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If You are Thinking You are Behind

In our last epistle we ended with the line “you can’t be in the present if you are thinking” so this month we decided to expand on that a little bit and look at what kind of thoughts FEAR brings to our minds and what it actually does to shooters. Being in the present is something that all the “mental gurus” talk about and it is a logical thing to accept that you must be present to win but how to be in the present and what benefits that brings is not often talked about or easily achieved. We see most shooters’ due diligence when it comes to practice consists of how many times they visit the range to practice and how many shots they take and even the score they shoot. Most are trying not to miss and that is all they are thinking about when they are shooting. The key word in the last sentence would be “thinking”. You can’t be in the present if you are thinking….ABOUT ANYTHING and until you practice that way you anit gonna be able to achieve it on game day. Martina Navratilova said in an article we read once, “every great shot you hit in a match you must have hit hundreds of time in practice”. Eventually, we hope, you will understand that you will never shoot better than you practice and you can practice your mechanics till you are blue in the face but you will not be able to compete well until you practice with the same mindset that you want in competition. Most shooters look at the mental game as something that if they understand it they can produce it and it does sound logical to “not think” but just like your gun mount, long crossers, and true pairs you must practice not thinking.This concept was first introduced to us at the first Beretta Championship held in the U.S. in Maryland in the early 80’s where Gil ended up in a shoot off with Matt Dryke the Olympic skeet champion. While waiting for the shoot off they were talking and Gil asked Matt what is was like to be in the Olympics shooting for our country and how and what he concentrated on. Matt said, “Concentration is the art of thinking about nothing” and that has stuck with us since then and continues to be redefined as we go along our journey with all of you. Not thinking sounds simple and implies that it can easily be achieved but that is where the simplicity ends for most of you and the thing that takes you out of the present, and is at the root of almost all of your thoughts on game day is, you guessed it, FEAR.I know it sounds like we are beating a dead horse here but as professional instructors and life coaches we have found that the only thing that over comes short or long term memory loss is either repeating something many times or charging a lot for the advise, or both. You can ask George Conrad, editor of your magazine and he will tell you we are not making our house note each month writing this column for your magazine. That would make this advise free for your membership so since we can’t charge you a lot of money for this we are left with repetition to emphasis some things. 
Stop and think about how many decisions you make when you shoot a round of sporting clays and then how many more decisions you make when you shoot a competition. Why do you make these decisions? Well the obvious decision is to hit the targets and to win but how many times have you found yourself in this situation and the motivator for the decision has changed from hitting the targets to “not missing” the targets and hoping you win? Here is where we find most competitors and it is here where all those random thoughts begin to flow through you mind and they are anything but positive because they are grounded in the fear of missing. We remember when car radios had only two knobs, on/off /volume and channel selection. If you wanted to play a joke on the owner of the car you would turn the volume knob all the way up and switch the temperature control on the AC to hot with the fan switch on high and turn the blinker on and the windshield wipers on high without them knowing it. When they put their key in the ignition and turned it to start the car then everything would come on at once and the car would go from quiet to anything but and a few minutes later they would notice the AC was blowing hot air not cold. We see this on a daily basis in competitors and have talked about it in every arena we coach. We have talked about what shooting not to miss does to your performance and the fact that it takes you out of the present and either puts you in the future or the past but we have not talked much about what it does to your focus on the target. Fear always puts the gun between the eyes and the target and takes your focus from the target to the gap between the gun and the target. Let’s face it, there are only two things you can look at when shooting a shotgun, the target or the gun. You only have 100% of focus and every per cent you put on the gun is taken off the target and vise versa. You can’t have it both ways and sooner or later you will understand just how much focus you must have to hit all targets consistently. What we have learned is that it is not your ability to focus on the target that is keeping you shooting the scores that you are shooting it is the fear of missing that shifts a percentage of your focus from the target to the gap which includes the gun.Every shot begins with 100% of your focus on the target but as the target and the gun merge together there is a shift of focus towards the gun. Most shooters don’t realize what shifting their focus to the lead does to their performance because they don’t even know they are shifting focus. We call this a sliding focus ratio and to win consistently the shooter must have a MINIMUM FOCUS RATIO OF 95/5. That would be 95% on the target with no more than a 5% awareness of where the barrel is. You hear people say they are focused 100% on the front of the target but they see the barrel in their periphery to get the lead right. We don’t know whether that is a paradox, oxymoron, or just B.S. but we have become aware of two things with respect to target focus. First you have only got 100% of focus and every percent you put on the gun is taken off the target. Second, the barrel is there and is gonna be a part of the shot but you can learn to accept it in the periphery and focus beyond it and maintain a 95/5 or better focus ratio on the target which will let the lead take care of itself. Remember you can’t be in the present if you are thinking about ANYTHING.We see this sliding focus ratio as the culprit of inconsistency in all shooters until they get into AA or Master Class and still even those shooters have a sliding ratio but not on all targets. It is most often misdiagnosed as a “mental problem” but that would be a discussion for another day. Our research has shown that top level performances require a focus ratio of 95/5 or more like 98/2 and even on some shots shooters don’t even see the gun and on those shots they would have a 100% focus ratio. We have also found that top performers not only know what kind of focus ratio they have to have for a winning performance they know exactly what it looks to them. How do they know you ask? They too have become hesitant in the past when on a good score and have switched from shooting the targets in the break points to shooting not to miss and they have done it enough times and their results have been consistent enough to know IT HAS NEVER WORKED IN THE PAST AND WILL NOT EVER WORK IN THE FUTURE. As they looked back at what happened they began to realize that their focus began to include more of the gun the more careful they got and they lost their feel and rhythm and the targets began to break when they hit the ground! Remember fear puts the gun between the eyes and the target. Next month we are gonna talk about what causes the focus ratio to slide and which way it slides on all shooters from E to Master.

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