Eye on the Sight
Given the stillness, focus and precision involved, few other sports match up to the psychological demands that shooting places on its players. In a sport where there’s no scope for hesitation and no margin for error, shooting is less a competition against others, and more a battle against one’s own nerves in the face of mounting pressure.
Mental pressure affects shooters in ways that aren’t always instantly recognizable. It isn’t necessarily just a rise in heart rate or subjective feelings of anxiety and disappointment that have an impact. Instead, uncharacteristic increases in speed and tempo, jumping the sight, delays in trigger initiation and changes in grip and posture may also often be attributed to a player’s state of mind.
Here are some basic sport psychology techniques that all players can use before, during and after the game, to stay calm, and focused in the moment.
Before the Game: The morning before the game, make sure that you have a go-to routine that you follow on all match days. While you shouldn’t exert yourself too much, make sure that you aren’t sitting idle – doing so is going to increase feelings of apprehension and anxiety. Once you enter the competition range, spend a few quiet moments to gather your bearings. Visualizing your technique or doing some breathing exercises can help in this time. As opposed to long drawn out strategies, think of only the three most important things to keep in mind during the game. Remember to focus only on the things that you can control. Block out thoughts related to opponents, audiences and outcomes.
During the Game: Ever wondered how long you’d sustain your interest in shooting if you kept hitting a 10/10 in every shot? Hitting the bulls eye is exciting only because it’s incredibly difficult. Learn to accept that the odd bad shot is going to be a part of the game. Use the mistakes as learning moments; don’t reprimand yourself for them. Treat every shot as a new opportunity; no critical comments about yourself following a bad score. In fact, it’s best to train your mind not to focus on scores at all. Take quick mental breaks after every few shots. In this time, shift your focus to other non-sport related stimuli. Use a fixed pre-shot routine to zone back in for the next shot. Feel the gun as an extension of your hand and let the trigger press as if automatically on it’s own, without much deliberate thought. Cue words can also facilitate this process. Thoughts about the past or future, whether they’re positive or negative can hamper performance. In fact, over thinking is one of the greatest challenges to maintaining equilibrium during the game. The key to shooting well is to get out of your head, stay in the moment, and focus on the task at hand. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re out on the range!
After the Game: What you do after the day is over is as important as what you do before and during the game. Your mood should not depend on medals. Instead, focus more on the quality of shooting. Celebrate a good outing on the range, and recount the things you did well. While it’s natural to feel experience both positive and negative emotions, don’t let the intensity of these feelings overwhelm you. Irrespective of your outcome, don’t withdraw into a shell. Spend some time with people close to you; share your thoughts and feelings with them. Take time out to do things that you enjoy or that help you unwind. Don’t ruminate over the game. It’s time to set your sights on the next match.