Sometimes you might experience difficulty translating your abilities in practice to performance at matches. You may be approaching practice with a casual attitude and when you enter the match, the level of importance hits you. All of a sudden, your shooting abilities seemingly desert you and you’re fighting nerves.
Simulated or Adversity Training
There are many exercises that you can perform in order to arm yourselves against this, ranging from mental rehearsal to “Ultimate You” affirmations. These are all very useful, but they don’t actually simulate a match. You might want to consider “simulated training” or “adversity training”.
The basis for simulated training lies in cognitive psychology, where it has been found that people recall skills and information best in situations which duplicate the learning (or training) environment. Recall the home court advantage: you practice there and it is supportive of you. In the contest, remembered skills come forth easier. Similarly, at your home range, you practice and flourish, perhaps shooting in the same bay or position. Week after week, the environment never changes. Then, you go to match and everything is different: lighting, position, noise. There is a flurry of distractions and you’re trying to concentrate! Don’t sweat it: you can overcome this. Just make the unknown familiar.
Here are some ideas for breaking the routine and incorporate simulated/adversity training:
- Change range positions: don’t always shoot in the same spot because it’s your favourite. Unless you’re very lucky, it won’t be available at the huge match that you’re training for (possibly in another state, province or country.) Switch around or let other people dictate what spot you shoot from.
- Shoot at different clubs if possible. It’s essentially an extension of the above idea, but it is more expensive, as you’ll need multiple club memberships. This is better though because the environment and people change. It’s not just you and your best friends at home.
- Add safe distractions. On occasion, add noise to the range (ever shot air pistol in a rifle range?) or play annoying/intrusive music (your choice) in the background. Have range officials chat among themselves behind the shooters. One Olympic archery champion went so far as to shoot beside busy railroad tracks. Learn to lock out the distractions. Just make sure that the distractions are safe and legal. (Note: railway tracks are not considered legitimate ranges in Canada.)
- Declare a random malfunction during a simulated match. Things go wrong and you should know how to handle them. Learn the process for handling a malfunction in a competition. When holding a practice match, have your coach or range officer randomly choose a malfunction for a competitor. Fully describe the scenario to the shooter. Within the rules and the time limits of the match, the shooter must respond in a way that assures a positive completion of the match. (At the Nationals, I loaded a pellet backwards into my air pistol and then I quickly needed to find my ramrod which I thankfully had acquired only 3 days earlier. NOW, I always keep it on the shooting bench. In the same match, one of my unshot targets fell off the carrier downrange.) Remember: make the malfunction safe and realistic, with a high chance of a positive outcome for the competitor. Train to succeed in adversity. (I read of one shooting coach announced a fake bomb threat to the team on the shooting line: this is counter-productive in my opinion.)
- When scoring the targets for the simulated match, deliberately underscore a teammate’s shot. This is not to rob the shooter of points. In a match, shots are scored somewhat subjectively (within limits). As such, the shooter must know how to protest a scoring error. This exercise faciliates that lesson and underscores the importance of reviewing the targets prior to signing the competitor card.
- Practice for the finals. The finals component of a competition is not the same as your regular performance in the match. There are strict time limits and an order of operations which cannot be deviated from. As such, if you are unacquainted with the process, you could be distracted. As such, regularly practice shooting in the finals format.
Self-Competitive Training Games
Competition is what you’re working towards in many aspects of sport. With shooting, the match is never against another person: it’s always about you. As such, you need to compete against yourself often to lessen the impact of the match environment.
Here are a few competitive games to play you shoot:
This game works along the notion of setting an attainable but difficult goal in your shooting. If you achieve that goal, then you either repeat it (if it’s the first goal) or fall back one step and restart. You progress until you’ve accomplished all the goals. Remember to set and adjust the goals as you progress.
- Shoot five shots and score 46 points out of a possible 50 points. If successful, move to Step 2. Otherwise, repeat.
- Shoot four shots and score 37 points out of a possible 40 points. If successful, move to Step 3. Otherwise, fall back to Step 1.
- Shoot three shots and score 28 points out of a possible 30 points. If successful, move to Step 4. Otherwise, fall back to Step 2.
- Shoot two shots and score 19 points out of a possible 20 points. If successful, move to Step 5. Otherwise, fall back to Step 3.
- Shoot one shot and score 10 points out of a possible 10 points. If successful, repeat if time permits and eventually raise the points needed to move up, or finish this exercise. Otherwise, fall back to Step 4.
These points are the minimum to progress to the next step. You are allowed to exceed them but extra points are not carried forward. Essentially, as you complete the exercise, you must raise the passing point value, i.e. Step 1 point total changes from 46 to 47. This exercise tests your ability to chase a goal (similar to a match) and engages you in your training. You can even use this game in a match.
This exercise is based on your current shooting average and rewarding you for exceeding it. Your percentage average is used to set your par. For example, let’s say that you are scoring 95%, so this is your par, which you will beat in a series of 2 shot matches. Now you set a goal: perhaps 5 under par for the training session. To hold par, you shoot your two shots and, in this case, shoot a 9 and a 10 (19/20 = 95%). This is good but not enough: you want to beat par! So, you must shoot two 10s, and you’re 1 under par. If you shoot two 9s, then you’re 1 over par. This par values are added together for each two shot series. You will complete your session when the series add up to 5 under par (or whatever your goal value was.)
Here’s an example:
- Shoot 9 and 10: even par (total par: no value to add or subtract).
- Shoot 10 and 10: 1 under par (total par: 1 under par)
- Shoot 8 and 10: 1 over par (total par: 0)
- Shoot 10 and 10: 1 under par (total par: 1 under par)
- Shoot 10 and 10: 1 under par (total par: 2 under par)
This continues until you hit your goal. You can do this by yourself or against someone else and see who hits there goal first. Just make sure that the goals are consistent with each shooter’s individual ability (i.e. 95% and 85% par for 2 shooters.)
Holding the Ring:
Once again, this exercise is set on your ability. Let’s say that you land most of your shots within the 8 ring. As such, your goal will be to eliminate all shots less than the 8. Pick a target and, with a black marker, obliterate all rings except the 8 ring. Shoot on this target until a shot lands outside of the ring. Count how many shots landed within the inner ring and keep that total. Get a new target, obliterate as before and shoot at it until you have a shot outside the 8 ring. Count the inner shots. Your goal is two-fold: keep all shots in the 8 ring and increase the number of shots in the ring prior to a shot in error. You progress with this until the overwhelming majority of your shots land in the inner circle: then you switch to holding the 9 ring, then the 10 ring.
How Many In A Row:
As the name implies, how many 10s in a row can you shoot (or whatever your goal shot is)? Let’s say that you can shoot three 10s rather often, but four in a row is quite seldom and you’ve never shot five 10s in a row. Well, your goal is to break that upper limit. In your practices, try to see how many 10s in a row you are capable of shooting and mark it down. In our example, as you complete the third 10 in a row, your level of internal arousal will elevate and there will be pressure to hit number four. When you hit four in a row, then you are faced with shooting the fifth 10 in a row that you haven’t done before. This is pressure. Face it and complete the fifth 10 in a row and carry on. Some days, you’ll come up to your goal again and again: other days, you’ll exceed and set new upper limits. The goal is to face that pressure and break mentally imposed limits. )By the way, you can use the same target until you can no longer distinguish each shot’s value.
And finally: Compete as much as possible
Nothing simulates the competitive environment like the real thing. Sure, it doesn’t have to be the Nationals or the World Cup, but every match puts you under the microscope. This match is training for your next match. It gets you ready for the future competition that you really, really want to win.
Consequently, get out to matches. Start an inter-club rivalry. Some clubs have a house league system in which you compete against members of similar ability. Also, postal league matches are fantastic, as you send in targets via mail to a central location for grading. They’re often relatively inexpensive and you can shoot them from your home range, eliminating travel time and costs.
All of these ideas boil down to one essential fact: competitors compete. Get out there and test your mettle!