It happens to all of us. We anticipate a major shooting event for months, stalk the sign-up link so we can click SUBMIT at one second past the designated hour, fill our social media feeds with “Oh man, I’m so excited for this event in 97 days!”, make our travel plans, clean our guns, and practice practice practice. When the event finally arrives, we pack our bags, drive 1000 miles, and lay wide-eyed and wide awake in our hotel room bed like a kid waiting for Santa to arrive.
We have prepared. We are ready. We are really stinking EXCITED! Then why does it seem that the moment the buzzer goes off our ability to shoot like a ninja instantly transforms into the ability to shoot like a moron?
If you’ve ever suffered from match day performance that doesn’t match your skill level on the practice range, the issue is probably mental. Match day stress can hinder the success of even the best shooters. Here are five stress-related challenges to solid match day performance:
- External distractions. Match day is not the day to be worrying about the kids, answering work emails, or eyeing that cute guy on the next squad over. The match is hard enough. Why waste your mental energy on distractions completely unrelated to the task at hand? Turn off your phone, trust that the babysitter isn’t letting the kids burn the house down, and talk to the cute guy when the match is over. Clear your mind of external distractions and just focus on your shooting.
- Internal expectations. Setting performance goals is a good thing. Goals help you continue improving as they provide you motivation and something to work towards. But when you become too focused on your goals, they can consume your thought process and leave you precious little mental energy for the actual shooting part. If not managed properly, setting goals and expectations for ourselves can lead to one of two negative outcomes: fear of failure, and even fear of success. Fear of failure is simple to understand; nobody likes working hard and performing poorly. It’s disappointing, and can sometimes be embarrassing. But fear of success is a different animal. Those who fear succeeding may be the ones who aren’t truly committed to their goals, because if they succeed, they will have to develop bigger harder goals that require more work. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle – that place where you can push the envelope because you aren’t afraid to fail, but aren’t hindered by the looming prospect of the more challenging goal to follow.
- Fatigue. You know those 1000 miles you drove yesterday? They’re wearing on you today. And those hours you spent in bed last night tossing and turning in eager anticipation? You’re paying for that right now. Simply being tired can degrade your match performance both physically and mentally. Physically, you’ll be moving more slowly. Mentally, you won’t be seeing your sights as quickly, and may also make poor decisions in the middle of a stage. If possible, don’t try to drive 12 hours the day before the match. Leave an extra day early and break up the drive or catch an earlier flight to allow yourself time to rest and relax when you reach your destination. As much as you want to stay out late with your long-lost range friends, go to bed early the night before the match starts. You’ll thank yourself the next day when your mind and body are sharper.
- Inexperience. It’s possible that your match day performance suffers because you simply haven’t shot a lot of matches. Practice sessions are good, and you can do a lot on the practice range to prepare for game day, but there’s just no substitute for actual match experience. Even after six years of competitive shooting, match directors still find ways to catch me off-guard; however, I’ve now built up a significant mental database of experience from which I can draw when facing a new situation. Be patient with yourself, as this experience can only be gained over time. In the meantime, devote at least a little time during each practice session to working on unique or uncomfortable skills and positions. This will help eliminate some of the stress of being faced with completely new circumstances on match day.
- Lack of confidence. This may sound all warm and fuzzy, but you have to believe you will perform well in order to shoot your best. There’s actually a lot of science behind it, and there are a number of books available on improving your mental game. But the fact of the matter is you will perform exactly how you think you will shoot. If you visualize yourself having the best match of your life, chances are you’ll have a much better performance than if you focus on all the things you did wrong at your last match. If you’re not confident in your skills, then your performance will reflect that.
Getting your head right before a match is equally as important as getting your gear ready. Take the time to mentally prepare and watch your match day performance improve.