Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters: The Challenge of Excellence

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 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 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.

I then provided a summary of some concentration and emotional mastery techniques for successfully coping with pre-performance nerves, anxiety and competition pressure – and I emphasised that the important positive emotional states necessary for optimum performance, (such as one-pointed concentration, enthusiasm, tenacity, motivation, and even happiness), are influenced by three important factors: your physiology, your ideology, and by the environment, and shooters can master their emotions by understanding and mastering these three factors.

In the last issue I spoke about the mental fitness and provided an ‘optimism’ test. I want to continue on this topic of mental attitude by discussing the importance of setting high standards for yourself in your shooting, and its relationship to self doubt and negativity.

Average Mediocrity

It seems to me that much attention is paid in today’s society to the ‘average’ person – what the ‘average’ person thinks about such and such; what is the ‘average’ wage; what is an ‘average’ mark to be attained by students in order to pass their studies.

I believe this focus on the ‘average’ person is a recipe for mediocrity, and I think this is readily observable in our society today, with its ‘average’ values, ‘average’ work standards, ‘average’ relationships, and ‘average’ concern for our environment and future generations.

This is particularly true in Australia where we are afflicted with an appalling behavioural disability – that of attacking the tall poppies and trying to pull them down. What has happened to the values of excellence and quality in our lives?

There is a saying: “If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for anything”. If you don’t vigorously stand up for your beliefs, principles and values – whatever they might be – then you will lose them. All things of worth, whether they be a garden patch, a relationship, a business, or a set of personal values, must be defended against the forces of entropy and apathy.

The worst disease and the biggest challenge facing us as a society is not AIDS, or pollution, or global warming – but rather, human apathy ……. human neglect.

The Disease of Personal Neglect

Neglect is like an infection. Left unchallenged it will spread throughout our entire system of disciplines, values and beliefs and eventually lead to a complete breakdown of personal integrity and success, and the destruction of the positive and supportive institutions in our society.

Neglect your body, and it quickly becomes overweight and disease ridden. Neglect your garden and it gets overgrown with weeds. Neglect your relationships, and you will find your friend or partner soon finds someone else. Neglect your children and they become difficult and undisciplined social misfits.

As a sportsperson, if you neglect your training, if you neglect to maintain high standards and your values of discipline, positivity, determination, confidence, and so on – all the skills of the sports MIND of which I’ve been speaking over many issues – then you will quickly begin the slide down the ladder.

We all have access to what we need to be more prosperous, happier and successful – yet many people simply neglect to take advantage of those resources. They neglect to read the books or attend the courses. They neglect to listen to the wisdom of teachers, coaches and leaders. They neglect to do the simple little things each day that lead to success in any endeavour.

Neglect – not doing what we know we could, or should, do – causes us to feel guilty, and guilt erodes your self confidence. When our self confidence diminishes so does the level of our activity; and as we do less and less, our results inevitably decline.

This leads us to falter in our resolves …. our attitude weakens and becomes increasingly negative and complaining, and we begin to feel more and more a victim of circumstances rather than the designer of our life – and we begin to doubt ourselves. Of course, when we feel like a victim – that what we do doesn’t matter – then our self confidence diminishes even more …. eroding our level of performance and attitude even further …. and on and on it goes until self doubt and neglect has made us like the many negative, complaining victims in society – blaming anything and everything but themselves for their circumstances.

Self Doubt to Determination

Many athletes are tough fighters and never give up when confronting an external opponent, but against these inner opponents of neglect, negativity and self doubt they give up too easily.

Self doubt is not a physical, tangible ‘thing’ – it has no substance, so it doesn’t ‘really’ exist. [Can you get me a kilo of self doubt?] However, it is a very real human feeling, that almost everyone has experienced at one time or another in their life. It is of course a construction of the mind – a feeling which results from a specific thinking process.

The self doubting thinking process is really a self questioning process. For example : “Can I really do this?” “Am I good enough to make the squad?” “Am I fit enough?” “What do my team mates think of me?”; and so on, most often with comparisons of self with others. If you question anything enough, you will begin to doubt it!

One way to combat self doubt is to treat it like a real external opponent – give it face and fight as hard as you would against a ‘real’ flesh and blood opponent. Secondly, the way to deal with any negative emotion – including self doubt – is not really to fight against them, but rather to transform them.

You do this in two ways. Firstly, by developing the mental discipline to ask different questions; and secondly by allowing the doubts to arise if they will, then use them to make you stronger.

Just think how it makes you work harder when someone you don’t like or respect, doubts your ability; when they say you “can’t” do something? Don’t you want to prove them wrong? Don’t you want to show them up? Don’t you do your damnedest to do your best? Well do the same with self doubt if and when it arises! Do your best to prove it wrong, and eventually you will find the self doubt disappears.

There was a time, wasn’t there, when you didn’t even know how to drive a car, or tie your own shoe laces, or even read or write! ….. and you doubted you’d ever learn, then! But now, you don’t even think of questioning these abilities do you?

Realise that YOU are driving your own bus – YOU are the one who chooses each thought you think; each question you ask yourself. Choose your thoughts wisely – choose the questions and statements that are going to lead you to feel confident and certain of your abilities, rather than doubtful.

I have said previously that how you feel is affected by two key mental processes : your focus of attention, and the meaning you associate to what you’re currently focusing on.

So, in order to feel self doubt, what would an athlete have to focus on, and what meanings would they attribute to those things? Of course, they would have to think about their mistakes; or real or imagined weaknesses; or poor performances – and they would have to understand those as permanent limitations preventing them from performing well.

How else might this individual direct their thinking to obtain a different and more positive result? Firstly, they could change what they focused on – they could choose to think about their strengths and best performances. Alternately, they could change the meaning they ascribed to the mistakes / perceived weaknesses and used them as fuel to motivate themselves.

Of course, an individual’s capacity to respond in this way depends a lot on ‘where’ they are in their sport.

Where are you in your sports journey? Are you just ‘drifting’ … ‘hoping’ to play at your best; to do well in an upcoming competition? Or have you made a committed decision to achieve some specific goals in your sport, and have a plan for doing so? Self doubt is often associated with neglect : a lack of direction, indecision, unmotivation, and mediocre standards.

I urge you to face up to the challenge of neglect in your life – and especially in your sports performance and your training. Are there any values that you have neglected to encourage? Is there anything you’ve let slide in your life? What standards have you set for yourself to achieve in your training, and in your competition performances? Have you fallen prey to the negativity of the ‘average’ person? Stand tall! Maintain your vision and your values.

Rather than cutting down the tall poppies, my vision is of the tall poppies lifting everyone around them to greater heights of personal achievement. Let’s be proud of the champions around us – but more than that, let’s be like them.

Accept the challenge of excellence in your own life – don’t settle for the average and mediocre in your relationships, in your work, in your studies, in your sport, or in your health. Expect the best of yourself, and the best from others.

Do recognise that this is a challenge – the path of excellence and quality is not the easy, well worn path. The words of Robert Frost come to mind :

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”

In the next issue I will discuss mental toughness further, by providing practical suggestions for developing a more positive mental attitude.

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 :



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