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Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters

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)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
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 : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

​By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed. ​

What do great shooters have in common?
Over the past year or so, I've had the privilege of working personally with a number of excellent shooters on some mental training techniques, and I thought it might be instructive to outline the principles, techniques and approach to mental training that shooters can use to enhance their performances.

But first, think for a moment about a shooter who you admire ..... What precisely do you admire about them? What is it that makes this person a champion in your eyes?

Obviously, they are skilled shooter, and they use excellent equipment - yet there is more to being a champion than technique and equipment. Champions have also learned how to get the best out of themselves by developing the skills of the sports mind.

Yet consider this : it's an observable fact that most shooters spend much of their time on the range, training and refining the technical and tactical aspects of their performances. However, as most players, professionals and watchers of any sport would agree, the major obstacles to improved performance are generally not physical at all, but rather mental or emotional obstacles : lapses in concentration; pre-performance anxiety; poor motivation; loss of confidence; negative mental attitude; 'choking' under pressure; and so on. It's the person with the mental and emotional toughness who succeeds most often in the long run.

You're more than just a body. Your mind and emotions also play an important part in your performances. If you're just training your body, you're only training less than half of yourself!

You don't build physical fitness with one or two gym workouts do you? You don't develop consistent shooting skills and techniques with an ad-hoc approach to training, do you? Yet, many shooters - even at the elite level - leave their mental and emotional preparation to chance! They just hope that they'll be confident and focused on the day.

This just isn't good enough any more! The best shooters leave nothing to chance, so don't leave your mental and emotional preparation to chance. Learn how to train your mind ... train your emotions ... by training the seven skills of the sports mind.

The important thing to realise is that attributes such as tough-mindedness, confidence, relaxed concentration, emotional control, and positive self belief and expectation can be learned and improved. Over the coming issues, I will share with you some simple mental training techniques of the best shooters and greatest sportspeople in the world. Techniques which are all simple and easy to learn and apply skills - secrets that you can learn to significantly improve your shooting, with very little effort.

Learn how to be self motivated, with high self esteem and a positive self image; know how to handle stress and pressure, and to be self directed with clearly defined goals supported by strong values and leadership qualities. Learn to develop the following seven mental skills for shooting success :

  • Positive Self Motivation
  • Powerful Goal Achievement Strategies
  • Emotional State Mastery
  • Positive Mental Attitude
  • Strong Concentration & Focusing Abilities
  • Positive Self Image & Unshakeable Self Confidence
  • Precision Visualisation Skills

I want to begin in this issue with a discussion on Visualisation for Successful Shooting. I believe Visualisation is the foundational and most important mental skill - one which all shooters want to master first. This is because all the other mental skills require competent visualisation techniques .... to achieve goals, you have to see yourself doing so; to improve a technical aspect of your shooting or change a limiting emotional reaction or behaviour, you have to picture yourself doing that, and imagine a new self image. - which will include some basic and advanced visualisation techniques to help you improve your driving distance and consistency, short game and putting accuracy.

POSITIVE VISUALISATION
Visualisation is a common skill we all use all the time; to achieve anything, to do anything, we first 'see' ourselves doing it. So visualisation is not something strange or difficult, but something we all constantly use in order to function in the world ..... we all can visualise. The trouble is, most people use visualisation negatively - they imagine all the bad things that could happen, and then hope they don't!

The important thing to realise is that we human beings are a lot like guided missiles - we move in the direction of our regular and consistent thoughts and imaginings; we move toward what we picture in our mind - particularly what we picture with vividness and strong feeling.

Whenever we associate a vivid picture with a strong feeling, it has a magnetic attraction - so be careful of what you picture with feeling, because you will be pulled in that direction.

Have you ever 'imagined' doing something you didn't want to do ... only to find yourself almost magnetically compelled to do just that - despite all your best 'willpower' efforts?

It's important to remember that imagination is more powerful than willpower - so the first mental skill to develop is to learn to control and direct your imagination ...... rather than letting your imagination direct you!

SELF ONE AND SELF TWO
There's a wonderful book by Tim Gallwey called the Inner Game of Tennis, and in it he talks about the concept of the two selves. Tim Gallwey was a tennis coach, and he noticed people talking to themselves on the court, and from this he suggested that we actually have two 'selves'.

Self 1 is the conscious, 'telling' self, and its the part of us that is always telling us to "Keep your wrist firm", "Watch the ball", "Follow through", or whatever. Self 2 is our non-conscious 'doing' self, and it is the part of us that Self 1 is giving the commands to. You could call Self 1 our conscious mind, and self 2 our body.

Now the interesting thing about self 2, our body, is that is understands vivid pictures and images better than it does words.

It's similar to a computer in that it understands a very particular and precise programming language - however the programming language of self 2 is not MS DOS or WINDOWS XP, but rather vivid visual images. Self 2 is a very competent servant and it accurately follows the instructions given to it in its language.

However most people try to program self 2 with words - they verbally command their body to do something without having a clearly visualised and precise picture of exactly what they want to happen. But it just doesn't work effectively - it's a bit like talking in a foreign language.

If I said the Japanese phrase : "Katate mochi Nikkajo Osai Ni", would you know what I wanted you to do?

It's just the same when you 'talk' to your body - it just doesn't understand the words you use. The way to command, or 'program' your body effectively is to use vivid images - particularly images associated with strong feeling, or what I call 'feel-mages'.

This concept is supported by comments from champion sportspeople. Jack Nicklaus has said "I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a clear, in focus picture of it in my mind." Greg Liganus, after hitting his head on the diving board in one of his dives in the 1988 Olympics, was asked by one of the television crews if he wanted a copy of the dive to see where he went wrong. He refused, saying he didn't even want to consider the possibility that Greg Liganus could hit his head on a diving board!

You want to have a positive focus, and you want to communicate that positive focus to your body in a way that it understands - by giving it clear, vivid images. It could be said that your level of performance is directly related to the quality of the communication and the level of trust you can establish between your self 1 and self 2.

WHY VISUALISATION WORKS
There is overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence which demonstrates the undeniable fact that visualisation can improve your sports performances. In my own research, the feedback I've received from athletes is that they improved their performance from 10% to 50%!

Visualisation works - but do you know why? It works because visualisation has a measurable, physiological effect on our body. When you visualise doing a movement, play, stroke, shot, or performance, there is a measurable response by the specific muscles used in that activity in response to your imagined movements.

For instance, in order to make a perfect shot in reality, a specific 'program' of neuro-muscular circuits has to fire in order for that to happen. However, if I just vividly imagine doing that shot, it's been found that micro-muscular stimulation occurs in those same muscles used to do it in 'reality'.

In fact, neurologically, your body can't tell the difference between a 'real' experience, and a vividly imagined one. You consciously know one experience is real and the other is imagined, but at the cellular level, your body can't tell the difference.

Because there is this muscular response to visualised activity, it makes it possible to 'program in' desired shots, strokes, plays, movements, behaviours, and even emotional responses prior to doing them. In other words you can 'groove in' to your body at a cellular level, a 'muscle memory' of what you want your body to do.

Further, visualisation allows you to practice your techniques perfectly - without error, and so 'groove in' the optimum neural pathway for future successful performances.

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)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
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 : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

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