Under Pressure

Q. I find my nerves getting the better of me at many shoots. Predictable, this seems to happen most when “something is on the line” like during a shoot off or near the end of a round when I am shooting well and it looks like I could win.

When I feel this pressure to do well things usually fall apart. This must be common but I need help to stop this happening.


A. Like this one, many of the situations shooters deal with are a complex interaction of psychological, emotional and social factors. Understanding these and how they affect your performance are part of mental skills training. Here are a few brief insights into what you are experiencing.

The nerves you describe have to do with what I call arousal or activation level. Every task has an optimum activation level for best performance.

Also, each person requires an individual level to do their best and the task of clay shooting requires a different level from, say, a rugby player dragging three opponents towards the goal. If you tried to shoot with that level of arousal you would destroy the fine motor skill required to control the gun. The fame demands a specific level and the shooter must balance that with their internal requirements. Both too much activation – feeling too nervous, and too little activation destroy performance, hence the optimum level.

Nerves and pressure are part of the same equation. You said, “when I feel this pressure”, my question to you is, what is this pressure, why do you feel it and where does it come from? Has someone abducted you family and is threatening to kill them if you don’t win? Is the bank going to take your house if you don’t get a trophy?

You need to think of this pressure as being as ludicrous as these scenarios. The psychological and emotional discomfort called pressure is the result of how you choose to think and perceive you shooting experiences – it’s all your choice. Mental skills training is how you learn to think and act effectively to overcome this common dilemma.

I’ll finish with this point. The higher the skill level, the less likely one is to “feel” this discomfort. The best can perform well even though they feel too nervous, the average shooter will not. Even the best will do better when they learn how to achieve the optimum activation level consistently.

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Posted in Ask the Experts, Coaching

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