Phil Coley offers his best advice in preparing for that all important competition
For this article we have added a great new feature in the form of an accompanying web podcast. Future articles will also be using podcasts to help further explain the sports science section within Clay Shooting magazine.
This month we are looking at one of the key factors for any clay shooter at this time of the year – competition preparation. In the last issue it was interesting to read the Ben Husthwaite article and the interview with the team at EJ Churchill discussing The Classic. Quotes in both articles included “mentally run through the shot before taking the stand”, “believe in yourself. If you lack self belief, work on some mental exercises” and “keep your nutrition balanced, it is a long day, make sure your mind and body are well fuelled”. I wanted to make reference to this as it further underlines the importance of sport science in clay shooting.
So when we look at competition preparation what are we really focussing on?
There are a number of factors to look at and there is no particular order to these, but all must be seen as priority.
Visualisation is a must at this stage of the season. Many people argue that visualisation is only for those with complete technical ability; I argue against this and do believe that visualisation is important for those still learning as much as it is for the elite level shooter. Visualisation of a target is vital as it gives the mental stimulus to trigger a complete or a partial subconscious reaction to the target.
I always advise clients to use visualisation prior to competition, to go through a dry mounting session or pure visualisation of certain targets they may face. The one area that is crucial in visualisation is the emotional response to a competition – especially so the more important you view the competition. A great example of this will be the Clay Shooting Classic – this year there are a few changes to the layouts and targets. If you are heading to the Classic, think and visualise how you want to feel as you go down the drive and park? How do you want to feel as you approach the first stand? How do you want to feel as you go round improving your score each time?
I have emphasised “how do you want to feel” not “how will you feel”. The emphasis is on positive visualisation of your emotions. It is very important in competition time to feel confident, but also allow your own self belief to rise to the surface. The use of positive self visualisation is a vital part and one of using realistic goals for your competition.
Actual preparation for a shoot and following your routine are as equally important as following mental training exercises. In terms of preparation you need to follow what is a normal routine for you to go shooting. Assuming you have made all the arrangements to stay away or drive to a shoot at a particular time, the rest is preparation. It was interesting that for the 2000 Olympics the GB team chose to stay in a rented house near to the shooting range as it was more in the routine of regular shoots –the focus was on the shooting, not the distractions of the village. Sydney 2000 yielded a gold and silver.
So for you as a shooter there are a couple of areas to prepare yourself for. One is hydration: you need to keep your fluid levels up, but you also need to keep with a routine. I hear many people say to stay away from caffeine which is true, but you need to train yourself to do this. From an everyday perspective you may have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, followed by cups of coffee during the day. If you suddenly stop for one or two days, there will be a change in your approach and attitude, most commonly negative. I recommend that you have what you are used to, but add water through the day.
Other things to remember are to train for competition by competing in training. As you become a better and more competent shot, then your training needs to represent a competition. If you are going to shoot 100 targets through a day, then there is little benefit in shooting 100 targets in an hour if you are a competent shot. Your body and mind will only benefit technically (but probably very little) and it will certainly not benefit mentally. Get used to shooting 75, 100 or 125 targets through a day which would simulate a competition. It might be an idea in sporting to shoot 50 in the morning at one place, then another 50 close by in the afternoon; but give yourself time between stands – simulate queuing at stands.
I cannot stress enough how much proper preparation for a competition actually helps. I have many shooters that I work with where we discuss weekly the progress from the weekend and the plans for the next week. We even watch a video of training and dissect it – all the time you are looking for the edge. Regardless of your level, it is only natural to want to get better. Preparation is the key to this. Over the last 20 years one of the key developments in sport has been preparation, regardless of it being in clay shooting or any other sport. Preparation is important for technical, mental and competition performance to be at the very highest level.
When you head out this weekend, are you training for competition or just training? Do you have the end in sight and have you thought of the many scenarios you are likely to encounter? I wish you good luck for your shooting over the coming months. Remember to go to the video podcast that is available for this article.