Monday, May 12, 2008

How Do You Begin to Develop Your Mental System?

This article was printed in the Clay Shooting USA Magazine written by Lanny Bassham

What percentage of your shooting success is mental? I’ve asked this question to countless champions in my career as both an elite competitor and as a coach. Most say that the mental game is 90% mental or higher. If you agree, are you spending 90% of your time, money and effort on your mental game? No? If not what are you doing and more importantly what should you be doing?

Don’t feel too bad if you are neglecting your mental game as you are in good company. Most shooters do not have a defined mental system. They can tell you how they mount the shotgun, how they approach each target and why it is done just their way. They have their technique down and might even go to a coach occasionally for a tune up. But, it is highly likely, the mental game is not something that we have a good handle on and here is why. It is much more difficult to duplicate a proper mental program than to duplicate a proper move on a target. One reason is that you can watch your coach shoot and do it the same way but how do you determine what he is thinking? It is not easy.

Have You Done Your Research?

So, how do you develop the mental game? First, do your homework. You might want to learn the mental fundamentals the same way you learned the technical or physical ones. Find someone who is an expert or in your opinion has this down and ask them what they do. This could be a coach or elite shooter or perhaps a sport psychologist. I would prepare you in advance that this is no easy task. Many good shooters who appear to be mentally tough are not capable or not willing to explain what they are doing mentally. They can do it and might not really know how or why. Also, some think they have it down when they do not. I thought I had complete mental control prior to my mental meltdown at the Olympics in 1972 that resulted in the Silver instead of a Gold Medal. Also, I have yet to find a psychologist that is a winning shooter or has ever personally used the advice he offers to win a really big shoot. Psychologists are educated in feelings and relationships but you do not have to win at anything to get a PHD. But, they are normally good at explaining what they do know which is valuable. OK, so it might not be easy to get answers about the mental game but I still feel that interviewing the best experts that you can find should be a vital part of your strategy to gather information. This is what I did for several years and I used the information as a basis for my Mental Management System.

Next, I suggest that you do a review of the books, magazine articles and CD/Video recordings that are recommended by people that you respect in the sport. What are the winners reading, watching and listening to? If you go to the book store or library you will find tons of books. I can tell you that almost all of them have something of value to offer you. But, why not narrow down the ones that people recommend and read those first.

Another important step is to investigate the opportunities to attend seminars where discussions of the mental game are a part of the curriculum. These courses are offered by professional trainers and by your shooting associations. If possible, I recommend that you personally talk to the persons making the presentations prior to signing up to make certain that the information is targeted toward your skill level. Appropriate advice varies greatly based on the participation level of the shooter.

Determine Your Participation Level

There appears to be a subtle but important division among shooters. I call it their Participation Level. There are three levels or groups. The first group is made up of people that are training to learn the sport or talent. The second group trains to compete and the third group is training to win. Advice given to one group might be inappropriate for another. For example, if one would ask me if taking food supplementation was important I would suggest no for group one, maybe for group two and absolutely for group three. Is having a backup gun essential? For group one, probably not, perhaps for group two and absolutely for group three. Everything gets more important the higher the level of achievement.

It is much the same with the mental skills. You can get away with a negative attitude if you want to just learn a sport. But, if you wish to dominate the sport you must abandon your negative ways and discipline yourself to certain principles. Here are some examples:

Principle Number One
– What you think about matters. Every time you picture or talk about missing a target your Self Image thinks you have just missed it again, you’ve created an imprint and you’ve dramatically improved the chances of missing it in the future. So, if you wish to dominate your sport you cannot afford to think about your non-hits.

Principle Number Two
– Your Self Image needs positive nourishment. When you do something correctly, like running a stand, give yourself some recognition. Reward yourself. Think, “That’s like me!” Remember, staying positive is only essential if you desire to win. If you can handle not winning you can afford to stay negative. But, if you wish to win, you must get positive and stay positive. It is a matter of degree.

You should make certain that you filter the advice collected in your research based on your level of participation. Again, this is not so easy and this is another example of just how important a professional coach can be in aiding you in these types of instances.

Analyze Your Current Program

Begin by grabbing a pen and paper and honestly answer some questions about your current mental system. You cannot effectively change a system if you do not know the current state of the system. Here are some good questions to ask to get you started:

• How do I train my mind now?

• What principles do I believe and follow about mental performance?

• Do I have a mental system, if so what is it?

• What do I think about at the beginning of a competition to prepare my mind to shoot well?

• What do I think about while I am actually shooting?

• What do I think about just after I shoot?

• What system do I use to record my shooting progress?

• What recovery strategies do I have to use if things need to turn around for me in a competition?

• What are my shooting goals?

• What goal setting system do I use?

• How do I focus and refocus my Conscious mind?

• How do I train my Self Image?

• Are my competition scores and training scores the same or is there a big difference in them?

• I do I handle pressure well?

• How do I monitor and control my emotions when competing?

• Who do I consult with about these issues?

Determine If You Are Willing to Go It Alone

Once you’ve determined your participation level, done your research and evaluated your current program you have at least one more thing to do and you will be out of the starting gates and well on your way to designing an effective mental program. Determine if you will seek counsel on mental issues or will you go it alone. I offer three suggestions. First, if you are going it alone make certain you do your research well as it is all you will have to guide you in your decision making. Secondly, if you decide to seek help, find someone that has either been where you want to go or has trained someone that has made it. Everyone has an opinion and most are untested under fire. Finally, if you are at participation level three, training to win, then I feel that you have little choice but to hire the best help you can afford as it may happen that your competition is doing just that.

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