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  • The scoreboard

    During competitions, I don't like to talk about scores until the competition is over. I don't talk about my scores and I don't want to know about other competitor's scores until the competition is over. I will even take an alternative route into the club house so that I don't see the scoreboard during a competition. I just want to concentrate on shooting the next target. I don't need to worry about the overall score as this takes care of itself (as long as I take care of the next target!). I want to concentrate on my process and I don't want to be distracted into thinking about outcome.

    The downside is that other competitors might think I am a bit standoffish, but at the end of the day, I know what works for me and it is only for the duration of the competition. Now the format of various sports can vary and this needs to be thought about too. If there are long periods between rounds where you are waiting for your turn, it is important to ensure that your mind is in the right place. You need to relax and keep up your positive thinking, particularly if things aren't going exactly to plan. I often wear a big pair of headphones while I am between shooting rounds. They often aren't plugged into anything, but are there to (politely) discourage other competitors from talking to me.

  • Missed targets

    If I miss a target here's what I do:

    • Stop and pause - there's no rush. That target has gone, there's nothing I can do about it. Just let it go.
    • Figure out what went wrong -concentrate on what you are going to do to hit the next one. There's little point in doing exactly the same thing again as this will probably end up with the same result.
    • Visualise the correct process including the target being hit
    • Recompose and call for the next target.
  • When someone makes a mistake, you will often hear them say one of two things:

    • I overthought that!
    • I wasn't concentrating!

    The "overthinking" is really about not trusting your sub-conscious and allowing it to take control of your actions. This is really important, but is covered in one of the other sections on this website.

    However, the comment about not concentrating is really about a lack of focus and that's what we will cover here.

    It can depend on the exact nature of the sport, but it is likely that you do not have to concentrate all the time. For example, with golf, there is the walk along the fairway between shots. You absolutely do need to be focused when teeing off or making a putt, but it is important to use the downtime between shots too. Shooting is no different. In major competitions, where it might take 4 hours to complete, you only have to concentrate for short periods of time. In fact, if you tried to concentrate for the entire 4 hours, then you would not last the competition.

    One of the keys to success in any sport is knowing when to focus.  The next step is learning how  to turn this capability on and off at will. It can be done, but like other skills, it has to be practiced and learnt.

  • Maintaining focus

    But what does "maintaining focus" really mean? For me, it means "staying in the present" - fully engaged with your surroundings and ready for action.

    The key here is to avoid your brain going into "story telling" mode. You either start thinking about the past (e.g. I have missed this target three times already today) or worrying about the future (e.g. if I miss anything else, I am going to look a bit of a Wally!). Either are guaranteed to distract you from being in the present. So remember, anything that you can do that helps you stay in the present will help you to improve your focus (and therefore your performance).

    Here's some other tricks for staying connected with the present:

    • Stay connected - feel the ground beneath your feet, feel how the bat/club/racket feels in your hands. Feedback from your surroundings is a sure fire way of keeping engaged with the present
    • Using a running commentary on what you see - how are the flags flying, cars arriving in the car park - this again will keep your thoughts revolving around what is happening in the present;
    • Counting things in that you can see can also be a very effective distraction technique - how many trees can you see? how many blue things can you see? etc        
    • Stay calm - Concentrate on listening to your breathing.  A useful breathing exercise is to take a short breathe in, hold it for 2 seconds and then take a long breathe out.  Do this three times while concentrating on something in the far distance.  Not only will it distract you, it will reduce your heart rate by up to 10%.   
  • Positive back chat

    How many times have you seen someone make a mistake and then give themselves a real hard time? And I mean a really hard time. A sort of McEnroe moment where they turn the air blue and start cursing themselves and their stupidity!

    What does this achieve? Nothing. In fact, it only makes matters worse. All this does is to reinforce the very behaviour you are trying to avoid. Often a competitor will work themselves up into such a state that they miss the next target because they are still in a funk about the previous one they missed! All of this serves as a distraction and removes them from the present.

    You wouldn't dream of talking to a 7-year-old that way, so why would you talk to yourself in that way? We need to learn how to make our "back chat" more self-supportive. This all forms part of the Growth mindset.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that these sorts of outbursts also demonstrate pretty poor etiquette and a lack of respect for other competitors on the same squad. There is no doubt in my mind that these outbursts can, and do, affect other competitors. Do yourself and others a favour and show some respect!

  • Avoiding "internal" distractions

    What we are talking about here is maintaining focus - specifically, maintaining focus on the process. We have already talked a bit about one source of distraction - focusing on the outcome - but there are lots of other seemingly random thoughts that can interfere with our process.

    Avoiding your brain going into story telling mode is a big issue.

  • Avoiding "external" distractions

    Avoid anything that might bring your attention back to the outcome rather than the process. Personally, I avoid talking about scores until the competition is over. I don't even like looking at the scoreboard during the competition! Unfortunately, not all competitors are the same and far too often I find people want to talk about mine (or their) scores. I politely decline until after the competition. So avoiding "external" distractions for me means avoiding the scoreboard or other shooters who are likely to want to talk "scores". It sounds easy to do, but in practice, it is very difficult. In reality, you are going to have to get used to this sort of "noise" and learn how to block it out.

    Unfortunately, there can often be a bit of "gamesmanship" going on where the distraction isn't entirely accidental! I am acutely aware of the impact that we can have on each other so I avoid engaging with other competitors until after the competition. Even a seemingly supportive comment like "You look like you are on for a 100 straight!" can have a negative impact - bringing the shooter's attention back to the outcome rather than the process.

  • Updated: 3/9/20

Further information


There are a number of websites online that can provide more detailed information. I have included a list for you to use as a starting point.


You'll find an extensive list of books included on the Further Info pages. They are all readily available on Amazon.


There are some great TED talks available that cover many of the areas discussed on this website. I have included links to many of them on the Futher Info pages.