Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters: Concentration & Emotion Management part 2

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 couple of issues to a discussion about goals and how to attain them, and about the role your thinking, (notably what questions and statements you are making on regular basis), has on your ability to achieve your goals, and an introduction to concentration and focusing techniques through managing your state.

A two-part series on concentration and emotional mastery techniques for successfully coping with pre-performance nerves, anxiety and competition pressure.

Part 2 : Mastering Your Emotions

In the first part of this two-part article I pointed out that emotions are influenced by three factors: our physiology, or body posture, breathing and movements; our ideology, or what you’re imagining, and saying to yourself; and the environment around you, both the physical and social environments.


I also mentioned that one of the best ways to develop a personal facility of control over your own emotional states is through the use of what are known as sensory triggers. A sensory trigger is simply a stimulus of some kind that you train your body to associate with a particular state, and which you can use to ‘switch on’ that state in yourself as required, by using the trigger. It’s what is know as simple ‘stimulus – response conditioning’, and it works in the same way as a light switch. You train your neurology to automatically respond in a precise, positive way to a specific stimulus – in the same way that flicking the light switch turns on the electric light.

Triggers are common in human experience – the trouble is, that most people have built negative triggers for themselves, rather than positive ones. Some common examples of triggers which affect our state are: phobic responses such as fainting at the sight of blood, or freaking out on seeing a spider; and also common emotional reactions such as feeling threatened by a particular facial expression or tone of voice; a certain smell ‘triggering’ a vivid past memory; hearing a particular song on the radio which reminds you a past relationship; being fearful of walking to your car in a dark lonely car park at night; or getting ‘stage-fright’ in front of an audience; or pre-performance jitters before the club championships.

Common examples of triggers in sport are the automatic response to stop playing on hearing the umpire’s whistle; over-anxiety prior to a big match; or getting angry at a dubious line call. Of course there are examples of powerful positive triggers as well: the Maori Haka that the All Blacks use prior to a rugby match is a great example of a trigger for building very powerful team spirit and aggressive states in the players; and you can see how being on the verge of losing is often a trigger for top sportspeople to switch up a gear.

Triggers are usually simple physical stimuli – such as clenching your left hand strongly, or saying a particular key word, or visualising a specific symbol to yourself – which you use as needed to generate the positive state you want. Of course you can have lots of different triggers for different positive states, and I’ve generally found that after using them for a while, they become automatic, and you will only need to use them if for some reason you lose your concentration or confidence.

One good idea is to associate your positive states to something that is always in your performance environment. For example, when I give public talks I like to have a lectern – not because I use it all that much, but because it’s a trigger for me. If I feel I’m not reaching the audience, or I forget what I want to say, I simply walk over to the lectern and get back into a positive state.

Likewise, you can have some item of equipment – a sweat band, a pair of shoes or socks, etc. as your positive trigger. One basketballer I know, uses the smell of the basketball to switch himself on! Of course, be aware that if you depend too much on external triggers, you can lose confidence if that special thing is not there! I encourage you to build strong self-based triggers for the kinds of state you want to experience.


How you think affects how you feel; and how you feel affects your decisions, actions, and performances. To master your emotions then, you want to master your thinking. Your mind is always active – it needs to have something to focus on. If you don’t deliberately direct it’s focus to the kinds of positive thoughts you want to have, then it’s just as likely to come up with negative thoughts and images.

Good performances don’t happen by accident – they’re a result of good thinking. Don’t leave your thoughts to chance – train them. Consistent good thinking only comes with consistent training. Train your thoughts by establishing a peak performance vocabulary; a list of key words and powerful images which you can deliberately choose to think in specific situations and contexts to take charge of your emotions and performance. These key words can then become positive triggers for those positive emotional states.

To build a positive trigger for yourself, think how you would like to feel in specific situations, and come up with a set of powerful key words and phrases (and/or visual icons) that generate those feelings, and rehearse them until they become ‘anchored’ as a habit.

It’s been wisely said that the trouble with positive thinking is that you have to think about it! You don’t want to have to try to be positive; you don’t want to have to try to feel confident and relaxed. You want it to be an automatic and unconscious skill you can call upon in an instant!

What could you say or imagine in each of the following situations to feel more capable and confident: Your opponent is leading?
You’re anxious?
You’re leading?
Your concentration is lapsing?
You’re selected to train in the state or national squad?
You lose an important match?
You’re feeling fatigued?
You’ve lost motivation to train?
You win an important award?
There is friction with your coach or other team members?
You win a major event?

Having key words for both positive and negative scenarios is equally important.

Identify now some typical situations which occur for you, and write down a key word or phrase you can use to feel more empowered :





Key words and visual icons can also be used to focus more effectively on important aspects of performance. You might have a key word, phrase, or image to help generate endurance, or concentration, or will-to-win, or relaxation.

Make a list below of what performance aspects are important to you, and note beside it a key word, phrase or image that you will use to generate it.





Remember when anchoring in your key words, to use powerful auditory and/or visual submodalities to generate powerful emotional responses. Key words spoken clearly in a deep resonant tone, close and in stereo are much more impacting than a distant whispered mumble in a nasal monotone! Remember, it’s your self talk – so make it the kind of self talk that is inspiring, empowering, and motivating!

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 :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email :
website :



Related Posts

The Power of ‘Will’

To successfully attain a lofty goal in elite sport – or in any endeavour for that matter – you want to understand and fully appreciate