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The OPTIMAL Process – Part 2, Pre-shot Routine

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

(PART 2 – Continued from the Part 1)

Besides being great shots, competitors at the top of our sport have something else in common…a process. Whether in sporting clays, FITASC or any other self-paced sport from golf to shot put, top competitors have a process or “program” that they run through as they prepare for and execute their performance. Simply put, a pre-execution routine breeds consistency in execution and reduces the likelihood that our conscious mind will be occupied with thoughts that distract us. Pre-shot routines help us focus our mental energy on the task at hand. Virtually all sports psychologists will tell you that, in order to consistently deliver peak performance, the athlete should focus on the process, not the results. In competition, you can’t control the weather, your competitor, malfunctions or the behavior of your squad mates. You can, however, control the process you use when competing and how well you adhere to that process for each pair.

Have you ever missed the second target of a pair because you forgot where the target was coming from? Have you ever felt yourself rushing through the third or fourth pair because you just wanted to get it done and get out of the station? Have you ever crushed your first two pairs and then missed one or two in the third or fourth pair? When I see lapses like these by experienced competitors, the root cause is most often attributable to a flawed pre-shot routine.

As we discussed, pre-shot planning is always accomplished outside the shooting stand, unless you happen to be the lucky first shooter in the rotation. Once pre-shot planning is complete, you should be very familiar with the pair you are about to shoot. In fact, you should have essentially memorized the pair, the location of the traps and the target lines. You should have identified your visual pick-up points (PUP), your hold points (HP) and your break points (BP). You should know exactly where your eyes and your gun will go throughout the execution of the pair. You now have a solid shot plan and you have tested that plan to make sure that it’s sound. Even with all this done, you should continue to revise and solidify your plan while the shooter immediately preceding you in the rotation engages the targets.

Phase 2 of The OPTIMAL® Process, the pre-shot routine, starts the moment you step into the box to shoot your target pairs. While the pre-shot routine described here is simple to remember and execute, it is important that you understand the science and purpose behind the process.

The pre-shot routine aspect of The OPTIMAL® Process is far from arbitrary and is based on significant research on the mental game and biofeedback. It is designed specifically for sporting clays and FITASC competitors and is based on 5 general concepts:

1) If your Ready Position, the physical starting point for a target pair, is correct then you are more likely to break the pair.

2) If you mentally rehearse the execution of a target pair, you are more likely to execute the pair properly than if you don’t rehearse it.

3) If not controlled, you are likely to allow certain thoughts, doubts or distractions interfere with your execution.

4) Your brain emits various types of brain waves depending on what you are doing, thinking and seeing.

5) There are certain types of brain waves that optimize hand-eye and mind-body coordination (Low Alpha, also known as SMR). If you can train your brain to emit Low-Alpha waves at will, you can optimize your hand-eye coordination immediately prior to calling for the targets.

While there is a sizable volume of published research on brain-wave activity and biofeedback in self-timed sports, it not necessary for you to understand why low-alpha or SMR waves optimize hand-eye coordination. Just know that they do. More important is the fact that you can train yourself to increase low-Alpha brain-wave activity just prior to engaging a pair by executing a simple, memorable and repeatable pre-shot “program”. In other words, by executing a pre-shot routine just prior to calling for each pair, you can occupy the conscious mind with constructive thoughts while clearing it of destructive thoughts and optimizing low-Alpha waves and thus your hand-eye coordination. A scientifically proven technique for momentarily increasing your low alpha (SMR) and optimizing your hand-eye coordination is to briefly close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize the pair in your mind.

Putting theory into practice

The pre-shot routine phase of The OPTIMAL® Process is IMAGE – MARK – ALIGN – LASER FOCUS. As you step into the shooting stand, your surroundings may look different compared to your vantage point during pre-shot planning. As the trapper confirms your name, announces “trapper ready” and you load two shells, take a deep breath and focus your attention on the area over which you will shoot the targets. Visually re-establish the target line across the sky, vegetation and terrain. Visualize (IMAGE) the targets in your mind at the actual speed you will see them as you call for the pair.

Recall the break-points you established during your pre-shot planning and MARK (or set) your feet appropriately. For right-handed shooters, the left or lead foot should be pointed at the left-most breakpoint of the pair (right foot to the right-most break-point for left-handed shooters).

As you execute the pair in your mind for a second time, take another deep breath and feel yourself “focusing small” with heightened visual focus, seeing detail on the targets.

Imagine seeing the first target break, then transitioning your eyes and gun to the second target. Shut your eyes briefly in what I describe as a long blink. In final preparation, you move your body and gun to your ready position. If your ready position and subsequent movement to the target is good, your barrel should remain oriented on the target line from your ready position and hold point, all the way through your move, mount and break-point.

As you ALLIGN your barrel with the target line and hold point of the first target, you utter these final words to yourself as a mental cue to apply sharp focus to the targets: LASER FOCUS. Then “PULL”.

Putting it all together

Pause for a moment. Let the pair that you just broke sink into your subconscious. Think about how it felt (not how it looked). Without moving your feet, you load two shells for your second pair. From here on out, you only need to IMAGE, ALLIGN and LASER FOCUS. No need to re-MARK your feet. The only situation in which you should move or adjust your feet is if you feel that your stance was misaligned with the break-points. Now it’s time to shoot the second pair. Once again you IMAGE (or visualize) the pair in your mind in real-time while taking a long blink with your eyes and a deep breath. Take a second deep breath as you move your body and gun to your ready position. As you ALLIGN your barrel with the target line and hold point of the first target, you tell yourself LASER FOCUS. “PULL”. You repeat the process for the third and fourth pair. It’s “8 and out”.

As you step out of the box, ask yourself: How well did I adhere to the process. How was my pre-shot planning? Did I stick to my pre-shot routine on each pair? Give yourself a grade for your mental performance on that station. Was it a 6 out of 10? 8 out of 10? Forget about the X’s and O’s on the scorecard. Performance orientation is just one of the many mental rabbit holes in which you can find yourself during competition. Focus on the process, not your performance. This is the only score that is worth keeping until you have fired your last shot of the day.

To view all segments of the pre-shot routine in one consolidated video, go to:

Figure 1 [[Same as the first figure in the previous article spelling out OPTIMAL]]

Figure 2 [[Same as the diagram in the previous article showing the shooter with trap and target line with PUP, HP and BP]]

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