You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.
  • Beating my personal best

    In May 2016, my personal best (PB) stood at 93. The good news was that I had shot 93 in four separate competitions, but the bad news was I had trouble getting beyond this. It felt like I had reached a plateau. However, at the English Open in May that year, I had high hopes of beating my personal best. The competition was held at Northampton and, although I knew it was a difficult ground (an odd background with an airfield behind with pilots doing acrobatics!), I had shot there before and knew what I was letting myself in for! I felt fully prepared. I shot on the first day - it is held on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday. I shot an 82. I was hugely disappointed.

    But on the long drive home, I did something odd - I booked onto a competition at Nottingham two days later. I remember getting up early on that Sunday morning and feeling remarkably confident (strange when you consider I had just shot an 82 two days earlier!). On the drive to the ground, I remember thinking to myself "I am actually a pretty good shot, I am just struggling to put good scores in during competitions. This is only a registered comp, let's just follow the process and ignore the score". I shot a 98! I must admit that I was a little emotional when I rang my wife and told what I had done. I couldn't believe it! Nor could she!

    Let's look at this - I shot an 82 in the English Open on the Friday (one of my worst scores ever at that point) and then, 48 hours later, I shot a 98 - beating my personal best by 5 points! This has to be purely mental - my technique could not have improved that much in 2 days!

    Much of the research on self-image suggests that this is unlikely - you might improve on your PB by one or two points, but 5 points is pretty unusual. But this just goes to show that if you put your mind to it, it can be done!

  • Redefining myself

    While I was driving to the competition above, I do remember thinking the following thoughts. Instead of thinking of myself as a "B" class shooter (which I was at the time), I did the following:

    • I thought "I am really an "A" class shooter, but I just struggle to perform well in competitions. If I can overcome my nerves, my performance will improve".
    • I paid no attention to the score while I was shooting - I just concentrated on the next target. This forced me to concentrate on process rather than outcome.
  • Research shows that people who categorise themselves as "lucky" are significantly more likely to spot a banknote that has been purposefully left on the pavement from those who categorise themselves as "unlucky". In other words, if you think you are "lucky", you are more likely to be "lucky".

    Now clearly, there is no such thing as luck, but what is happening here is that people who think they are "lucky" are actually adopting behaviours that mean they are increasing their chances of a positive outcome. They maybe more alert, or open to opportunities, or just seek out situations where chance plays a significant role.

    But just like being "lucky", if we think we will perform well, we are more likely to perform well. Now let's transfer that thinking to hitting targets - if you think you are more likely to hit a target, then you will be more likely to hit a target. But just like being "lucky", what is really happening here is that we are visualising, or adopting, the behaviours that make us more likely to hit the target. We are more focused, working through our process, or being more relaxed and confident. All of which increase our chances of hitting the target.

    Unfortunately, the opposite is also true - if we think we are going to miss, then we often do. Speaking personally, I know that I have talked myself into poor performance on a number of occasions - it is easily done and something to watch out for. Positive back chat and a strong imagery script can help you overcome, or completely avoid, these sorts of situations.

    Here's Richard Wiseman talking about being lucky. If we substitute the likelihood of "being lucky" with the likelihood of "hitting a target", then it becomes a really powerful concept! Also listen out for the words that the presenter is using that relate to the growth mindset that we discussed earlier.

  • What is self image?

    Self image are our opinions of our capabilities, achievements and our value as a competitor. As you might imagine, it is very closely linked to our self confidence and self esteem.

    Here's a great demonstration of how powerful self image can be! This shows the dramatic impact that self belief has on our abilities and performance - both good and bad.

  • Developing self-image

    When we start out at any sport, our self-image is pretty much non-existent. We probably refer to ourselves as a "beginner" or "newbie" and set other people's expectations accordingly. Unfortunately, we set our own expectations too. This isn't too much of an issue when we are starting out, but as we progress an under developed self-image can have a negative impact on our performance.

    As our skills improve, our self-image develops. For most people, it will always lag behind our true capabilities - we tend to be overly conservative when assessing our own capabilities. For most of us, we can all perform much better than we think - we just need to allow ourselves to do it.

    This doesn't mean to say that technique is not important. It is fundamental to our performance. However, we want to make sure that our self-image does not stand in our way and prevent us from performing to the best of your ability.

    If we think of ourselves as a "B" class shooter and regularly shooting 90-94 targets out of a 100 that is exactly what we will do. We might shoot 72 out of 75, but on that last round our nerves will kick in and our self-image says we'll end up dropping 2-3 targets on the last round.

    Yet the reality is that we have the ability and technique to hit ALL the targets. The only thing stopping this from happening is ourselves!

  • Techniques for developing self image

    There are a number of different approaches and techniques that you could use. Some work better than others. Part of your job here is to work out which ones work for you!

    Past performance

    Reviewing past performance is a great way of building self image. Reminding yourself of good past performances boosts our confidence. For those starting out, this can be a bit of challenge as we might have only limited experience when it comes to performing in competitions. However, practice sessions should also be included, particularly if they were completed as part of the preparation for a major competition. Obviously, part of the key here is good record keeping.

    Some athletes have what they call a "Highlight reel" that is really a visualisation tool that is an edited memory of a great past performance. Self-image is related to visualisation - what we are doing is visualising our overall performance, but more about this later.

    Look the part!

    Being smartly turned out shows that you are taking pride in your appearance and your performance. It also underlines the fact that you are prepared and ready for action. All of which is going to help your confidence and self-image. You don't need to go mad, but something as subtle as a polo shirt with your name embroidered on it will make a huge difference. Over time, you will no doubt acquire team clothing along the way and you should wear this with pride.

    You want to avoid the "All the gear and no idea" syndrome, but if we break this phrase down, it is merely highlighting that someone has all of the gear/kit/appearance, but without having developed the appropriate technique/process to go with it. It is a good point and well worth remembering that all of these is meaningless unless you have spent time and effort getting the technique right.

    If you look the part, you will start to act the part. And there will definitely be occasions when you will feel that this is part of an act. However, over time, this will start to become part of your self image. It is all part of that journey.

    Identify a role model

    Sometimes it is difficult to know how to react when things happen, particularly when it hasn't happened to you before. Furthermore, when others are reacting badly, it can be easy to get sucked in. Unfortunately, this occurs in everyday life as much as in sport!

    One way of addressing this issue is to find yourself a role model - someone who you think displays the sort of behaviours that you aspire to. Then when things go wrong, you just need to think what would [role model] do in this situation?

    It is a simple, but exceptionally powerful technique, that is tried and tested in other walks of life. However, you can take it further. Why not identify the behaviours that are, and aren't, characteristic of your role model? Is it fairness, being calm under pressure, the precision of their movements etc. Then focus on these behaviours and incorporate them into your imagery script. This will help you to recall and reinforce these behaviours when you need them most. We could take it even further and include these behaviours in our relaxation exercises - as you breath in, you think about the behaviours you aspire to; as you breath out you think about those behaviours you want to avoid.

    Fake it until you make it!

    So this is really just an extension of the role model idea, but works on the basis that you create your own (fictional) role model - a kind of alter ego - a completely fictious character. When the going gets tough, you just need to think "What would my alter ego do now?"

    The more detailed you can make the description of this character, the more believable and powerful it will become.

    So let's imagine a character called Maximus - a Roman Gladiator. He stands tall and proud. He has thick impenetrable armor. He never gives up, no matter what. Never takes things lying down. And never takes any prisoners. Every movement is purposeful and executed to perfection. He fights to the last and nothing is lost until the final body count.

    When the going gets tough, release your inner Maximus!

    Will this work? Well, that depends on you. Why not give it a try? After all, what have you got to lose? When the going gets really tough and you just feel like giving up and going home, why not try to be your very own Maximus? The more detailed your description of your character, the more powerful it becomes. You could print the image of a gladiator onto a laminated card and keep it in your pocket. Take it out and look at it when you need inspiration to push on. You could include an excerpt from the soundtrack to "Gladiator" as part of your playlist as you prepare to compete.

    It might all sound a bit mad, but it might just give you that bit of an edge over the competition.

    Learning to deal with failure

    Just because we fail occasionally, it doesn't make us a failure. What really matters is not whether we fail or not, but how we react to failure when it occurs. You can't become a winner without first losing - success is born out of learning from our failures.

    We touched on this very point earlier when we discussed the Growth Mindset and it is important that how we deal with fail is built into this self image. You might want to go back and re-look at that material to see what you want to incorporate into your self image.

    Being resilient is going to be a key part to a successful athlete's self-image. If it all goes wrong, remember it is not a reflection on you or your abilities. It is just a bad round of golf or a poor game of tennis. It is not the end of the world!

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.