Your scores in competition can be a direct reflection of the effort and level of learning that you have achieved when training. Focus on achievements in practice with goals that make training more important and impactful to your shooting.
Most shooters gauge the success of a “practice” or training session on the sheer number of targets and shots attempted. “I had a great practice session on Saturday! I shot 16 boxes of ammo!” That says nothing about what was actually accomplished. Your scores in competition can be a direct reflection of the effort and level of learning you have achieved when training. Instead of putting all your eggs in the “feverishly running lead down the barrel” basket, focus on achievements in practice with goals that make training more important and impactful to your shooting.
Volume of Practice
The amount of necessary practice depends on the level of expertise, what I call Quality vs. Quantity. As a beginner, a shooter needs quantity of practice, enough time to learn subconscious skill. Some researchers say 10,000 hours of diligent practice are required to learn or master an action. Once a skill is learned, quality of practice outweighs quantity. The skill must be practiced and executed correctly, without flaw to match desired levels in a competitive environment.
There are a number of Levels of Training. There is Training for Feel, Training for Competition, Training to Win and Training to Dominate. Most shooters’ training revolves around the first two. While the second two involve going outside of your sport, where one would train other aspects that affect performance, such as physical training, nutrition, building a bulletproof mental game and training effectively.
The first level dominates most of my days coaching. To learn a skill, one must repeat the action over and over again to learn it, Training for Feel.... quantity of practice.
Once Feel is mastered, one must Train for Competition, which means to shoot a number of regular rounds, 25’s, over and over, because that’s what’s done in competition. At this level, quality of practice surpasses quantity. Many shooters gauge the success of a practice session on the amount of rounds shot. But “going through the motions” for 14 rounds, accomplishes very little, without any focused purpose. I’d rather shoot four diligent rounds of quality practice than 15 rounds of just sending lead into the air.
It is possible to under or over-practice, and I believe that depends on the individual. I think four to six rounds of dedicated practice per week should be enough to hone your skills. Twice a week would be better. Going out less than every other week is probably not sufficient to "own" or master your skills. You must practice enough to build skill and confidence, without doing too much, where fatigue and complacency come into play.
Many would be surprised at how little I practice. This is because of my increased travel schedule while coaching. There is very little time left for me to shoot. In fact, last year I had nine recorded days of training on the skeet field from the beginning of the season to the end. However, my unending coaching, generally five to six days a week, provides daily reinforcement. Even though I am not pulling the trigger, I am constantly talking and demonstrating how to do things correctly, positive reinforcement. A great example of this is this past September when I spent two weeks teaching Mental Management to the SEAL Teams, and three days later, with little practice, I broke one of my better 400x400s, my 40th, at the U.S. Open. For the two weeks prior to that event, I had immersed myself into talking about and teaching proper mental strategy for sport, and it paid dividends on the back end.
Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham (left) was the first person to introduce me to the idea of using a Performance Journal.
Develop a Routine
Train as you would act when competing. Having a solid and consistent mental routine is the first defense against external influences and distractions. It is easier to focus and concentrate when the action is done in a repetitive manner. A consistent, repetitive physical routine tends to lay the groundwork for consistent thought. Routines do not need to be complex, in fact it is better if they are quite simple.
An acceptable routine can be as simple as loading the gun, mounting the gun at the hold point, setting the eyes, and then thinking, “look at the target” and calling pull. A physical and mental “shot” routine should be simple, reproducible and specific to you. But for a routine to have impact, it must be followed for lack of a better word…religiously. A routine that is inconsistent both in physical action and in timing will open one up for inconsistent thoughts and make one more vulnerable to distractions from the outside.
Recording Performance, Make Progress Measurable
Keeping a record of your performances is an important tool. First of all, keeping a journal is a powerful self-image tool. It builds confidence. Anything you say, write down or do, makes an imprint on your self-image. Self-image is what makes you be like you.
Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham was the first person to introduce me to the idea of using a Performance Journal. It’s an integral part of his Mental Management program. However, when I was first introduced to the thought of keeping a Performance Journal, I was certain the last thing I was going to do was keep one. I thought it was a waste of time, and I could not be bothered with the extra time and effort this insignificant, peripheral exercise would require. I was such an idiot. When Lanny asked me if I kept a Performance Journal, I said of course not! Here’s how he convinced me to begin keeping one.
Lanny asked me to try to recall the best tournament, the best performance I’d ever had in my career. I’ve had some good ones, but I settled on one week — the 1991 World Championships. That year, I won the HOA, HAA, Doubles, the Champion of Champions event, 4 World titles and in the process broke the first 750x750 ever, breaking every target in the Championship Events thrown for the week. Then he said, wouldn’t it be nice to have a record of what you were doing, what you were thinking and how you felt during that week of the best performance of your life. That one didn’t take long. Yeah, that’d be cool, I guess. I have kept a journal ever since. So what’s the big deal? Why is keeping a Performance Journal so important, and why is it so powerful? (Editor’s note: See page 22 to order a Shooter’s Journal.)
A Performance Journal allows you to praise yourself for what you are doing well. Unfortunately, society today frowns on ourselves praising what we do well. It’s seen as arrogant. It’s more acceptable to “talk down” one’s performances. In a journal, we can congratulate ourselves on a good performance without the fear of being “arrogant”. When keeping a journal, you don't need a good performance to make entries. You are either successful or you learn. You can always find something positive out of any situation. You can praise what you did well and analyze what you need to correct. Writing down positives makes very strong imprints on the self-image and builds confidence at an exponential rate, while at the same time you are developing a correction to a problem, which is solution-based thinking.
Keeping a performance journal has given purpose to my training sessions. With it you can make a record of what you learned, so you can move forward from the last session, picking up where you left off.
Keeping a Performance Journal has given purpose to my training sessions. I review the notes from the previous session before starting a new session, so I am reminded of what I learned previously and what I need to work on. Therefore, I hit the ground running, not wasting time trying to figure out “now what did I do last time?” I can also bookmark days when I have “breakthroughs”, so I can go back and review what was learned, even from previous years. I record thoughts, feelings, anything that was done well, so I can use those triggers in the future.
Record what was done well, what you did great in your performance. Don’t be shy, elaborate. Remember we are trying to build self-image, so be descriptive on how you performed and what was great about it. Next, make a record of what you learned, so you can move forward from the last session, picking up where you left off. And by writing what was learned and the solution, it creates positive reinforcement.
Focus on Successes
The most important aspect in training is to focus on what you did well. This is where you build self-image. In Lanny Bassham’s printed Performance Journal, this is the largest section of each entry. This is where you are detailed about your performance. You are recording what has happened, keeping a researchable log of what’s occurring in the growth of your game, and at the same time giving credit where credit is due, congratulating yourself on a job well done, and growing confidence and self-image at the same time.
Have a Plan
A few years ago I spoke with a friend of mine about a new venture and direction for his corporation and the strategic plan he had laid out, not only to define his goal, but also how he was going to get there. This should not surprise anybody. Common sense and business sense tell us any venture, especially one as complicated as a venture at the corporate level, requires tremendous planning. No businessman would start pouring capital into an activity without first knowing what he expected to gain from his expenditure, a goal, and how he could maximize his expenditure and accomplish that particular goal, a plan.
A house requires a blueprint. Flying an airplane requires a flight plan. Electronic equipment requires a schematic. But how many of you have a plan when it comes to your shooting?
I find a surprising number of students have no real plan when it comes to their shooting. There is no plan involved in preparing themselves before taking to the field, and then no plan in approaching each individual shot. No plan when it comes to training. How many of you call for a target without a definite idea of where the target will be broken, what the lead will look like, where the hold point should be and where you will be looking with your eyes when you call for the target?
In shooting, sometimes we forget a certain application that would have insured a successful shot, and we pay for this mistake. “I knew I was holding too close, and I called for the target anyway.” We all are guilty of this undisciplined approach, not only in shooting, but also in many of our activities. But this needn’t be the case. With a solid plan, an approach to an activity, we can almost guarantee a successful outcome. I know that on High Three, that if I hold the gun in a certain position, my hold point, look for the target at a particular area, focus on the target during its flight, see a defined lead and keep my head on the stock, I will, in most all instances, break that High Three. Since this is the case, I promise you on every shot, I have that particular plan and have considered all of the variables that are involved in breaking that particular target. And I do that on every shot around the field. Sound like too much work? No one said perfect scores would come easy.
In a game such as American Skeet, or any clay target game, that requires a lot of repetition and constant flawless execution, success can only be accomplished through routine. Having purpose in training and not deviating from your plan, come hell or high water, establishes a routine and a pattern. These are things that can be trusted and relied upon in competition. Your execution in training should be consistent, and if so, the outcome achieved will, in turn, be more favorable. SS
For information about Todd Bender Performance Systems International and for Todd’s 2016 Clinic Schedule, go to the Clinic Schedule Page at toddbenderintl.com or contact Todd Bender at email@example.com.