Skeet Shooter Amber Hill talks about the Olympics

Rhys Plum talks to Team GB Olympic Skeet shooter Amber Hill as she looks ahead to the Tokyo Olympics

Amber started on Sporting, but a switch to Skeet led to her competing at the 2016 Olympics
(©James Marchington)

“I’m just a girl that likes guns,” says Amber Hill. Well, this girl certainly knows how to use one. Amber’s achievements are phenomenal, all the more so for someone her age: ISSF bronze, silver and gold medals – not to mention representing Great Britain at the Rio Olympics in 2016, at the age of just nineteen.

Amber comes from Bracknell and has been a member of Team GB since fourteen, competing all over the world. She acknowledges that the highlight of her career so far has been shooting for Britain at the 2016 Olympics, “an incredible experience”.

With the Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021 Amber’s plans have been put on hold, but “I’m putting all of the plans in place to get me there next year. Team Tokyo is still not confirmed as the final selection match was to be held in April, but then, of course, we were locked down. At the moment I’m working towards a competition in March next year.”

Let’s rewind though, and hear how Amber first got into shooting at the age of ten. “I grew up in a very sporty and competitive household. I was trying lots of different sports at the time: netball, hockey.

“But, unlike any of these other sports, there was shooting. I was first introduced to Sporting clays by my grandad Bill. I was fascinated when I heard him talking about it, and so I asked if I could come along one day. I had my first shot and fell in love with it.

“We would go every weekend to practise. In these early days, it was just an enjoyable way of spending time with my grandad, who sadly passed away last year.

Amber has a number of ISSF medals to her name

“We never expected it to turn into what it has today. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that my grandad told me that if I took up Skeet I would have the chance to go to the Olympics. At first, it was just way too hard, but after another year’s work shooting Sporting, I came back to Skeet and have stuck with it ever since.”

Amber explains that her training regime has adapted as her shooting has improved. “When I first started shooting I would train once a week, as I had to spend my time on my schoolwork and couldn’t find the time.

“When I began to dedicate more of my life to shooting, I found that I performed best and saw the most improvement when shooting three of four days a week, allowing myself some time with my coach amongst that. I’ve never wanted to shoot six or seven days a week though, or the enjoyment gets lost.”

Focus on positives

“Unlike Sporting and Fitasc, as Skeet shooters we know what targets we will be faced with at every competition at every level. In a typical training session, I tend to work on the whole of my game, as opposed to just one station or target.

Due to the nature of the game, you have to walk into each station, whether in training or competition with an open, positive mindset. If you fixate too much on one target that you missed last week, you can find it becomes more of a problem mentally, so I will always try to focus on the positives and enjoy each shoot.”

Amber adds that she has always been interested in the psychological side of the sport, because of its repetitive nature and the pressure that comes with performing at such a high level.

“When I first started in British Shooting, I got the impression that if you needed a sports psychologist, you were a weaker athlete. Years later, I realised that you could not leave any stone unturned, and I began work with sports psychologist Paul Hughes, who I’ve now been working with since last year’s World Cup. I’ve found that the techniques we developed together help me massively, so that’s something that I have continued to do.”

“I think that a large part of the mental game is learning to accept things that are out of our control. We all get that feeling of anger and emotion when we miss a target, and that can easily take over. But learning to develop resilience, recompose yourself and hit the next target is key to success.”

Staying fit

Alongside the psychological preparation, Amber feels that general fitness and health is important. “That has an impact on your breathing, visual acuity, concentration and ability to perform under pressure,” she says. “I’m certainly not restrictive in my diet but am always mindful of what I eat leading up to a competition.

“Food is fuel, so if you’ve got a long day on the range, you need to ensure that you’ve got the right things to fuel your body. I also like to work out at home three of four times a week.

Competing at world level and representing her country makes all the hard work worthwhile (© ISSF)

“Knowing that you’ve done this leading up to a competition gives you the mental positivity that you have done everything you can to get yourself into the best condition possible ready for an event.”

Amber says this is where a lot of the older generation of shooters missed out, while the younger athletes are open to learning and trying these different methods.

“We are at a different place in the sport from where we were ten years ago. Now we are looking for those margins to make ourselves better. Having all of these different aspects come together can only benefit the final result.”

Promoting shooting

Amber has done a great deal to promote shooting to the wider public, having been named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2013, appearing on prime time TV during the Olympics, and now running her own YouTube channel reaching out to young viewers from all walks of life. So what does she feel could be done to promote the sport more?

“I think the big organisations are missing the importance of using media channels such as YouTube to educate young people on the sport. It’s hard to get shooting on the TV, but there are different ways of getting people more connected with the sport.” 

I know that for me, the appeal of going to the Olympics in a sport that wasn’t controlled by my physical strengths was a massive appeal. Sharing this message and reaching out to as many different kinds of people as possible is critical for the future of the sport.

Targeting social media and other promotional platforms and not waiting for people to come to them is something the organisations seem to be failing to do at the moment. 

“This is so important because, without a growth in competition entries, our sport is going to struggle in the next few years. The more entries you have, the greater the prize fund, the bigger the media coverage – and then shooting can truly flourish. If funding and prize money doesn’t increase, then many people will struggle to justify carrying on competing. We need those people to keep the sport alive.”

As she works towards the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, there’s no doubting Amber’s drive and commitment – so what it is that keeps her going? 

“I think the drive for me was never about pulling the trigger. The opportunity to better myself, to learn, practise and improve is what still drives me today – looking for those margins to compete at world class level and getting to represent my country. That’s what makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

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