A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know one of the greatest Highpower Rifle shooters of our generation. His name is Dick Whiting and he wrote a series of articles on mental training. Every year I break them out and re-read them. They are invaluable to me in helping me screw my head on correctly for the coming shooting season. He graciuosly has allowed me to reprint them here. Here is the first one
Some say that Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” What he actually said was, “Winning isn’t everything, striving to win is.” We may never reach our goal, but we strive daily toward perfection. it’s an attitude thing.
Winning…is the sole reason for competition. If we are in it to lose, then why partake. To the Gladiators, it was a matter of life and death. Those who engage in running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain have a ‘sharply’ defined incentive to run faster than the bulls. For the rifle shooter there are lots of incentives that entice individuals to get involved and strive for the ‘Golden Ring’, ergo DR Badge. But, how do we succeed as competitors? We start at the very beginning of life, the day we were born…and a time when we were competitors. We had an incentive to breath…and we still do, but the process does not require conscious though. As we grew, we experienced many set backs, a few bumps on the butt and noggin while trying to stand, or walk those few halting steps, or while eating try not to punch our eye out with a fork…so Mom gave us a spoon. We learn quickly how the spoon can be effective in launching peas or other unsuitable foods. Success…and we learned by it…even if a spanking came with the fun.
We learned in steps, gradually over a long period of time just what we needed to do and what not to do, like touching something that was hot, or swinging off the draperies, or carrying around sharp objects. In any event, you get the picture. Some of us, as it turned out, became great runners, others became doctors, others lawyers, and still others electricians, plumbers, nurses, or workers on an assembly line. Each getting very good at what we did and perhaps still do. Here is where practice and training pays off. Do something often enough and you will become proficient at it…perhaps not a world class swimmer, or diver, or a runner or high jumper, or an excellent shooter, but you will be good at it. I witnessed a young soldier once putting charges on mortar shells…he was not only fast, but accurate. He had achieved his goal…to be the best mortar squad in the company and/or division. To each his own…I suppose.
One of my favorite training tools is the pencil. Exercise: Pick one up and write your name, no not on the wall, on a piece of paper. Go ahead…it doesn’t hurt. Now, explain in writing the mechanics involved with this exercise. This may take a while, so I will shorten the process. One cannot precisely explain the mechanics involved, because they are practiced and involuntary…they are part of our subconscious. What told our fingers how to pick up the pencil, versus what fingers to use as the pencil is manipulated around the page? We don’t have to look at a pencil to pick it up, or the piece of paper, or any object for that matter. It is our automatic system working for us. Just as I type this, I can do so without looking at the keyboard, after over 14 years using a typewriter or desktop, it has become practiced motion…muscle memory if you will. When a person gets into a car, and starts the engine, they are performing as they have practiced for how many years? The same fundamentals are applicable to shooting. If we shot every day, like we practice writing, then our shooting skills would be high master in short order…or would they? Some of us can use a pencil or pen, but few can write legibly…but again, that isn’t the point, practice is.
But, you say…there are the David Tubb’s of the shooting world…I can never expect to shoot better scores than he can. Not true. You can, if you set your goals so that they are attainable. First, however, one has to learn what it feels like to win. To get that winning feeling. Trial, error, applause, encouragement, training, and setting realistic goals. What is a goal? For the rank beginner…it may be to keep all shots on the target backer, a 6 by 6 foot square piece of cardboard, and for the Marksman, keep all shots in the scoring rings. For the high master keep all shots in the ten and X rings. These are goals…and I like to refer to them as ‘ring’ goals. If you are beginning as a new shooter or are a seasoned veteran…goal orientation is important. Why does a person who has won the National Championships need to set goals? To win another…and another…and another. How do they do that? By thinking about shooting, by conducting mental and physical practice sessions, and by having the best rifle and ammo combination that is available on the firing line. The best is a rifle and ammo capable of shooting X ring groups across the course.
I have said this before, and will continue to say it…’Life is too short to shoot bad ammo or a bad rifle.’ This we have debated to some degree here on this forum…yet I still see posts that say, “Well, the ammo is good enough for my level of shooting.” Not unless it is the best. I know that price is a factor in this game, but if you want to excel, you cannot sacrifice along the way. If you do, it will catch up to you and may cause the loss of self esteem and confidence.
I read a recent post about a bad match that a person shot and he said he couldn’t get it out of his mind. When I shoot a bad match, it is the first thing I forget. To dwell on a poor execution in one match or even two or three matches is the kiss of death for a competitive shooter. Lanny Basham related the story about a person who asked him about a match he fired a few years back, and asked him about the two nines he shot. Lanny questioned, “Why should I remember two bad shots?” So then, why should anyone remember a bad match, forget it and work towards your goal(s). The match is history, and absolutely nothing can be done about it. Remembering it, or worrying about it, will do only one thing…keep the shooter in the lower ranks or fretting so that when they go to another match the same thing is likely to happen…why? Because one’s thinking process is an input device to our subconscious. Feed in good information, get good information out.
I can’t tell you when I last shot a seven in competition. Why? Simple, it was a bad shot, it was analyzed, and forgotten. Next shot 10 or X. Remember the good shots, good matches, and work on your stated goals.
To achieve a particular goal requires a plan. When we travel, it is very often by the seat of our pants, because our travel plan has been worked out repeatedly over many years. But, this time we are going to some far away place where we have never been before. Out comes the maps, open up the computer and get a route plan in order. We now have a plan. That plan tells us approximately how long will it take to get there, and what routes are the most direct?
The same holds true for shooting or living our lives everyday…we have to have a PLAN. A plan that is on paper with stated objectives and goals. The first objective is to get ourselves the best equipment possible, one piece at a time…if necessary…and it may be necessary to buy small pieces at first so we can sneak them into the house. First, a nice mat, then a stool, then a scope stand w/scope, shooting glove, carbide lamp (service rifle shooters), suspenders for those of us who have ‘done lap’ disease, shooting coat, score record book, and the list goes on from there and in no particular order.
Having the best equipment is a confidence builder…something that you won’t have to worry about two or three years down the road. Learn how to use your equipment correctly, don’t work for your equipment. Where you place your spotting scope is critical, as you do not want to strain muscles to look through the scope. This causes physical fatigue and such fatigue will play on your mental frame of mind.
Your subconscious will perform with no conscious effort on the part of the shooter. It is automatic, if you let it work for you.
Exercise: Comment, this is for both new and seasoned veterans. I see even good shooters fumbling around during their prep time, when they should be dry firing and settling into their position. Make wise use of your time, follow your check list. Then, you won’t feel rushed.
Practice getting into and out of the sitting position until it is automatic. You are teaching your muscles to remember. Sling is on, proper sling tension, sling frog/dog is positioned on outside of the arm, legs and arms positioned to provide maximum support, glove hand properly placed, sling arm relaxed to the hip, good tight grip on the pistol grip, and head aligned behind the sight. Develop a mental checklist that fits your technique and then follow it every time. Learn to get into the sitting or prone position in less than two minutes. Now, analyze the checklist and write down the steps that were left out of this check list? The missing steps will be posted in two or three days.
Being able to remember this check list is the key to performance on the range. Forgetting just one item, such as changing the sling length from the prone position to the setting position can result in a bad group (loose sling). Or you are well into your three minute preparation period trying to change the hook on an already too tight sling…and your mental state goes south. By having your equipment and rifle ready so that you can get into your position quickly will pay big dividends. An organized mind will result in better scores.
A good example was something I did in team practice a couple of days a go. We shot the course backward. Left the 300 for 200 and counted off my elevation and windage. Put the elevation on for 200 and shot my first shot. Surprise…7 out at 9. Forgot to put true zero back on the rifle. A mental lapse. Yes, but if I had followed my check list…it wouldn’t have happened. We are all prone to mistakes that cost us points. In a CMP EIC match or the National Trophy Team match, such a shot would be hard to come back from, but it can be done, if you maintain your composure. So, don’t let that kind of mental lapse affect your score, and above all don’t curse yourself or the shot, let it go and shoot for the X ring. You can still shoot a 97 and that isn’t all that bad for standing. If you need to, write your check list down and the go over it until you have learned it thoroughly.
Remember, winning is an attitude you develop as you strive to achieve your goals. A bad attitude…we can expect poor scores…with a positive attitude…we will shoot good scores.
Exercise: Mentally picture in your mind what a target looks like with a pin wheel X staring back at you, and it was your first shot for record, in the President’s match. Hold that picture…for it will be the topic for the next episode.
by Richard “Dick” Whiting