No one wants to miss a shot, let along lose a competition simply because their head’s not in the game. Ben Husthwaite shares some pre-shot routines to get you in focus
Controlling the mind during an event is something that many people have many different views on. Sports psychologists have studied the mind, yet many have never been in a high pressure shooting situation to test their ideas and find their weaknesses. In this month’s issue I’ll give my take on what makes a routine, what I do to occupy my mind, and what I think about in the stand and also in the time between stands.
What’s a high-pressure situation? I believe it’s a situation that you find yourself in where the next two shots mean more than normal. This could range from your need to straight your last stand to in order to beat your friend at a local shoot, to having two stands to go beat your personal best or even shooting off to become World Champion.
I have been lucky enough to sit down with some fantastic psychologists and some of the world’s greatest winners, but more importantly I’ve been in the highest pressure situations shooting can throw at you, so between taking in their knowledge in theory I’ve actually been able to find out what does and doesn’t apply when the heat is on.
People say that you should “stay in the moment”, “don’t let a miss get to you” and “if you have a bad stand don’t take it to the next”. All easy words to say, but not so easy to put into practice.
Before the shoot
On the way to a shoot I use music to relax. I have play lists that help calm me and put me in a competitive mode. I may change the play list weekly, though I have also used some of the same songs for a year or more.
It’s essential not to try and be somebody you’re not when competing. If you’re sociable in life then be so when competing. When you arrive in the clubhouse enjoy the downtime, chat with friends about your week and enjoy the competitive aura in the air.
When it’s time to head to the car to get your kit ready, you start to see people change as they attempt to hit 100 per cent concentration. I’m lucky, as when I put my Vario earplugs in I can continue to listen to my playlist through their Bluetooth technology. Trying to keep perfectly focused for the next 12/15 stands and 2-4 hours is simply an impossible ask. Instead, stay relaxed and just let your mind drift into breaking targets.
It’s well known I use my phone a lot during shooting, however not many people know why… I use it to chat to close friends who know what I’m up to and they just chat normally so my mind stays relaxed. I also check out social media to see what’s going on in the world (I do this every day of the week – why would I change something that I’m comfortable doing?)
I get to the first stand and I look at the first pair and I make my choke and cartridge selection and then relax until there are two people to shoot before me. At this point I’m ready kit-wise, my gun is in my hand and I’m as close to the shooting cage as I can be. I’m now at about 50 per cent concentration and working on my hold points and methods. When the shooter in front of me goes in the work really begins and I hit 75 per cent concentration levels, finalising all choices including my lead. I enter the cage and I start my pre-shot routine. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Establish a routine
I teach a seven-step pre-shot routine. It takes between 8-13 seconds to complete and covers all we need to control our mind set, but it’s not over-complicating things and taking too long.
Let’s break this down into steps. As I load the first cartridge I give myself an instruction for the first bird. This instruction is either method, speed or lead. I repeat this process for the second cartridge. I close my gun into low position (waist height) with a clear visual window. At this point I take a solid stare at my second hold point; this is critical, as it’s where I have to go next. The rest is self-explanatory. Use the instructions to tweak or repair shots that were missed or felt wrong.
In between stations, its time to switch off and take some downtime. The music goes back on and I use my phone again to interact with friends and also other shooters. You try not to analyse previous stands, but it’s human nature and as long as it’s positive dissection I don’t have a problem with it. But upon arriving at the next station the routine starts again.
In a shoot-off it’s the same as I suggested earlier. I’ve been in the cauldron many a time for big shoot-offs and luckily I’ve won most, though if I said I wasn’t a little nervous I’d be lying. But I am always also excited. I enjoy the showmanship, but when the shoot-off begins I go back to my routines. The jiggles don’t go away until I step into the station and pre-shot routine takes over. Because my mind is occupied for the whole time on positives I really don’t think about the outcome – just the best way to break the next pair. Before you know it the referee says, “you’re done”, and immediately you’re into down time and the mind can wonder until it’s time to switch on again.
I hope this helps and gives you a base to work from. If there’s anything you’d like to ask, email email@example.com