A good friend and fellow competitor wanted to get my insight on a few questions on competitive shooting. Below is our discussion. I hope this helps! If you have any questions you would like some additional insight on, please reach out to me at email@example.com .
Thanks for offering to answer some questions. Maybe some of this will help other people too.
- When I shoot a stage I always try to come up with some sort of plan. Steel Challenge is pretty straight forward. I know the stage ahead of time and have a plan. With NSSF, the best way to shoot the stage isn’t always apparent.
Do you ever have a stage where you told yourself you were going to shoot it one way, but when the beep sounded you shot it differently?
Yes, I have had this happen. I thought I had a good game plan and when the buzzer went off my execution varied from the plan. The last time this happened to me was at a match where I finished the first string and thought there must be a better way. Coming up with a new plan at the firing line rarely works out. The root cause of why changing my plan came into my head was because of my poor execution of the basics. I shoot a lot of Steel Challenge and I have a tendancy to ‘push’ too hard in NSSF/now Rimfire Challenge. All ‘pushing’ means is my fundamentals broke down, I am seeing the target, the sights are not there yet, and I pull the trigger. Don’t worry how other people are shooting the stage. You have enough experience shooting, trust yourself. The first thought of how you want to shoot the stage is going to be more comfortable for you. If it is comfortable, you will shoot it better. You don’t want to be the person on the squad who shoots a target, goes to another target and does not pull the trigger just because it was not part of your ‘plan’, shoot another plate only to come back to the target you skipped. Got that t-shirt!
Had a few practice sessions where this happened. Apparently, my subconscious knows what is best for me. After shooting it the “wrong” way and then the “right” way, I found the “wrong” way was actually quicker. I refer to this automatic shooting method as the “Lizard brain taking over”.
Ever had this happen to you? It happens to me the more I shoot. It is as if instead of planning out all my shots, I simply shoot the stage. It almost always works out better for some reason.
This is what practice is for and is completely normal. You will figure out if you like to shoot better right to left or left to right. Do you like finishing on a hard swing or coming up on a solo target first. Drawing to a tough target is always a good strategy, but not work out in every situation. You have to take time to draw or get on the first shot, for me, it takes less total time to hit a difficult target first. The mind is a curious thing. The best I have shot lately is where time stands still and I cannot believe the time on the buzzer. This happened at the 2017 Florida State Steel Challenge Championship a couple of weeks ago. I shot a few stages under 7 seconds and I felt like I was going slow. I had a plan in my head and I let my instincts/sub-conscious take over. Us forcing our bodies to do something takes time. You were shooting in the sub-conscious and you should bottle this! If you decide to sell it, I will be the first in line!
- Any pre-match rituals that you’ve found really helpful? Do you avoid certain foods? Do you have to have a certain amount of sleep? How do you calm down if you get really nervous?
The most important thing I do before a match is to make sure I have absolutely everything I need to shoot a match successfully. I have a mild form of OCD and I triple check everything before a trip. Gun – check. Mag-check. Etc. The next part is to make sure I get plenty of sleep the day or two prior to a match. With the amount of matches I travel to a year I try to minimize days off from work so my travel schedule is tight to and from a match. If I am not rested ahead of time the thing between my ears that controls my right index finger does not operate at the capacity or speed it needs to, I see it in my times.
The nervous question is a really great one. I think most if not all people who compete or are competitive get some level of nerves or anxiety. I do. The first piece of advice I have is not easy to do. Gain experience. The more major matches you shoot, the less anxious I am and the same will probably be true for you. The next thing I have in my head is I am not competing for $100K. I then focus on why I am traveling to shoot. I love shooting. I love the people. I love to be able to give back. When I run through these reasons, the nerves slow down a good bit. Finally, I was at a training class for my ‘day – job’ and a we had a witty and smart facilitator and she told me something that stuck with me. She said you cannot feel ‘gratitude’ and be ‘anxious’ at the same time. Talk about wow! Every match I think about all of the special people I have in my life, those who support me both personally and professionally, and it does settle down my nerves.
- Do you dry fire practice? How often do you do dry fire practice? Does it actually help?
I don’t do a lot of dry fire practice. I have started a decent regiment of drawing from the holster because I am shooting my Carolina Arms Group Trenton Pro in 2018. After shooting a lot of rimfire and rifles, getting a gun out of the holster and on target is a bit more challenging at GM times than I initially anticipated! I have seen a big improvement in a short period of time. I am nowhere near the 1 second or sub 1 second times I would like to be at. Other dry firing I have done has not yielded me the benefit I would like to see because everything happens differently when a round goes off. Early on, I did focus a lot of dry fire practice on moving the gun to get on the first shot fast.
- Any tips on maintaining confidence? No matter what the timer says I don’t feel as if I’m shooting fast. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly fast shooter even if I place well. Seems like one has to strike a delicate balance between being humble but not too humble.
This is a tough one. I know exactly what you mean and I still feel this way today. When I shoot, I still feel like I am shooting slow. People will yell and hoot and holler when I blaze one, but it still feels slow. Watching myself on video has helped because it shows what actually happened. It is a strange experience re-living what I saw in my head during a string or a stage compared to seeing it from a 3rd person viewpoint. A good friend of mine told me 2 years ago something that sticks with me to this day; “You shoot fast enough, time to get your hits”. When I go one for one in NSSF/Rimfire challenge on every stage, I shoot fast enough to finish on the podium. At Tier III or World matches, I have to continue to shoot at my ability and not try to shoot someone else’s match. If I do, I start missing and, at the top, people don’t miss too many times on strings they keep.
In addition it comes down to confidence. Walking up to a stage and being confident in your skills and ability and knocking one over the center-field wall. This is different than be arrogant or cocky. Being cocky is telling everyone what you are going to do and make others feel bad in the process because they could not do what you did. In this sport, the top competitors don’t cheer when a fellow shooter is having a bad day. They cheer each other on and be supportive. I want to beat the best when they are shooting the best. They want the same from me. This is what makes this sport so special.
See you out on the range soon!