Many years ago I wrote about match preparation in what turns out to be a vague and general manner. That’s because 20 years ago I hadn’t read much about that aspect of competition preparation in any sport. Now we have much more information, and the science for this comes from a number of fields including sports, business and music. While the sources are diverse, the principles are pretty much the same and seem to apply across the board.
Recently I had a friend, a musician, who asked me how he could reach “The Zone” on a regular basis. If you have ever had this experience, you know The Zone is a real thing, an altered state in which everything seems to go on automatic. You are more or less an observer of the action, and there is a feeling of calm not normally felt. You are totally focused on the task, and things seem perfect.
“I’ve failed over and over again and that’s why I succeed.”
These days I go to the YMCA on a regular basis — I’m not getting any younger — and I notice there seems to be a perpetual basketball game which involves the same 30-something-year-old participants who clearly are either college-level players or high school stars. I mention these players because I noticed one thing about them: they seemed to be stuck at their ability levels, and the games were very predictable, at least as far as each player goes.
As people become experts at anything, a number of changes occur. These changes are both physical and mental, resulting in the automation of skills and changes in the way we view our area of interest or domain. This process occurs in every field of expertise, including learning how to be a good shotgun competitor.
“What you see is what you get.”
The vast majority of competition shooters are, well, old. By old, I mean 40 or older, and this is important because one of the problems that occurs at this time in our lives is that our vision starts to fade.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”
While doing research for a book I am writing, I came across a number of papers that studied how people prepare for projects or develop business plans. There were a lot of good ideas offered, but one of the most interesting things I found out is a lot of businesses are failures in spite of good plans and good execution of those plans.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
—Karl Marx (among a whole host of others)
Recently I spoke to a high school shotgun team and their parents about the value of mental training. During that speech I mentioned practice should not be fun because it is supposed to be hard work. I used the example I mention a lot in this column, that shooting a round of skeet is not practice unless you are trying to learn how to shoot a round of skeet.
“I can make you faster, but I can’t make you fast.”
—Jerry Baltes, Head Coach, Grand Valley State University Track and Field
If you have been competing for any time, you probably have a pre-shot ritual. For most shooters, it consists of lining up your feet, choosing the start and end point for the shot, visualizing the path of the target, making a pass along the line of flight with an unloaded gun, loading and taking a deep breath just before calling for the shot — just like your coach taught you.
“I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head.” —Jack Nicklaus
We all know competition shooting consists of the good, the bad and the ugly. And, if you are having one of those days in which everything seems to go wrong, the good is not very obvious. Match stress messes everything up, and it will do it every time if we don’t prepare for it. But even if we do, there is the potential for disaster.