Ben Husthwaite talks course management and how to prepare for a major
I have been asked about this a lot and it is a great question. There are many ways to answer it I’m going to do it is as if we’re going to the English Open Sporting at Atkin Grant and Lang next year. The best approach would be for me to do it as if, like most, I’ve not been there before.
Your prep should start months before the shoot that you’re targeting. Using the internet, look for pictures, write-ups and videos of AGL and get a feel for the ground and its background. Is it a flat field, is it wooded, or even both?
As we can see from the photos printed here, stands at AGL have large, wooded fence panels surrounding the station (like EJ Churchill’s), which probably means that most of the targets will be in the air. There are also a couple of ‘down dirty’ stations where we’re shooting into earth bankings and I see a lot of trees and dense woodland as well as a good-sized tower.
So what would I be preparing for in my practice? I would want to be working on targets where I can’t see the traps due to fencing – when we can’t see the first quarter or even the first half of a target’s flight path, it makes it very difficult to read the line. It takes a lot of practice to perfect this skill, especially when shooting upwards. It also means that the hold point can change dramatically from the waiting point to the shooting position – this is something that needs to be right and you may find your hold point considerably wrong on pair one. Keep your eyes open and be prepared to change your plan.
Shooting in dense woodland can also mean that there are a number of small window shots, which, again, take practice to read. A slow clay thrown in a small gap can appear very fast, so take the time to really judge the speed and not the window you’re presented with.
With some internet searching, I’ve found that the club has a monthly registered shoot held on a Friday. While it won’t be possible for everyone to attend, it might be worth a visit to familiarise yourself with the ground and their facilities if you can. If not, try and do your practice routines at a ground similar to venue you’re targeting – but you should always expect the unexpected. They may have a new piece of ground or bring in lifts, although the rumours will circulate beforehand, giving you some inkling.
A little tip from me as I have actually shot there – the ground is laid out in a circle and the sun has always been a problem. Make sure that you have dark glasses to hand just in case we get a nice British spring day.
Managing any course
When competition day arrives, it needs to be exactly the same as any other shoot you attend. You need to practise like you play and you will play like you practise. Very, very rarely do I see anyone walking the course on a Sunday morning registered, yet at a major event it looks like a race for life course. What you expect to learn or fear from this walk I don’t know, but my advice is don’t do it – conserve your energy.
Make sure you arrive at the ground early to relax and settle your mind and eyes. Register with no rush, keep hydrated and maybe eat a little.
Now that we all start on station one at the big events, the panic of finding where you’re supposed to be has been taken away and I’m a big fan of this. If you’re someone who likes to fire the gun, make sure you allow plenty of time for the pool shoot at these events as there’s generally a large waiting line, but sometimes there’s no pool or practice area, so more research is needed. The last thing you want is to feel that you can’t perform because your routine has been messed up.
If your reply email says “sorry, there won’t be a pool shoot”, then I would suggest two things: learn to perform at weekly competitions without a warm up, or book a late start time and find a ground en route to stop off at and fire a few shots.
Fitness and food play a major part in shooting these days and they shouldn’t to be overlooked. Now, I’m no nutritionist by any stretch, but I’m lucky to be friends with some of the best in the business. Two of my close friends – rugby legend James Haskell and fitness guru Chloe Madeley – have launched new books aimed at individual fitness and nutritional needs – James’ Perfect Fit: The Winning Formula, and Chloe’s The 4-Week Body Blitz. In fact, I’m currently in the middle of James’ 12-week plan and I’m feeling pretty good.
My fuel intake will start the evening before and I generally head towards chicken and pasta – so a huge carb load to fill the tank and provide energy. What I eat on competition day depends on what time I shoot, but it’s never fried or processed, so let’s get straight to what’s in my bag for the round: a litre bottle of water, two protein bars and some nuts. I drink water constantly as hydration is key and I’ll have half a protein bar every three or four stands. The nuts are there for if I hit a large breakdown or delay.
Stay away from carbonated energy drinks – the low they give you comes far quicker and is more severe than any spike – and remember that you will be dehydrated way before you’re thirsty, so keep drinking water. On top of this, I like to drive to the shoot, or at least the final leg, as it wakes me up and I start to be spacially aware and concentrating on moving objects. It’s just something that I’ve found helps me.
Knowing your level is key. I see people week in, week out, missing a target and treating it like the world’s just ended. This leads to concentration going and them giving up on the station or even the round.
This happened the other week and I walked over and asked the shooter what’s the best he has ever shot at this ground. The reply was a 74, so I asked him why he gave up on that station and he told me that it was his first and he missed already. I told him that this was my final stand and was by far the hardest on the course and he could have easily hit 50 per cent which would have been four zeros. That left him 21 more zeros for a personal best on the easier stations, but his mindset was number based, rather than the process.
Another scenario I read on Facebook every week is, “So happy with my new personal best of 80” – but the reality is, “Before my 80 today, my personal best was a 74 and on that day the winning score was 90 (16 less than the High Gun). On the day I shot the new PB I shot 80, but High Gun was 99 (19 behind) so on the day I shot 74, I probably shot better”.
Never enter a course with a number in your head – you have zero control over the difficulty level you will be faced with, and the number you wish for may be unattainable or simply far too low for the round. Concentrate on the process, not the outcome.
So how do I manage and how do I teach people to handle competitions? People say it’s 100 one-bird shoots, but that’s simply impossible for the mind to handle – I can’t even break it down into 50 pairs, so I go stand by stand.
You need to know your level when you walk up to the station and viewi the birds. Think what you realistically could score on that stand and set yourself a par. If you believe it’s a hard peg and you think a 5ex-8 wouldbe great, you now have your par, so you walk in and hit six. Now you’ve got a target in the bag and, even better, you’re ahead of schedule.
Two stands later, there’s one you don’t like. You would love 4 ex-8 but you only manage a three. But you have one extra in the bag, so you’re still on target. Now you’re in a different mindset. With this thought process, even if the bad stand comes first, you know there will be somewhere that you can level it out, so you keep fighting.
Stand by stand or hole by hole, if we’re under par at the end of the round then we’ve have had a great performance, regardless of the results. We can’t control how others shoot, so there’s no point worrying about it.
It’s important to remember that 99.9 per cent of the time we’re going to miss during a round of clays but there’s no need to be concerned. Learn to handle these losses and head to next stand. Finish on or above par and you’ve have a had a good day and the drive home is much more enjoyable.
If you’re serious about improving, keep pictures of your scorecards and a few notes from each shoot on what you struggled with along with diagrams or descriptions. List if it was the first or second target in the pair. All these things will help you improve. If you are thinking about getting a coach, this will also help you to get the most out of those sessions – there is no such thing as too much detail.
As usual, if you have any questions or would like to enquire about lessons, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.