Dealing with anxiety

Phil Coley explains how centering can help steady the nerves before that all important shot

So far we have covered a number of areas within the spectrum of sports science and in particular sports psychology. The feedback and response from many of the Clay Shooting readers has been amazing and I am pleased to be helping you understand the mental side of clay shooting in a more comprehensive way.

The question I get asked many times is “how do I stop the nerves in a competition?” This is as easy as “how long is a piece of string”, but I will start to answer that in this article by looking at centering and touching on the Red, Amber, Green process.

I was recently working with a group of clay shooters and a top coach; we spoke at length on the merits of watching other shooters shoot their targets. The conversation centred on mental concentration and being focused all of the time to stay in the “zone”. It was certainly an interesting debate to listen to. However the conclusions were even more interesting.

Many clay shooters think the way to improve is to watch shooters who are better than them and try to use them as a kind of mentor or copy their style. Now that is useful in one way, but also a potential hazard. If you look at the top shots, they all shoot most targets in similar places, but how they shoot them is different. George Digweed MBE, Ben Husthwaite, Richard Faulds MBE, Pete Wilson, Cheryl Hall…. they all have their own style and not only that, they have their own mental approach too.

The key area we want to focus on in this article is centering and being able to approach each target, or set of targets, in a focused way and with minimal mental energy expended. If you were a Sporting shot and watched all the targets of the five shooters in front of you for 10 stands then you would have mentally shot 350 targets, of which only 100 were yours! So approach is important – you will use mental energy shooting those targets of others, and more importantly put doubt in your mind if they shoot them differently to the way you would shoot them.

What is centering?

Centering is a very common technique used by a wide number of sportspeople. It is the ability to combine breathing with mental focus, making it very useful to relax on a stand and refocus. The technique, in simple terms, is breathing to a point an inch behind your belly button. Think of this spot now and concentrate breathing to it. As you have read this you will have been experiencing shallow breathing but, focussing on this point behind your belly button, you will now be aware of your breathing and making it deeper. You can also combine this with focusing on a spot in front of you or an empty cartridge.

When should you use centering?

It is commonly used in an anxiety state – you would use it if you are experiencing nerves or if self doubt creeps in. You may want to use it prior to a shot; as you are placing the cartridges in your gun for example. Breathe out as you close your gun and let your breathing continue – then call PULL. You will have calmed down and refocused as you close the gun.

If you are shooting Sporting – you can use this between shots – especially if you miss a second pair target or third pair target. It may be the difference between a poor round and a round saved – because you have steadied yourself. The key is to be able to switch off between shots or stands, so that when you approach your next stand or target you are able to focus, rather than being in a constant state of alert. The latter leads to mental tiredness and missing targets in the halfway to three quarters of the competition.

That is why I developed the traffic light system, giving you Red as a switch off time, Amber as the pre-shot mental preparation and Green as the time to call for the target. Start to identify if you switch off between targets, do you focus on something when it doesn’t go to plan?

Don`t forget to get your free Clay Shooting Success Handbook by Phil Coley, in association with Clay Shooting Magazine – You can also attend the Top Shot Masterclass Training program with top shots including Carl Bloxham and Steve Walton.


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