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Article 6 – 2013

person aiming shotgun at target range

Question: I am concerned about the huge differences in scores I am shooting in practice as compared to competition. Is there a pre shot routine you can recommend that will help my competition scores increase as I think its my mental game letting me down? In practice it seems nearly too easy. Any help would be appreciated.

Colin Whitmore, Ipswich QLD


Answer: Without knowing you are ever having seen you use a firearm it is hard to advice you Colin. I have to make the assumption that you are of a reasonable standard to be confident enough for you to state it is “nearly too easy” in practice. If this is the case and your scores are varying enormously from practice to competition then you could very easily be suffering from what is commonly referred to as “little man in the head” syndrome. (I am not sure for females if the little man becomes a little woman, but I would assume so)

This condition only arises when a competitor is put under pressure. The “little man in your head” refers to a voice that suddenly awakens under the stress of competition and starts to give you technical commands as you are about to shoot. The voice only ever appears when you are competing, he is never awake during practice, as practice does not mean enough for this “voice” to interfere with your enjoyment of a day at the practice range. Once scores are being kept, bets made, ability questioned or a crowd forms to watch you this voice notoriously awakens. At first you may not be aware of this phenomenon happening or you may very well think this little guy is there to help you. Trust me he is not. He is sent to you from the devil himself. It is his job to make you miss and when you have missed enough that you no longer can achieve your goals then the little fella will go back to sleep and not awaken again until the next time your competitive ability is challenged.

Identifying the problem is one issue, but combating it is another and this is where your pre shot routine comes into play. It is important to practice your pre shot mental routine as much as it is to practice pulling the trigger shooting at a target. The trick to shooting under pressure is to do it automatically and think of nothing at all. Thinking of nothing is easier said than done, but during your practice rounds you are probably already shooting well on “automatic” and don’t even know it. I suggest that you start developing a pre shot routine that takes no more than ten seconds to complete. About 10 seconds before it’s your turn to shoot start to listen to yourself exhale. This will help slow your heart rate down which is vitally important when shooting under pressure. Whilst your doing this visualize what is about to happen next. If you picture a perfect shot in your mind often the exact same visualization will become a reality. A negative thought by the way will usually follow in the same result also. Once you have perfected this simple pre shot routine in practice you need to try it is competition. You may have to modify it slightly to perfect it depending on the circumstances of the competition, but once you have it right keep working on it and don’t take it for granted. That little man will awaken the first chance you let him.

A decent book that was written many years ago by an American author called Tim Gallwey was “The Inner Game of Golf”. The first few chapters have much relevance to the shooting sports. Give it a read, but don’t get too heavily involved after the basics problems are identified at the beginning of the book. Your shooting brain is like your television set. All you need to know is how to switch it on via the red button on the remote. Don’t ever bother unscrewing the back of the television to see how it all works. Disaster will generally follow!

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