Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters: The Power of Focus

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.


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



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