Stuck in a rut? Break out by trying new things and thinking new ways.
Changing your focus for an upcoming match--shooting to learn instead of just to win, for instance--can make you a better competitor.
Training at the range--and often off the range--is focused on developing mechanical skills or shooting capabilities, and, of course, refining and testing technical elements such as ammunition and zeros. While often overlooked, training thought processes can be just as important.
We can't produce high scores on technical skills alone. The muscles do only what nerve (fortitude) allows. The difference between practice and match scores, the origin of the bad shot, the focus lapse, suppressing anxiety, controlling apprehensions and anger and so on are all answers to be found within one's self.
Everyone is a personality, which is a step beyond saying that everyone "has" a personality. While it is inescapably crucial for everyone to learn to work within his or her own personality (we have no choice), I have found it beneficial to experiment in smaller matches with ways of thinking or different approaches to an overall match strategy.
The idea is to find out what seems to help and what doesn't. It's to put yourself in a different situation and see how you react. Just like experimenting with bullet seating depths or buttstock positions, you are experimenting with different behaviors, and the goal is the same: tuning for optimum results.
I think this sort of training helps a shooter find little things he can call on, or set aside, whichever the case may be, that might help him stand his ground and get the most from his technical skills.
Assuming that a shooter believes there is more, and wants more, I can tell you that a good way to start after it is to make a change. Although it may be difficult for some to look at any competitive situation as anything other than a challenge and feel the need to do his best, I suggest taking the whole outlook or scope of local matches down a notch or two to better use them as learning experiences.
I think that some people have a hard time getting over the idea of going to a match without taking along the expectations or pressure of finishing first, but getting over that just might make it possible to do so when it really matters.
Following are a few different overall strategies that I have come up with as examples. The point is to experiment, and that always requires one's own creative input.
Approach 1. I'm not worried about the scoreboard; I'm worried about my performance against myself. I am not worried about Joe, who beat me last time in Expert class. I'm going to shoot each shot and try to execute each shot as an individual match. I am not going to worry about the previous shot and only worry about the forthcoming shot. I'm going to hold my ground while everyone else is crumbling around me. I'm not going to let my performance level drop to theirs. Period.
Approach 2. I'm going to shoot this match and kick Joe's behind. Whatever he does at each stage I just want to be a little bit ahead of him, every time, and in the end I'll beat him. This direct mental approach is aimed straight at Joe.
Approach 3. I know I'm not going to win, but I'm going to try to make the fewest number of mental mistakes, sight correction mistakes, equipment errors or oversights, and so on. When I go to the line I'm ready, every time, and if I shoot an eight or a nine, or whatever it is, it doesn't matter. It's a focus on the external, in a manner of speaking. You're making process more important than execution.
Another option is to go with the mental approach of rehearsing each shot. I shoot every shot in my mind before I fire it standing, always.
At 600 yards I go with the approach that I'm not going to try to chase the wind flags or chase the target spotter; I'm going to dope each shot individually. I'm going to slow everything down and try to make each shot the best shot I can. I'm here to work on my wind reading skills, mirage reading skills, or both.
Another option is to have "experiment days." I'm going to try something different at each event. I'm going to wear a different set of glasses, shoot my sling a notch or two looser or tighter. I'm going to change my sight aperture size a little bit or shoot my trigger heavier on a particular day.
Of course, these things should first have been done at the practice range, but I always find that shooting in a match and shooting practices are different--things happen differently at a match.
Add to these ideas for yourself because you're the one who can determine what you have to work with and what you need to work on. The point is to get yourself out of the rut of doing only as you have been doing in match conditions.
Find ways to focus more on process and ways to focus more on result. The focus can change. These are all ways to get better.
Everyone has a Joe who beat them last week. Everybody has a day when they think, "I'd like to try this..." A lot of High Power shooters don't get to practice; they only shoot matches. This is a chance to use match time as practice to ultimately get better.
The answer is not just in more shooting. It's in different shooting. At some point everyone has to break it down and do something. Changing the way to approach or think may be the easiest and it's effective.