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Ask the Instructor: The Mental Game

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Q: The biggest obstacle I face in trying to improve my shooting performance is between my ears. My mental and visual focus seem to come and go throughout the round. Any suggestions?

A: As competitors, we yearn for consistency and rising scores. In fact, we expect it. As we gain experience, and practice regularly,we feel we have earned the right to see our scores rise and proficiency improve. But technical proficiency alone isn’t sufficient to land us at the top of the scoreboard. A pre-shot process is also a critical element for the clay shooter on his or her journey to Master Class.

This pre-shot process has two essential components in sporting clays: a pre-shot planning process and a pre-shot routine. In the pre-shot planning process, you must observe the targets, devise a target engagement plan and test your plan. Once you’ve developed a plan, you are ready to begin the pre-shot routine phase of your process. Here is where you must transition your mind from the heavily analytical planning process, where the conscious mind is hyperactive, to the heavily subconscious process of executing the shot. Since you can’t put the conscious mind to sleep or render it inactive, you must occupy your conscious mind with thoughts that promote mental and visual focus. These thoughts must be consistent from one pair to the next. Pre-shot routines have three critical components:

1) Visualization (or out of body rehearsal) imagining what it will look and feel like to move to the gun to your breakpoints and break the shot pair.

2) Deep breathing to preempt the oxygen deprivation which often occurs as we start to breath more shallowly in reaction to nervous anticipation.

3) a visual cue, a verbal trigger that we say to ourselves just prior to calling for the targets and that prompts us to focus acutely on the targets. Devising and executing a pre-shot sequence is easier said than done but recognizing the need for a pre-shot process is half the battle.

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