This article by Lanny Bassham was printed in Clay Shooting USA in 2010, Lanny has been a featured writer for Clay Shooting USA for many years. The focus is for sporting clays shooters but the information may also be helpful to people in a wide variety of sports.
Are you mentally tough? Do you think of yourself as being mentally strong when shooting? To my way of thinking in order to say you are mentally tough in competition you should be able to do the following things. First you must be able to handle the variables in Sporting Clays and finally you must be able to handle the constants.
Let’s look at the variables. Many shooters have told me that Sporting Clays offers the most variables to the shooter among the shotgun sports. In Skeet the targets are well known in advance, all Skeet fields are the same and the only target variable is the wind. In Trap the targets always start from the same location and are all going away. You must master the variable of not knowing the angle of departure of course. But for the Sporting Clays shooter, the target possibilities are endless.
How are you doing at handling the target presentations? The target setters are doing everything they can to miss-lead, deceive and force you to do the wrong thing on a station. Some targets have a higher level of difficulty than others. The key is to keep your mental effort constant on all targets. Do not let the mental level drop on the so-called softer targets. They may look easy on the surface but this not a time to shortcut your preparation on them or reduce your focus. The elite of the game often remark, when having a below-par performance, that they hit the difficult presentations well but missed too many of the easier ones. It is equally important not to elevate the natural level of effort on the so-called hard targets as that will lead to over-trying and add to the lost target count. It is probable that you will see target combinations that you have never imagined much less trained on. If this happens break the presentation down into elements that you have had success hitting. This presentation may look different but recall in your memory any presentation that you know how to hit that is similar and start there. Keep your process of shooting the same on these kinds of targets. When faced with a target-variable - Stay Constant!
How are you doing at handling score variables? When you are shooting really well do you at some point begin to feel uncomfortable? Do you feel you are shooting over your head? Do you begin to feel the pull of the building score on you? A common tendency at this time is to become careful. The focus switches from hitting targets to trying not to miss them. Bad idea. You’ve hit these targets thousands of times before. Do not change a thing about the way you approach them. Do not let the environment alter your plan to break the targets. One suggestion from the mentally tough is to begin again. Just start over in your mind. This station is the start of your day. You have no past score. This may just reduce the pressure enough for you to post a personal best today.
Another variant on this issue occurs when you have a poor start and you try to make up for it by elevating the effort on the next pair out. Remember over-trying is a mental error. One of the best ways to beat over-trying in this situation is to take a deep breath or two and yawn and stretch a bit before you step into the station. Now trust that you will know what to do on the shot. Refrain from the temptation to give it something extra in the shot process. When faced with a score-variable - Stay Constant!
How are doing about handling the emotional variable? Do you shoot better when it is fun or when it is not fun? Does getting upset or angry after a pair or station help you or tend to hurt you? Are you able to control you emotions when the breaks fall against you. The wind blows the targets toward the station for everyone else and then changes to make it a harder shot for you? Is it possible for you to control your emotions or do you always let the environment control you. The mentally tough are able to define the emotion that gives them their best result and monitor it during the day. When the environment is pulling you away from this level of control you need to adjust your emotional level. I do not expect you to be happy about a poor performance. The key is to make the correction and move on to the next pair or station without any emotional distraction. About those breaks, shoot this game long enough and the breaks will even out. When faced with the emotional-variable – Stay Constant.
How are you doing at handling the people variable? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if shooters were positive all of the time on the course? Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of positive people in this game and it is important that you be among them. But, Sporting Clays is a slow sport with plenty of down time while you are waiting for the other members of your squad to shoot. Interaction with other people is probable and this can sometimes become problematic. It is vital that you stay constant in your feeling about your shooting. If others are quick to complain or beat themselves up after a poor station performance you do not want to be the sounding board for them. Here is my suggestion. When people are positive and encouraging move toward them. Engage the positive ones. When they are negative move away. Let the negative people find each other. You will be with the positive ones. You cannot always choose whom you will be shooting with but you can choose whom you engage. Shooters should be pro-active about staying positive throughout the day regardless of the situation. When faced with a people-variable – Stay Constant!
So, what are the constants? Constants are anything you can define as a primary way of executing. You have a primary way of holding, mounting and moving the gun on certain kinds of targets. Stay constant. You have a primary way of standing, looking for targets, establishing break and hold points. You have a shot routine that is comfortable and works best for you. Keep it the same. The mentally tough have a consistent way of thinking before, during and after a pair or single. This is defined and is synchronized with their shot routine. Your body changes when you change thought. Stay constant in your thinking. If you change what you are thinking about based on what the environment is giving you your mental game is a function of a variable. Therefore, your mental game is a variable and you cannot have mental consistency. When faced with a choice of having a constant or a variable – Choose a Constant!
Sporting Clays may generate the greatest variable demand on the shooter of all shotgun sports but you can stay ahead of the game by seeking to make constants out of variables when possible.
by Lanny Bassham - go to http://www.mentalmangement.com or email Lanny at email@example.com