I can’t even tell you how many times I have been up to the firing line and the only thought going through my head is “don’t screw this up”. Afterall, if I shoot this last stage or this last string well, I have put the pressure on the others to come and take it from me. This is something I have battled with throughout my shooting career. In the last 12 months I have made it a point to just have fun! When I am having fun, the work I have put in at the range has showed through. It seems effortless.
At the 2020 Georgia State Steel Challenge Championship, the only major match we have shot this year, I was shooting very well. I shot a personal best time in PCCO of 62.77 and I was having a great time. There was one stage I did not shoot as well as I would have liked and it happened to be the very first stage Five to Go. Not sure what exactly happened on the very first string, but I had a malfunction. I had over 5k rounds of new ammunition in my new gun and when I looked down after the timer went off the gun was slightly out of battery. In hindsight I believe I did not slingshot the sidecharging handle so the bolt was slightly out of battery. At this point, I knew I had to shoot the next four strings of the stage clean. As I got ready for the ‘ready’ command.. all I could start thinking about is I had to go “one for one”. Just as the buzzer went off I knew that I was consciously thinking about not missing instead of clearing my mind to let me subconscious take over. And, you know what happened?? I had to make up a shot on plate #2 because I took my eye off the dot on the plate as I pulled the trigger. Needless to say, I shot two more strings at 80% of my Edge and I had one last string with a makeup. Keep in mind the top 3 classified PCC shooters in the country were at this match battling it out. I was 1.5seconds behind my par time walking off the first stage.
The good part about this experience is I recognized what was happening I corrected it for the rest of the match. The next seven stages were solid and right where I have been shooting them, which lead to a first place win in PCC and secured the Title of Rifle Master. As I reflect upon this performance the previous paragraph really stands out to me. When I have had a tough time at matches in the past, it is because I would carry misses or pickups with me and what I have learned through my shooting career is you cannot be consciously thinking about shooting if you want to shoot Steel Challenge well. You have to let all of the thousands of rounds you have burned into your sub-conscious to take over. Steel Challenge has a component of equipment, you need to run reliable gear and ammunition to shoot well. There is a component of technique on how to shoot a stage, trigger control, sight picture, etc. And the last component which is arguable the most important in reaching your potential as a shooter is the mental game. You have to clear your mind while in the box and let your training take over in the subconscious. I was working with a new shooter this past week and when I told her to make sure they see the sight on the target and go one for one, she shot amazing. She surprised all of us including herself. It was not long until the Jones Syndrome crept up on her. Time for lesson #2!
There is not a magic pill. There is not a coach who can make you do it. It is up to you to work on your mental game. Your mind has to be strong and you are the gate keeper. Once you have had enough, you will find the switch in your mind to turn to ‘Game On” mode. For most of us, the room is dark and it will take some fumbling around to find the switch. But once you do, don’t forget to flip it on when you need it!
See you out on the range soon!