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You have Proven Your Physical Game....now
If you have shot skeet, trap or sporting clays for very long, you have probably broken, at least once, just about every target option from every station. So the physical game, proving to yourself that you have the ability to do the job has been accomplished. What is left?
The toughest part of the game remains - and it comes from that slab of fatty tissue between your ears - it is now all mental. It is all what is in your head that decides if you will succeed or fail. So how do you prepare and make it happen.
When you get up on the morning of a shoot, are you already going through the plan for the day? Well if you had been doing your homework, you would have been going over the plan for the day for the last 8 hours while you slept. Oh, wait, you didn't get a full night's sleep? So you weren't really serious about competing today, it was just going to be 100 rounds that really aren't that big a deal, right? Why take a local shoot seriously anyway, right?
Holy Cow, it is 24 degrees outside and I only brought a light windbreaker to shoot in today. And I left the shoes I've been practicing in at my friend's house last nigh so all I have now are these flip flops. I have a new hole in my shooting glove palm. Well that's not a big deal since it isn't my shooting finger.
Oh man, I thought I had 100 rounds of Remington Gun Club, not 50. That's Ok, I have two boxes of these Rio shells that guy gave me and they are legal here since they are 7 1/2 shot.
When you first started shooting, either as a hunter or just entering as a competitor, none of this made a dimes bit of difference in your performance. You could jump out of bed with a hangover, slurp some coffee and a handful of aspirin for that headache. You pull on those skinny jeans you thought were a hit at the party last night and a semi-clean t-shirt. No big deal since you will be covering that up with a vest if you can find it, and you have 3 different kinds of shotgun shells that make up your 100 rounds you need for your skeet shoot today.
But you were also pretty happy with shooting a solid 80 out of 100 targets. You have since gotten more serious about your shooting; you look for anything that will improve your ability to compete. Your still oscillating like a fan between great days nearly breaking 100 to other days that a 90 would have been nice, and you don't know exactly why. You are not hesitant to buy another shooting video in hopes of finding an answer from one of the top shooters in the country there. You are always hitting the gun shop to see if there is a new gizmo that you can attach to your shotgun that is going to make it "better." You do all these things and yet, you seem stuck without any improvement to the next level.
What is in the way?
Do an analysis of what you have and what you need before you come to a shoot. If you have been doing what I advocate strongly and keeping a shooting log, you can easily refer to it and can see what you were wearing in what weather conditions when you shot your best. You can look into that log and see what ammunition has functioned and performed the best in your shotgun. For that matter, you know which shotgun has worked best for you in which configuration considering chokes, weights, modifications and adjustments to the stock, sight, etc.
If you know what has performed the best, that is what you bring to the game. Why, because your brain will then accept that this is your best chance to do your best, to be at the top of your game. If parts are missing - your brain knows this and if you want it to or not - it will begin to blame things, like that hole in your glove or the wrong ammunition.
If you are going to do ANY athletic competition, you get your rest. If you don't get your rest, you will not compete. It is that simple. Your brain knows that.
The new stuff you have added or subtracted from your attire or shotgun - you must need to confirm with yourself that this is good. If you are even shooting with a new cap, if it is different, you must agree it is better. Huge - changes in decision to wear a certain color of lenses or adopt a "magic dot" prior to shooting. NEVER do something like this until you have had the chance to practice several times under different conditions to make a change like this.
Why do you think the Olympic team shoots $14,000 Perazzi shotguns? Are they needed? Required for some international reason? No, it is because these are treasured, extremely hiqh quality shotguns. To remove doubt from the shooters that their equipment may not be as good as the Italian guy shooting next to them, they get the best available and shoot those. One less chance for that brain thing.
Have you ever had a competitor walk by and make a comment like, "man, nobody can shoot in wind like that." Or, "I can't believe how the sun is reflecting off the targets today." What does that do for your brain. It injects a small amount of doubt, period. You know you can shoot in that wind with the best of them, you have done it before! Of course the sun is reflecting off the targets - you love that - you can see them that way, so why is that a problem. It is the suggestion that it is a problem. It is actually quit unsportsmanlike to make a comment like this. But it is a head game and they just got into your head.
Get It Right
This is the point. Happy that you have read through to here. Time to get it right. You have to tell yourself you are prepared physically and believe it. You need to sit down in a quiet room, alone, and step to the line in your mind with every target. Skeet is obviously the easiest to do this with as all the targets tend to be the very same by design. You see the bird, see the swing, see the crush 25 times in a row. That is the last video your brain has and it knows you broke every one of them.
Trap is a bit more difficult than skeet to do, so it takes a little longer as you have to shoot probably 3 birds at each station; that is on post 1, hard left, mid-left, straight away, post 2 left, straight, right, post three, left, center, right, post four, left, center, right, post five, straight away, right, hard right. Have broken target videos in your brain for each.
Sporting clays offers some other challenges but the reality is you can still think through springing teal, right or left crossers, outbound and inbound targets and targets of various sizes. Broken target videos in your brain for each.
If you do these things I can't guarantee you that last bird every time. What I can guarantee you is an improvement in your consistency as a competitor. If that is what your intend to do, then do it as best you can. Good Shooting!
Coaches, Moms & Dads
There are a lot of well-meaning people out there. Some come with the greatest intentions - and come at exactly the WRONG time. I have seen this so many, many times - and I am probably just as guilty as others now and again, unintentionally.
You are getting ready to shoot and you are concentrating, getting your focus for that first shot. Everything so far has been OK, you have everything like it is supposed to be...you are preparing yourself mentally...then it happens. Someone has to take your eye off the ball. There can be any list of reasons for this, none of which short of a medical emergency should be allowed. Anything else can wait 15 minutes to the end of the round, or better yet, 1-2 hours until the end of the shoot. But that isn't how it happens.
Younger shooters in particular still have mom and dad rightfully involved in supporting them at shoots - and that is great. But mom and dad need to understand their role for that next hour is to sit down, shut up, and smile no matter what for the next hour, period. No comments - beyond a sincere "good luck" prior to the shooting, after that, the best thing would be disappear. Think this through...who has had the most influence on this shooter for the past 14, 15, 18 years? What does a scowl mean, a frown, a look of concern - what does just that look do to or for a shooter who is doing everything in the world to concentrate on the very next shot? Even worse, I have seen parents, involved, caring, loving parents, engage their teenager prior to a shooting event and with the kid's head in the game the kid doesn't respond in the normal, respectful manner they normally do. One or both parents throw their hissy-fit because "they are the boss" or they are funding this great opportunity or they own this...and ruin what could have been the kids best day - even if it only cost one or two or three birds.
I have seen coaches try to coach the day of a shoot. If it didn't get coached prior to the day of - it isn't going to happen while the shooter is in the box on a sporting clays field. Offering words of praise is fine - good shot, nice round, keep it up. NOTHING NEGATIVE ALLOWED EVER on the field or prior to a shoot beginning. Remember the mention above about a competitor planting a seed of doubt just by saying "no one can shoot in this wind...?" What do you think happens when a coach or parent or other teammate says "you are behind every bird." Don't you think the shooter knows where they are shooting - and all that was accomplished was confirming doubt in the shooter.
Parents - either learn to hide, keep a poker face with a slight smile, or go away while your kids are competing, and by all means, the only words allowed prior to a shoot must be encouraging and positive. If you have something to take up with them - do so after the shooting is completed, not until then!