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Zone Experiences

Just wanted to add to all of your thought processes these comments we received from Jeff after we talked about his zone experiences on the Coaching Hour:

Hey Gil,

I’ve been considering the recent conversations we’ve had on “systems” and how different shooters actually perceive what they’re shooting at.

I think much of the confusion stems from the differences between practice (training) and competition.

In any competitive sport, there is a difference between practice and competition. I played a few sports growing up, and still play some softball in my spare time.

During my time in baseball, we spent hours in practice drills: throwing, fielding balls, or in the batting cages. All this repetition and work on mechanics turns those plays into reflex actions. Then, in the game, when you need split-second timing to get a hit or turn a double play, it just happens. No second baseman watches a grounder come off the bat and roll towards the short stop before he starts moving to second. Because he’s spent so much time doing it in practice, he sees the pitch and the speed of the swing and reads that it’s going to the left side of the infield and is already moving when the ball is hit. (I should say, no “good” second baseman. Routine plays are routine because you practice them until you can’t do it wrong.

In soccer (just like in “The Talent Code”) all the ball-handling drills and kicking dills made ball handling second nature and allowed the players to concentrate on the rest of the game, instead of looking at their feet wondering where the ball was.

If you want to tie it to pop culture, think of The Karate Kid movie, when Mr, Miyagi makes the kid polish the car and paint the fence. The kid is tormented and wants to learn to fight, but doesn’t understand that the repetitive actions he’s doing are internalizing the skills he needs to actually play the game (fight) at a higher level. Not many people (except arguably the pros) want to spend all day shagging flies, or running ball-handling drills. But if you read the sports news, consider what people say about the elite athletes in sport: “He’s the first one on the field and the last one off. He practices hard every day,” etc. All these are indicators that the player puts effort into the mundane practice drills for his sport.

I think that relates to the conversation on Tuesday a couple ways:

First, I think the desire to “just go out and shoot” creates a lot of confusion. People invent all kinds of conscious tricks to try and short circuit the need for practice. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but they all require active thought and effort during the shot. When they hear discussion of the OSP way, they think of everything in terms of shooting for score, where I see a lot of your techniques are practice tools that produce skills that can be called on and aggregated during a competition. It’s about what and how you practice as much as it is about how you shoot (if not more).

As an example, someone who knows a bit about baseball would probably know how to read the laces of a fastball. But can they do that on a 97 mph ball in a game? There’s just not enough time to see it, think about what the laces are doing, and decide what kind of a pitch it is. You just have to be able to look at it and “just know.”

When I’m in the zone on a sporting course, I walk into a stand and I “just know” where everything is. There is no confusion, no thought, no nothing. To your point on the call, the preload is obvious and very simple.

Consider also, that shooters using a “system” in a tournament are in effect “practicing” with that system. Over time, they improve, not because the system short-circuits the need for practice, but rather because if the shooter uses it consistently over time in tournaments, the net effect is no different from a shooter who spent an equal number of days practicing the system.

Second, I agree with you on everyone seeing the shot differently. People with less time under their belt will not see as many details. Others will have particular biases to what they see. Two people can execute exactly the same move and be in wildly different places when the gun goes off if one of them stops the gun and the other does not. Yet, to the bystander, they both look like they had exactly the same move. I see that a lot on the course and have to chuckle when people try to help each other: “you were behind it…no, in front.”

I also wanted to mention that I need to refine my comments about my zone experiences. When I first thought about it, I said my mind went completely blank. But the more it happens and the more I pay attention to it, the more I find that my mind is not completely blank. I will say it is clear of any unnecessary thought; maybe 95 percent blank. But, there is a very simple, very clear, black and white thought process of “this is the obvious solution to breaking these targets… Okay, load, call ‘pull,’ load, call ‘pull,’ load, call ‘pull,’ get out.” That’s it. No thought at all about lead, hold point, mechanics, or anything else. Just the pure essence of what I’m doing.