All of us who shoot air rifles or air pistols in field target, silhouette, or Olympic ten meter disciplines have felt the pressure of competition. If you’re like me, sometimes you deal with it well and sometimes not so well.
Recently for Shooting Sports USA, I interviewed 13 NRA champions on “The Fine Art of not Cracking Under Pressure.” For the most part, these are not airgun shooters, but the advice that they offer applies to virtually any shooting discipline. The first installment of this three-part series appears in the September edition. If you would like to read the entire series, which runs some 10 pages altogether, you can sign up for a free subscription to the digital edition of Shooting Sports USA here: www.shootingsportsusa.com
Below, with permission from Shooting Sports USA, are some brief excerpts of the champions’ advice for shooting better under pressure.
Dr. Judy Tant, Bullseye Pistol
The fundamentals of handling match pressure are not very exotic. . . If you haven’t prepared, you deserve to be anxious, because it is in some sense a rational response. The other basic that is mundane is that the more matches you shoot, the more desensitized you are likely to be to the pressures of competition.
Phil Hemphill , PPC, Bullseye Pistol
I try to put pressure on myself when I’m practicing, so am accustomed to it in the actual match. Train as realistically as possible. That’s the good thing about training: If you make a mistake, you can go back and correct it. What separates the good shooters from the average shooters is that we have a set game plan, and we go back to our game plan or our checklist, and that helps me to feel that I am back in control.
Doug Koenig, Action Pistol
Everybody suffers from pressure, but the more you are in a particular situation, the better the chance you have of dealing with it. . . When I am in competition, I try to focus on what I have trained to do–Just pick one thing and focus on it. As an example, for the Bianchi competition, I try to focus on the middle of the target and put all my attention there. I try to maintain a laser focus on the exact center of the target.
Lanny Bassham, Smallbore Rifle
Here’s a myth: Pressure causes performance to drop. Pressure does not cause your performance to drop. What I learned about pressure was that when you feel the physical effects of pressure, it’s real. You feel an adrenaline rush, your heart rate goes u and your blood pressure goes up. I’ve seen shooters shoot extremely high scores with their legs shaking. Pressure doesn’t cause your scores to go up or down, but your attitude does. Your attitude is what’s important.
Another myth: If I could avoid pressure, I would do better. Actually, pressure is an amplifier. It is my friend. Pressure makes me realize what I’m doing is important so I pay better attention. Again, careful what you care about. Trust, rather than try when you’re shooting in national competition.
Jessie Abbate, Action Pistol
Not knowing where I stand as the match progresses puts me in a position to do my very best every time I step to the line–giving it everything I can, right there. If I am in a match and I know I have a good stage, it gives me self-confidence to shoot well. But I tell myself that stage is over, and the next stage is a brand new one. If I do badly, I have to drop it, forget it, and move on. Otherwise, dwelling on it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Launi Meile, Smallbore & Air Rifle
For me: Every time I shot, I expected to break a record. I had very positive expectations, but I trained to earn it. If you’re shooting 10 points better than you’ve ever shot, you need to bring it back down into perspective. If you’re saying to yourself “This could be a national record,” you’re bringing the future onto your shoulders, If that comes into your mind, you have to deal with it. But what is your job really right now? To shoot one perfect shot–the thing that you’ve done thousands of times to finish out this match. It takes practice.
Julie Golob, Action Pistol
The critical thing for me is to accept that there is going to be pressure. You’re going to feel nervous or can even have feelings of self-doubt. Add to that, whether you’re thinking about it or not, your body is going to naturally react to tension. The best thing you can do is simply accept this. . . The second thing, while you have all these emotions racing through your system, is to focus on technique. As an action shooter, I tell myself to micromanage everything about my stage–every little thing that I can, instant by instant. Nothing is on auto pilot when I’m preparing to shoot.
Jason Parker, Smallbore & Air Rifle
The best way to deal with any situation where you’re shooting so well you get scared of yourself is to have prepared yourself for those days when you are successful. You have to be ready for those big scores to hit you at any point. It starts with the training. You have to know that you’ve done everything you can to have your best day that day. . . I do a lot of breathing techniques. I don’t have to shoot a particular shot if I don’t want to, so I take a couple of deep breaths, let my heart rate go down and then I’m ready to shoot the shot.
Lones Wigger, Smallbore Rifle
To learn how to win, there are several things you have to learn how to do. You have to do it from within. You have to learn how to train just as if you were in a big competition. You work on every shot. You have got to learn to treat it just like a match–to get the maximum value out of every shot. You have got to use the same technique in practice and in training. A lot of shooters have a problem because they change their technique from practice to the match. In competition, you work your ass off for every shot. You have to approach the training the same way.
Brian Zins, Bullseye Pistol
For me, it’s all about shot process. There should be nothing you do different from shot to shot; whether you’re shooting good or shooting bad. Every good shooter develops a process. The difference between a good shooter and a bad shooter is consistency. From the time you decided you’re going to shoot a shot until the shot goes off, everything has to be the same.
Bruce Piatt, PPC, Action Pistol
On match day, I expect to be nervous; the trick is to monitor yourself and not let it overcome you. Some people, especially new shooters, will have a tremor in their hands and they will panic, making themselves more nervous. Know that it is coming, accept that it is here, and deal with it. Before shooting, I can feel it coming. I often breathe deeply, which does help some. I store my stress in my shoulders, so I do some shoulder rolls, look at the leaves and trees and think what a nice day it is. Anything to get my mind off of the match, if only for a moment. If you focus totally on the shooting all day long, you’ll burn yourself out.
Carl Bernosky, High Power & Action Pistol
I have a routine that takes me right up to where the trigger goes off. When I see what I need to see in the sights, the gun goes off. I try not to pay attention to the gun moving and all the self-talk that comes at you. When I see the sight picture that is correct, the gun should go off. The worst thing you can do in a match is be cautious; being cautious makes you overthink. You want to be in your match mode in practice and your practice mode at the match. Your brain is what makes you nervous, and if you have accustomed your brain to what you are doing, that helps to minimize pressure.
Ernie Vande Zande, Smallbore Rifle
There is something that I do that is called contingency planning. I’m off the range when I’m doing this, and I’m identifying a list of things that could you wrong. If item ‘A’ happens, what is the best, most logical thing for me to do to get back into the competition at a high level? If it actually happens, then you implement the plan that you have already thought out. You know what to do and you do it. It takes a lot of discipline to learn to do this and do it well.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
- Jock Elliott