Recently, I was asked about major matches and how to control nerves. Jeff and I had a guest on the Steel Target Paint podcast where we touched on this very subject. Shannon Smith is an accomplished shooter and has made shooting his career through teaching and running some of the best matches in the country. When asking Shannon about this topic he calls it the “juice”. When you are in a situation you have never been in before or you have not performed at the level you would like to, the “juice” gets flowing. He then talks about a USPSA World Shoot performance where the “juice” was flowing with him. He did not shoot his best performance, thought he ‘blew’ two stages, and the “juice” stopped. So what did he do? He just shot and had fun. You know what happened? He shot some of the best stages of the match.
I had a similar conversation with an amazing competitor at the 2019 World Speed Shooting Championships this year. They asked why I was having fun and shooting well. For me, the “juice” got me several times on the first stage at way too many level III matches and I am out to spend time with my shooting family and have fun. What taught me this? Well, this was my 5th WSSC and never did I realize close to my truest potential. Undoubtedly, I would blow a stage and then all I could think about the next seven stages was how I just blew up a stage.
These major matches do cost a lot of money to compete in. They do attract the top talent in the shooting community and you have to be spot on or someone else will. There is a lot of prestige in being on the podium or even in the top 5. This is undue pressure we put on ourselves and we can control it. What I have found is the more matches you shoot, especially these level III matches the pressure will subside over time. There is not a magic pill to take and there is not a secret I can share. It’s tough trying not to think about who is there at the match competing against you. It’s tough to not think about the scores already posted the day before you are scheduled to shoot. It’s tough to not think about the weather. I always tell myself the same thing I told my wife four years ago. When this stops being fun, I am done.
Once last piece of insight. Whenever I am consciously thinking about something while I am shooting, this prevents my subconscious from taking over. The subconscious is where the countless hours and tens of thousands of rounds I have engaged in practice all live. When you get to the line, take in the moment and focus on the sound of the “B” in the beep. Just remember to be safe and have fun!
See you out on the range soon!