By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.
Importance of Decision Making in Shooting
Sport is a game of decisions - all throughout a match a person is making decisions which affect the outcome of the game. Some of these decisions are made consciously; for example :
Do I serve the ball to his backhand or forehand?;
Do I pass the ball or shoot for a goal myself?;
Do I go for a winner or play it safe?
However, many of the most important and significant decisions are not made consciously at all, and many sportspeople are totally unaware of the pre-programmed patterns of decision making that are limiting their performance.
In this article I take a look at some of the conscious and unconscious decisions that affect shooters, and make some suggestions for improving both conscious and unconscious decision making to improve YOUR performance.
Three Important Decisions
Firstly, it's crucial to understand that both as shooters, and as ordinary human beings, we all are making decisions about three things which affect us enormously : decisions about focus; decisions about what things mean; and decisions about what to do right now.
At every instant you're making a decision about what to focus your attention upon, then once your attention is focused on a particular event or set of circumstances the next decision you make is "What does this mean? Is it good, bad or unimportant either way?" This is then followed by the decision about "What do I do now?".
Let's consider an example. The first decision, "What do I focus on?", most people readily understand and appreciate it's importance on the surface.
At each moment, what you decide to pay attention to, and what you decide to focus your thinking on, affects how you feel, and what you do. A person who is focused on the target and their own successful shooting routine and rhythm is obviously going to perform more consistently than another performer thinking about someone watching them from the audience, or who's mind is on their hot date after the shoot!
The best players in any sport have learned how to manage this crucial triple decision making process to get the best out of themselves.
However let's probe a little deeper into this process. Consider an example from the game of golf. You tee up your ball on the first hole, (a par 5), and hit a glorious drive straight down the middle of the fairway - the best drive you've done for ages! Feeling good, you walk down to the ball and take out your 3 wood, again striking the ball sweetly and watch with pleasure as it comes to rest just an easy pitch from the green! You walk up confidently, take out your wedge, and with a smooth flowing swing, connect solidly with the ball, and watch in bliss as it sails in a perfect arc directly for the pin.
Suddenly, a freak gust of wind drifts your ball into the steep right hand side bunker!
Now ...... what you decide to focus your attention on at that moment determines how you feel and how you perform!
What do many people choose to focus on in such an instance? The misfortune of going into the bunker, perhaps thinking things like: "There goes my birdie chance now"; or "I hate that bunker; I never play it well. Last time I was in that bunker, it took me three shots to get out, and I ended up with a triple bogey"; or "I always manage to mess up a good drive"; or even "There goes my round today"!
Or perhaps their attention gets captured by thoughts of "I should have ........ I should have aimed further to the left", or "I should have used a different club" ..... etc. etc.
In order to do better at something, it's useful to ask the question, "What do the top people focus on at any point in time, and in particular circumstances?". In this instance, invariably champion golfers focus on their strongly desired goal, and committed standard of performance. They choose to focus their attention on the excellent drives they just did, and on previous good bunker shots, and imagine successfully getting up and down in two, to still make birdie, rather than dwelling on the misfortune of landing in the bunker.
Relate this to your own shooting - what decisions do you make in similar situations? How might you direct your decisions about focus that would lead to more consistent performance?
Your Consistent Focus is What is Important
I like to suggest that we human beings are a lot like guided missiles - we move toward whatever we regularly and consistently focus on and picture in our imagination and thoughts, with feeling.
It's not what you think about occasionally that's important, but what you're consistently and regularly focusing your attention upon that influences your life, and performance.
Think for a minute about when you were a younger person - didn't you imagine yourself there as you watched your heroes at the Olympics on TV, and think to yourself, "I want to perform like that!" Likewise, we first imagine ourselves into every new job, relationship, activity and performance, before we do it in reality.
So realise that your decisions about what you focus your attention upon are directing your life. Ask your self, right now, "What have I been thinking about most today, and this week? What has my focus been upon? What have I spent most of my time thinking about?"
It's interesting to note that for many people, their focus is often on what other people are doing : the latest office gossip; which celebrities have been sleeping with whom; the racing form; or details of the recent performances of their favourite sports stars.
Champions tend to be much more concerned with themselves and their life to focus for too long on other people.
Every thought has one of only two consequences - it either moves you closer to your dreams, or it takes you further away. There are no other choices, and no 'idle' thoughts! What you decide to focus upon and think about moves you in that direction.
However, many people allow their focus to be distracted and controlled by other people and events, rather than being directed by their own dreams and desires.
For many people, life is like a river, and they're just floating along with the current - current fashions and fads, current events and current problems. The trouble is that sometimes that current can smash you into the rocks or over the waterfall - so it's a good idea to have a direction in mind for where you want to go, and regularly and consistently focus your thinking on that.
Directing Your Focus
What this means in practice is to develop the discipline to consistently focus your attention and thinking on what you want.
For many people, thoughts are things that happen to them - I hear it all the time! "I can't help it; I always do it" they say, as if someone else was actually putting the thoughts in their head! That's garbage!
No-one is in charge of your thinking but you; no-one but you directs your thoughts, so quit whinging and bitching or making excuses - and learn to discipline your mind!
All mental training MUST begin with the discipline of training your focus, and realising that YOU control and direct your thoughts. Thinking positively doesn't always guarantee success, but when has thinking negatively ever done you any good?
In the next issue I will discuss the other two, less conscious, decision making processes that influence your confidence, self belief and performance consistency.
About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.
He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.
Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.
For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
website : www.sportsmind.com.au