Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It’s Not an Option.

The shooting season is over and while some of us are thanking our lucky stars we got through the season without hurting ourselves, others are shooting so well, they are wishing it would go on for several more months. Either way, the next few months are as important as when we are in the middle of the competition season. Actually, they are more important.

So often, we don’t use this time off to our best benefit. Some of us pack away the gun, take a clean break and don’t even think about shooting. Others take no break at all, shooting local matches and use the rest of the time on the practice field.

Life is about balance and so is shooting. The best time to balance out your shooting journey is during the off season, when your mind is clear. Shooters will use this time to reflect on the past season, thinking about certain shots and working hard to learn from the mistakes they made. Over the next few months, you’re thinking about what went wrong and how to fix it. That’s really not the most productive way to spend the off season, dwelling on all the things that went wrong.

The mind is a powerful tool. A tool we don’t always use in the right way. Shooters tell me how they use the off season to learn from their mistakes and build off of those mistakes for the upcoming year. I always wondered – how you can build off of mistakes? Wouldn’t it be easier to build off successes?  One of my old coaches told me, “Don’t work on what went wrong. Work on what went right. Energy used on what went wrong is nothing but wasted energy.”

The off season IS the perfect time to recap and prepare for the upcoming season. Begin by building off what you did right. When reviewing matches shot, look at the ones you performed well at and determine why. ‘Everything just clicked’ might be the first answer you come up with, but it’s not the only answer. Dig a little deeper and find out why. Were you feeling particularly confident that day, and if so why? Were you seeing the target more clearly that day than any other day, and why is that? I can’t give you the answers to those questions, but I can ask you to dig down and find those answers yourself.

At the MEC booth at the Grand American, a lot of shooters came in and told me about their rounds and inevitably they start out by telling me what they did wrong. Start out by telling me, and yourself, what you did right. Focus on what you did correctly and build off that. Take what you did right on that one station and use it on the next station and the next.

Trying to build anything from a mistake or failure will only result in more mistakes and failures. Building something from a success can only result in more successes. So, during this off season, as you reflect on the previous shooting year, build from only the successes. It’s a choice you make on how you want to look at your season and remember, failure is not an option.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fighting the Mid-Season Slump

Having just returned from the Grand American Trap Shoot, I talked with many shooters, both young and old, who told the same story and asked the same question. “I was shooting great at the start of the season and now I can’t hit a thing. What am I doing wrong?” The dreadful mid-season slump, we’ve all experienced it and when we do, we get the same advice, ‘just shoot your way out of it.’

Well, there’s some truth to that, but it’s how you approach shooting your way out of it that makes all the difference. The fundamentals of golf are similar to those of shooting and I play and watch a lot of golf. Not surprisingly, even pro golfers suffer from mid-season slumps, but what caught my attention was how they deal with it. 

To put it simply, they go back to the basics. Tiger Woods is a perfect example. His struggles on the golf course these days are well known, but he’s working his way out of it. How? He went back to his basics. He pulled footage of his swing when he was at the top of his game and did a comparison of then and now. To the average person, it looks the same, but not to Tiger or his coach. To him, it wasn’t even close to the same swing.  He and his coach went out to the driving range and he’s working on bringing back that swing. He is going back to the basics; going back to what made him a champion.

That’s what we shooters should do, go back to our basics. However, there’s a little more to it. First off, it’s easier said than done because we think we are doing so, but a minor little obstacle gets in the way that we’re not even conscious of. It’s called Muscle Memory.

It took a few months to get into this slump and remain in it. Over those months, we made slight changes to how we do things. Changes we don’t even notice. Whether it’s a small cant in the gun, how we make the initial move to the target or how we finish the execution of the overall shot. We did it over and over again and it’s become so ingrained in our muscle memory, it’s now habit and we don’t even realize it. It could be one thing or several.

It’s easy for the pro golfers. They have old footage from matches they can turn to and professional coaches they pay a lot of money for to watch them practice and analyze their swings. We don’t have that luxury. So, what do we do?

First, forgive yourself for shooting badly. Put aside all those bad scores and awful shots you keep remembering and give yourself permission to take the time to fix it.

Then, put down the gun and think back to the days when everything was in sync and making the shot came easily. Think about how good that felt and how you executed the shot, from start to finish. Not just pulling the trigger, but from the time you stepped on the station until you stepped off.  Go out on the practice range and most importantly, take your time and think about what you’re doing. Don’t just shoot shot after shot, throwing ammo downrange. Think about the basic fundamentals that got you to this level and make sure each shot is executed with those fundamentals. The first couple of practice rounds will take time, because you’re carefully thinking about what you’re doing.  You have to implement new muscle memory and that takes concentration and consistency. But it will happen.

Remember, you can’t pull yourself out of a slump by just shooting your way out of it. It takes patience, going back to basics, and belief in yourself and your ability to beat the slump and finish the season strong.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Getting ready for the Season Opener

By Shari LeGate

A comment was made the other day that shooters weren’t really athletes. Not in the sense of a track athlete or baseball or football athlete. I would argue that point, saying those who make those types of statements have never stood on a trap line in the heat of summer for a few hours hitting target after target. That’s a true athlete. 

Shooters are athletes in every sense of the word. Preparation for competition may not be like a football player lifting heavy weights or a jogger running 25 miles a day training for a marathon, but shooters still train, even during the off season. 

Preparing for the shooting season doesn’t mean just throwing ammo down range and shooting as many targets as you can. Granted, you have to practice the execution of shooting at a real target, but there are non-shooting activities you can do to prepare for the upcoming season, and those can help improve your overall shooting even more. 
Review your shooter diary: The off season is a perfect time to look back at your scores. Find patterns in your performance and use those patterns to work on areas that are weak. That doesn’t mean if you miss the same type of target a few times during one match, it’s a pattern. That could just mean you were a bit off that day. If you check your performance over the entire season and that same missed target keeps showing up, however, then you’ve got something to work with. Set up a training routine to change that behavior. Work and execute that change for about a month, so it becomes part of your muscle memory and when you step on the line, you’re confident about hitting the target. 

If you don’t keep a shooter diary or journal with your scores, mental training routines and other information….start. Keeping track of past performances is the best way to improve future performances. 

Exercise the eyes: You can’t hit what you can’t see. When you have time off, you need to keep working your eyes. The eye is a muscle and it needs to be exercised. Like other muscles, the eye muscle will get lazy if it doesn’t work out. Go to a shooting range and watch targets, even if you’re not shooting. Just by looking at targets as much as possible, you’re training and exercising your eyes, preparing them for the next few months of staring hard at targets. 

Do regular eye exercises. Focus on something close and then move your eye out focusing on something about 35 yards out. You’re getting your eyes used to the movement of looking close in at the barrel when you first bring up your gun and then moving the eye out to find the target. Muscle memory begins to set in and you’ll find it takes less time to acquire and focus on the target. 

We all put our guns down when the season ends, and then a few months before the new season begins we start preparing and set up a practice schedule. Keep in mind that even if you haven’t been physically shooting at a target, you can still work on your game before that first match, just by doing a few simple things. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.