Clay Shooting Success Handbook.