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Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters: On Thinking

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

This is the seventh article in a series of articles on mental training for improved shooting performance.

Previously I've mentioned that there are seven essential mental skills for shooting success, all of which are learnable and teachable :

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

All these skills of the SPORTS MIND can be learned and improved with some simple mental training techniques.

I have already covered the first skill of Visualisation, noting that it is the most important mental skill for shooters, and that to direct your shooting performance effectively you want to use clear visual images with feeling, not words, and that visualisation works because it has a measurable, physiological effect on our body. I also noted the importance of getting into the right mental state to visualise, outlined six specific applications for visualisation for shooters, and gave some simple tips for getting the best out of your visualisation sessions.

In the last issue I introduced the important topic of motivation and said that motivation is an energy - an energy which is influenced by how you communicate with yourself. I noted that there are basically two simple motivation strategies : positive motivation and negative motivation.

Negative motivation moves you away something you don't want to happen, while positive motivation moves you towards something you do want to happen.

Negative motivation is characterised by the use of self talk with "should's", "have to's", "ought's", and "must's", while positive motivation uses "want to's", "like to's", "love to's" and "will's" as self talk. It is this self communication which results in either resistance and apathy, or enthusiasm and positive action - from yourself and in those you coach.

I want to continue by talking about the importance of turning motivation into positive momentum.

YOUR FOCUS OF ATTENTION

There is one particular decision that you're making all the time that's especially important - and that is, your decision about what to focus your attention on.

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.

For example, consider a 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"!

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 on the fact of landing in the bunker.

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 child - didn't you imagine yourself playing a particular sport as you watched your heroes play, and think to yourself, "I'm going to do 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?"

I think 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 star. 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, or 'idle' thoughts! What you decide to think about moves you in that direction.

However, many people allow their focus to be distracted 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.

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.

Previously I've mentioned that there are seven essential mental skills for shooting success, all of which are learnable and teachable :

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

All these skills of the SPORTS MIND can be learned and improved with some simple mental training techniques.

I have already covered the first skill of Visualisation, noting that it is the most important mental skill for shooters, and that to direct your shooting performance effectively you want to use clear visual images with feeling, not words, and that visualisation works because it has a measurable, physiological effect on our body. I also noted the importance of getting into the right mental state to visualise, outlined six specific applications for visualisation for shooters, and gave some simple tips for getting the best out of your visualisation sessions.

I also introduced the important topic of motivation and said that motivation is an energy - an energy which is influenced by how you communicate with yourself. I noted that there are basically two simple motivation strategies : positive motivation and negative motivation. Negative motivation moves you away something you don't want to happen, while positive motivation moves you towards something you do want to happen.

This led in the last few issues to a discussion about goals and how to attain them, and I want to conclude my information about goals by talking about the role of your thinking.

What is thinking, and how do the processes of our thoughts influence our ability to achieve our goals?

On Thinking

If you had a chance to listen to, and really hear, the news conference given by Ian Thorpe announcing his retirement, you would have picked up some really valuable insights into just how important thinking is to all sportspeople - and not just champions.

Ian walked us through his thinking behind his decision, and it was interesting to note his mention of how he was "questioning himself" a lot prior to his ultimate decision.

This is important, because if you question anything enough, you will begin to doubt. Self doubt, lack of direction, unmotivation, loss of confidence, and so on, are often the result of continuous questioning, or of asking the wrong kinds of questions.

Questions such as : Why am I doing this? What's wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? Why can't I .................. (whatever).

What I call why(n)ing thinking.

This is not to say that Ian made an incorrect decision, or that after ten years of extraordinary achievement in his sport, he doesn't deserve the right to move on and do other things in his life.

I simply wonder if he had enough psychological support over the past six to twelve months, to aid him in the process - because it's very easy to allow the 'why' questioning process to become self-sustaining - and ultimately destructive of an athlete's direction and motivation.

I think we've all been there at some time in our life - questioning "Why am I in this sport / job / role / relationship / whatever?"

Those who moved on obviously didn't find a satisfactory answer; while those who stayed found a way to answer the questions - and then got on with it.

If you keep asking 'why' questions of yourself, over and over again, the only result is going to be self doubt, and ultimately, giving up.

For this reason, I recommend to the athletes I work with, that they take some time to find really powerful answers to questions such as : "Why am I playing this sport?".

Answers that are personally meaningful for the athlete, and which they can have ready in their mind whenever those little doubts or questions surface - either from themselves, or from others.

It's important to recognise that every athlete will ask, or be asked, these 'why' questions at some point in their sporting careers, (and probably many times), and if they don't already have really strong, convincing answers, then the process will continue to build and feed on itself ........ until they decide to do something else.

Elite, competitive sport today is a tough business, and only those individuals who are really clear on why they are there - and fully satisfied with those answers - will have the mental and emotional energy to handle the challenges and setbacks they will inevitably face.

Having heartfelt, powerful reasons for why you're playing / competing in your sport provides the motivational fuel that will sustain you through the hours of arduous training; the constant, fickle media scrutiny; the niggling injuries; and all the other challenges on your way to success.

The bygone aspiration of many of our sporting champions in the past -"to represent Australia", is no longer enough any more ...... and really, why should it be?

When athletes see company directors sitting in $500,000 corporate boxes with government bureaucrats, politicians, and other parasites feeding off their athletic efforts like some emotional vampires unable or unwilling to engage their own spirit; why should they be satisfied with idealism?

So take some time today to think about it .... WHY are you playing your sport - or doing what you're doing in your life right now?

Find at least six really meaningful and heartfelt reasons; acknowledge them to yourself; and then get on with it!

For athletes to succeed consistently over a long period of time, these reasons must include a love of the actual playing of your sport - including the training. It's also helpful to see competition in a very personal way ....... to compete for yourself first; to test yourself and hone your skills and your spirit, rather than for the rewards or glory.

Once you've found these personally meaningful reasons, trust, and tell yourself that you HAVE made the right decisions - and commit to them. Of course, you may want to re-evaluate your life from time to time, (at the end the year, or at the end of the season for example), but excessive questioning is counter-productive.

The Structure of Thoughts

Having explained just how important questions are, it's useful to recognise that questions are just one aspect of the thinking processes which affect sports performance.

Think about thinking for a moment. What is thinking? What happens in your mind when you think - what actual processes happen?

Thinking comprises two processes: visualisation and verbalisation (or other internal auditory stimuli), and usually both simultaneously. We think visually, by imagining, or picturing, or dreaming - seeing things in our mind's eye. We also think auditorily by talking to ourselves, or by hearing music or other sounds in our head.

It's interesting to realise and appreciate that all of our performances and behaviours are directed by these two simple processes!

All that you have done and become - and will yet be - is a consequence of how you manipulate your thinking processes.

Further, in relation to the auditory aspect of thinking, it can be divided into self talk and other sounds. The self talk component includes the questions, which I have already discussed, and statements.

'Statements' are verbalisations of what you believe about your sport, the world, and life in general - and often relate to yourself. For example : "I'm not a morning person"; "It's hard to get to the top"; "I've got a strong forehand"; "Women are fickle"; "Men are bastards"; "No pain, no gain"; "I'm not a lucky person"; "People are cruel"; "I'm a good cook"; etc.

These statements are often very subtle and the individual is barely conscious of them. The trouble is, that these internal verbalisations -especially the ones that relate to you - influence your performance and behaviour. What you say about and of yourself, becomes true for you.

So, an important key to mental training for sportspeople is to assert some control over all these thinking processes - to take charge of the imagery, questions and statements that happen in their mind.

Recognise that you are the master of your mind. Your mind is your servant - not the other way around!

All mental discipline begins with the simple acknowledgement that you are not your mind! With this simple understanding, you can reassert your authority over the mind.

Too many people allow their mind to direct them, instead of them directing their mind!

A good example of this happened recently with a golf professional who came to me for some assistance with his mental game. He said he found his concentration wandering regularly, and often imagining negative things - which of course then happened.

I gave him a simple remedy : YOU ARE NOT YOUR MIND. I instructed him to write out the following phrase and say it often to himself throughout the day :

I am the master of my mind. I see myself playing well, now.

The solution to negative thinking is to not allow them to arise in the first place! Have your mind so full of positive images, statements and encouraging questions that there is no room for negative thoughts to germinate and take hold.

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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