The Mental Game of Shooting
Clay shooting, at a high level, is a game of prepositioning, moving your gun to some distance in front of the clay, and pulling the trigger at the right time and point in space. It might be intimidating to think about the physics of breaking a clay target, but much like catching a baseball, shooting is almost completely subconscious. Every clay shooter understands the difference between feeling a connection to the bird, and a sense of discomfort when they are too far in front. It can be frustrating and almost confusing to put the same shot on a bird twice and get different results. Unlike most other sports that require strength and specific technique, shooting sports require a bit of hand-eye coordination and an incredible amount of mental fortitude.
With regard to the needed hand-eye-coordination, shooting can be compared to catching a ball. Catching a tennis ball is easy until you think about how you are catching the ball, where your hand is, when to close your grip, and how to move your hand so that it doesn’t bounce right out. In the same way, shooting just requires the human instinct to focus only on the object, and let our subconscious put our hands where they need to be.
While it can be paralleled to catching a ball, sporting clays do have an additional element when a 12 Gauge Shotgun goes off which your reflex will want to make you flinch. This jolt added to the coordination required takes you into a new space of concentration, coordination, and attenuation of a reflex.
However, if you want to become better at shooting, any pro will tell you that the only thing holding you back is your mental game. This, my friends, is the most difficult and intimidating area of your game to improve upon because it is personal, exhausting, and very difficult to diagnose. Not everyone can score a goal, spike a volleyball, or serve a tennis ball, but I guarantee that everyone has the instinctive ability to break any clay. Prepositioning and transitioning to a point in front of a clay target is technical; and although the techniques to do so are not necessarily needed, they can be learned. Making a move on a bird, establishing a connection, and pulling the trigger are all aspects of the game that are hardcoded into our natural instincts. If you approach the bird with trust, patience, confidence, emotional control, and focus, you will accomplish the steps above much more consistently.
Clay pigeon shooting is a game of consistently putting your subconscious in the best position to break a bird. When you successfully shoot a clay, it is not by your own knowledge of positioning that you broke the bird. A dead bird is always credited to your subconscious and its world-class ability to put your gun where it needed to be.
The best method is to create a practice plan that will teach you how to focus on your mental strength and elevate your game, unlocking the consistency that separates every successful athlete from those left behind. The Venn Diagram above can be used to outline your practice plan. Taking a pencil and paper, you can rate your trust, patience, confidence, emotional control, and focus according to how strong you are in those areas. Some circles will be bigger and some will be smaller; the junction of all of them is how big your consistency is.
Go to the range and work on growing each circle by 1%. In order to be more consistent in shooting, the center circle must get bigger, the only way to do this is by strengthening all of your circles. Having strengths only in trust and confidence will not increase your consistency if you are still lacking focus or emotional control. You can work on your patience or focus, making those circles bigger and stronger, and increase your consistency that way, but the best way to make real progress is to work hard on all areas of the mental game. Using a barrel camera like the ShotKam can highlight any areas for improvement and give you concrete evidence on how to increase your consistency. The ShotKam mounts directly to your barrel (allowing for varying action of shotguns), and thanks to its patented reticle alignment system, you can calibrate the crosshair to the bead of your gun so you can trace every movement in your videos. By frequently rewatching your videos (both the hit and missed targets), the ShotKam can actually help train your subconscious brain on where to put the muzzle.
Either on Trap shooting, challenging yourself with Skeet shooting where the mental game takes you to the next level or Sporting clays with multiple directions will be the most challenging. The journey can take you from recreational to competitive depending on what's offered in some shooting clubs.
Using the shooting plan alongside the ShotKam Camera is a simple yet highly effective way to get closer to mastering the mental game of any shooting sport. Finding the intersection of trust, patience, confidence, emotional control, and focus is what keeps the love of the sport alive in all of us.