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  • Personally, I think this is where the mental game really starts to kick in! Learning technique is one thing, but learning to TRUST it is something else!

    I also think that this can be where the level of frustration reaches its peak - you know you have the ability/technique to hit the targets, but it just doesn't seem to happen all of the time. Particularly, in competition. This means you have the technique, but aren't executing it consistently or trusting the process.

    There are lots of people out there who know what they should be doing, but only the top performers will have practiced this to a point where they can do it consistently and trust it implicitly.

    Trust doesn't happen overnight - trust builds up as you practice more and as you shoot in more competitions. And make no mistake, it takes courage to trust your process and to follow it, not matter what happens, particularly in competition. When things start to go wrong, it is important to hold your nerve and keep following the process - don't get tempted to go "off piste" and start trying new things. The time for reflection is after the competition (or practice session). This is where the "tweaking" of any of the process happens. Not in the heat of a competition!

    The hard work is put in before the competitions - in the training and coaching sessions in the run up to the comp. By the time I get to the comp, I am fully prepared and "confident" with my process. During competitions, my aim is to perform exactly the same as I do in my training sessions. I will even build this into part of my imagery script where I will visualise my coach being the one on the buttons rather than the referee.

  • Distract your thinking brain

    Here's an example. When shooting a target, there is a critical point where you are holding the gun at it's starting point (called "gunhold") and you then call "PULL". Then the target is sent. You see the target, lock onto the front edge and pull the trigger. If everything goes well, you hit the target. Now the problem is that as you are holding the gun in the gunhold position, and just before you call "PULL", all sorts of thoughts can enter your head. I don't want to miss this target as I want to shot a 96 today. I don't want to miss this target behind etc. None of these thoughts help. So I do the following. As I put the gun into the gunhold position, I take a deep breath in. I let my breath out and as soon as I have let out 70% of my breath, I call "PULL". Guess what? my thinking brain is thinking about my breathing and it means my sub-conscious is free to think hitting the target.

    Now include this in your process and you will be helping your sub-conscious take control. Every time.

  • So let's assume that we have a process that we are happy with and that we have practiced our technique to a point where our sub-conscious can start to take control. All we need to do now is let our sub-conscious do what we have practiced. Sounds easy? Well, it can be surprisingly hard. For many competitors, this is where the hard part starts.

    "Learning to let go" and trusting our sub-conscious takes time. Trying to perform under pressure just makes it even more difficult to build this trust. Our "thinking" brain just gets in the way and stops our sub-conscious from doing its thing! You will often hear players saying "I just overthought that shot!". In other words, they let their "thinking brain", and not their sub-conscious, take control.

    The right place to start is with our training sessions. Make sure that you follow your process to the letter in each and every training session. Before you start training, re-read the process. If you want, read it the night before. Make sure you understand it inside out. Run it through in your head. Once you get to the ground, if you feel yourself "going off script" - stop, take a break, and restart.

    Sometimes, it is easy to get carried away in the excitement of practising and all of a sudden you forget why you are there and what you are trying to achieve. There have been occasions where I went out with the intention of doing one thing and came back having done something completely different! Take a look at the pages on how to get the most out of training.

  • Don't overtry!

    The harder we try, the more we engage our "thinking" brain. Rather than improving our performance, it has the opposite effect. You will often see shooters engaging in an ever decreasing spiral - the harder they try, the more targets they miss. The more targets they miss, the harder they try. You can guess the rest!

    If you have ever played golf, you'll know the harder you try to hit the ball, the less distance the ball actually travels. It isn't until you give up and just take a relaxed swing at the ball, do you realise that it can actually travel for miles!

    So getting the level of engagement right is the trick - you want to be "dialled in" without trying too hard. For me, I want to be "focused", but not to the point where I am not enjoying it anymore - I find that when I am actually enjoying the shooting that is my optimal level of engagement. I think the best way to describe this is as "relaxed and focused".

    Some shooters say that they try "110%" in competitions. In my view, that is overtrying. My aim is just to repeat the same process as in practice - regardless of the pressure, regardless of the event.

    It is all about trusting not trying! I think that I have done all of the hard work in practice and rather than trying 110% in competitions, I am looking for a nice "relaxed focused". Often I am not thinking about anything in particular. My mind is calm and I am just running through my "process" - it is almost as if I am on auto-pilot. When it is working well, missing a target just doesn't enter my head. You will find more about competition mindset here.

  • Distract your thinking brain

    So if your thinking brain is getting in the way, let's distract it. We know our "thinking brain" can only think about one thing at a time, so let's give it something to think about and give your sub-conscious the space to take control.

    One technique that has worked well for me has been to get my "thinking brain" to take control of my breathing. In itself, this has a positive effect and it tends to keep us in the present (in other words, it maintains our focus). But the trick here for me is that as I put the gun into my shoulder I take a breathe in. As I prepare to call "PULL", I let my breath out. As soon as 70% of my breathe is out, I call "PULL". The whole process probably takes no more than 2 seconds, but during the process my "thinking brain" is occupied with thoughts about my breathing and not wandering off thinking random thoughts!

    This slight pause has another upside in that it allows the eyes to settle (often referred to as Quiet Eye) and this allows me to pick up the target a little bit quicker. So what's not to like?

  • Train like you compete, compete like you train!

    Obvious really, but if you want to get to a point where you trust your technique in competition, you have to use the same technique and trust it in practice. Don't forget a great performance is the result of focusing on the process rather than the outcome. If you use one process in training and another in competition, it is not going to result in a consistent performance.

    So why do we practice? Practice provides you with the opportunity to build confidence and trust in your process under a variety of conditions. Personally, I have practiced in poor weather conditions purely to convince myself that my process works (which it does - thankfully!). Knowing that your process works just helps to build your confidence and trust in it. The more trust you have in it, the more you will use it. It is a cycle that feds itself (in a really positive way!) and is a great way to build your confidence. Remember the trick here is purposeful practice.

    So there is little point in performing one way in practice, then a different way during competitions. Don't rely on the extra pressure of competition to improve your performance - ultimately, this means adopting a different process in competition. There is further information on getting the best out of training here and getting the best competition performance here.

  • 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 Further Info pages.