Daydream to shoot better

Sports Psychologist Phil Coley is daydreaming our scores up. Follow his tips for some out of hours training

Remember the days at school when you looked out of the window and daydreamed to the point that your teacher shouted at you? Daydreaming is a form of mental imagery – although daydream sounds a little less formal – it is a way of imagining being somewhere else.

As we move into the New Year, January is always the time for new resolutions: for many it will be about getting fitter or losing weight, and others will set new goals and look to create new habits.

In the last two issues we have looked at goals and at training schedules, so in this article we will look at a practical exercise for you to begin developing your mental clay shooting skills.

Mental imagery is about being able to rehearse certain skills and situations, but not practically taking part. The imagery is imagining competing in a competition or completing a task, it is about the touch and feel of that situation or experience. A simple example is to ask you to imagine sucking on a slice of lemon – what is your bodily response to this thought?

If by thinking about sucking on a slice of lemon leads to your mouth salivating, what impact can it have on you imagining taking a shot or competing in competition? The answer is simple: it will make you a better shot, if you do the right things. The key with clay shooting in any discipline is getting it right and attending to every detail.

There are two types of imagery: the first is external imagery – this is where you see yourself as if you are watching yourself on a video. The second is internal imagery – this is where you are looking through your own eyes and experiencing the imagery through your body. The best form of imagery is internal imagery, this is so much more real, although external imagery is still beneficial.

If we are going to make this work, we need to work on an exercise to show the benefits. Imagery can be done by simply closing your eyes, or better still combining the exercise with dry mounting – I always recommend dry mounting with your eyes shut or even with a blindfold on.

The aim of any imagery exercise is to feel the actions and to feel the responses, be those responses physical or mental, although together the actions can be emotional.


Exercise 1

Do this sat down in a chair; imagine you are going to shoot a crossing target.

The target is a left-to-right crossing target. If you were to shoot this as a following pair, what would you do?

  • Write down how you would prepare as you step onto the stand
  • Now imagine putting your cartridges into your gun
  • Go through what you would do prior to calling for the target
  • Now close your gun and call for the target

What did you feel by doing this exercise?

  • How did you feel as you stepped onto the stand?
  • What responses did you feel?
  • What were your thoughts on shooting the target?
  • What happened when you called for the target?


Exercise 2

If you were to shoot a pair in a competition – such as the Clay Shooting Classic or the British Open, where there are other people watching and a big prize up for grabs – how would this impact you?

You are now in a shoot-off: you have one pair to win the competition in your class – what are your responses to this?

  • Does your heart rate increase?
  • Do you feel sweaty palms?
  • Are you feeling anxious?
  • Have you hit the targets?

Imagery is one of the main components of a clay shooter’s mental and technical edge.

When you use this kind of mental imagery you can refine and improve your shooting technique and your mental approach. My friend Carl Bloxham talks about practicing for competition and how he takes the time to imagine shooting certain targets – particularly those targets that you don’t see too often. Carl takes the time to practice in his mind and also when dry training, on shooting targets overhead or those challenging targets shooting below you.

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