When shooting competitively, everyone has good days and tough days, easy targets and hard targets—but the best competitors have a certain mindset. Shooting is more than just eye-hand coordination; it is a very mental game. Much of competitive shooting is your ability to concentrate, to focus on each target, to know you can break every target, and to not get rattled if you miss. It is a confidence that you have when you walk onto the field.
It’s easy to concentrate when no one is watching, but when you have a shoot-off or a final round (as in International shotgun) in front of hundreds of people, your ability to concentrate can mean the difference between winning and losing. You must be able to get to a mental zone where you block out the noise of the crowd behind you and totally concentrate on each and every target. The experience I had in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was, I think, the toughest of my career. With TV cameras going live to 30 million people and an audience that was cheering and clapping behind me, my ability to concentrate was tested to the limit. In the first minutes of the final round I went from first to last. I attribute my win to my ability to “zone out” all the noise and commotion around me until all I could hear was my own heartbeat. For the rest of the round I focused on one target at a time and I did not miss another shot. This undoubtedly helped me to win my first Olympic Gold Medal.
A competitor must know during a competition that, when you walk onto each station, you are going to break the target. You must have no fear of missing. You must train on each station, over and over again, so you know you can break the target. If you have a doubt or fear on one station, take a box of shells, stand on that station and practice that target until your doubt is gone. Practice until you can hit 10 targets in a row or 10 doubles in a row. You know you can break that target. You must never think, “this is my hardest station,” but rather picture in your head the broken target from your practice. Tell yourself you just broke 10 of these in practice…so what’s one more?
Above all don’t get mad if you miss a target! Everyone misses. The difference between a good competitor and a great competitor is their ability to collect their thoughts, focus and break the next target. If you get mad or upset, this only rattles you more and you are more likely to miss the next target. You’ve seen people throw their shells down when they miss. They let their emotions get the best of them. Instead, let it go, take a deep breath and focus on the next target.
It’s OK to make corrections. Tell yourself that you need to be ahead of the target or keep your head on the stock, but focus your thoughts on what you need to do and not what you did wrong. You need to keep a positive mindset so when you walk onto the field you know you can hit every target to win.