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Coaching Hour – The Brain Chemistry of Pressure Situations – Aug 2016

Coaching Hour – Aug 2016 – EXCERPT

Over the years, we’ve stayed on the cutting edge of research into the neurology of hitting moving targets, as well as new findings about practice and performance. In this Coaching Hour from August 2016, Gil and OSP member Dr. Bob Shannon discuss what happens in the brain when fear enters the picture. Spoiler alert: nothing good!


Gil: I keep going back to the mistakes that we made 33 years ago when we started shooting this game. And did we practice? Yes. I shot somewhere three days a week, and I shot every tournament I could find to shoot. We were just lucky in the area we were that there were six sporting clays ranges within three to four hours of our house. We could go to Austin, San Antonio, Boerne, Beaumont, Greater Houston, or Champion Lakes. We could go to places and there was a tournament almost every weekend somewhere. And we would go, but my practice sessions were more “fun and amazement” than they were “disciplined and drilled.”

Now, once the kids went to bed every night, Vicki and I practiced our gun mount until we were sick. I mean, we could just barely hold the gun up, and I credit most of our ability to win to not having to think about what I was doing with that gun. That gun was like a second finger. I mean, it was like a third hand. It was just there, and I never had to give it a thought. But back then you had to shoot with a low gun anyway. So, we had to learn how to shoot with a low gun.

The other thing, Eagle, is I’m finding myself on quite a few targets — not every target, but on targets that have a crossing element to them or I have a long time to shoot them — I’m finding myself soft mounting the gun to my shoulder with the muzzle out close to the break point, but my head is still up off of the stock, whether it’s coming from the right or coming from the left. And I find myself following that bird with my nose into the muzzle and I find myself with my head moving with that nose on that bird. And as I begin to be aware that the bird is closing on the muzzle, my face comes down into the stock and I duplicate the speed and take the shot.

I think that’s something that I needed to share with you, because most people want to have their head firmly on that gun as soon as they call “pull” or even before they call “pull,” which leads them to put the gun way too close to the house. That allows the bird to get in front of them, which makes them have to chase that bird.

And with the gun fitted like it is, I feel so much more relaxed when I have time to engage the target early with the muzzle sometimes 30 yards in front of the bird and watch that bird approach that gun with my nose. And as the bird approaches the gun, my face just comes down into the stock softly like it should be, and it allows me, I feel, to get more target movement data. It allows me to see more dots as the bird comes to the gun.

Just the symptom that you were having not wanting to raise your head off the gun, any number of times when I’m shooting pairs, even if it’s a quick second bird, the gun is going to stay on my shoulder, but my head is going to come completely off the stock to find the other bird.

So, that’s something that you may want to practice and put into your routine. It’s okay to get your head off of that stock, looking for that second bird. I mean, every now and then when you can break the first one or the second ones within 10 to 15 feet of muzzle, you don’t have to do that. But when that second bird is 15, 20 yards away, you’re almost going to have to come out of that gun to see that bird before the gun gets to the bird, otherwise you’re going to blow right by that target.

I’ve got some video that I’ve been playing with. I’m not pleased with it, but I’m going to try to work on that next week and get some new video up, showing everybody the move that almost all the top shooters have, but they don’t realize they’re doing it. Bill McGuire is a shining example of this. His gun is in his shoulder. He drops his shoulder, and he turns his head to the right or the left to get his nose on that target. I mean, he’s the epitome of what I’m talking about.

So, you might want to look at between the shots on pairs. After the first one is dead, you might want to look at not necessarily dismounting the gun but at least getting your head off of that gun and looking for the second target. I think that’s something that I do automatically, but not everybody does.

So, confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm.

Bob: Go after that bird to kill it.

Gil: Yeah. I’m going to get that book. I want to know. So, what happens, Bob, when we start thinking the wrong way; when we get tentative and start shooting not to miss?

Bob: Well, simply stated, when you do that, you’re thinking about something you should have never trained.

Gil: Right.

Bob: And if you do, you essentially fill out that scratchpad with something that is immaterial to success.

Gil: Hmm. What happens chemically in our bodies when we do that – when we become hesitant and confused?

Bob: Usually the thing that gets that started is anxiety and trying to limit uncertainty. And the moment you do that you are now into interfering with your working memory and your procedural memory. Neither one of them is going to work optimally. Part of that is cortisol rises.

Gil: And what happens chemically when your body manufactures things to —

Bob: It goes up really fast.

Gil: Yeah. And there’s no way to get it back once you’ve passed that threshold?

Bob: It’s tough to get it back because it lasts awhile.

Gil: Yeah. The chemistry that your brain put in your body is going to have to be in your body for a while, and then it has to go away, right?

Bob: Yeah. You’ve got to outrun the lion. That’s what it’s all about. It comes from, you know, that corner of your eye movement that you saw, the tawny hide of the lion in the grass, and you took off lickety-split. You know, that’s what that was all about. We all feel this when you are lucky enough to avoid an accident that looked like it was obvious it was going to happen. About a minute-and-a-half later you break out in a sweat and your pulse rate goes up, and you can feel your blood pressure go up. That’s what the cortisol does, and when it gets to that peak level, yeah, it takes a while to come down.

Gil: Yeah. In practical application, understanding what your physiology is when you’re in a congruent state of mind or in a good state of mind. We talked about that with Bob Palmer.

Bob: Yeah. And he’s absolutely right on what he described; you know.

Gil: I use that to this day. The instant my body gets incongruent, it doesn’t feel right, and I’ve found myself in difficult situations with people becoming incongruent, and I’ve got to anchor back to congruency, and I’m able to think clearly. But if I let that incongruent posture get in there for, say, 20 minutes, it’s not a pretty sight. You can ask Vicki. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s like me having eaten a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in about an hour.

Bob[Laughs] Oh, but I would be sick.

Gil: Yeah. And when I did that, my wife got in the golf cart after I was throwing shells and couldn’t hit anything and drove off without saying a word, and I had to walk back to my truck. When I got home, she asked me what the hell was wrong with me. What I was doing? What did I eat? And I just calmly explained to her it was the napkins. If I hadn’t picked up a bunch of napkins, I wouldn’t have had anything to wipe my fingers on as I ate the first dozen of those five dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts I bought for the trappers at the gun range. So, it was the napkins.


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