In our experience, all shotgun shooters are recovering perfectionists and eventually come face to face with themselves when they try to get better at shooting tournaments or even just improve their scores by trying to become more consistent. The paradox of the mental game is that to get better at it, you must actually think less. You don’t think your way to the right action; you act your way to the right way of thinking. We are all products of our own experiences, which is what makes us different while we are so alike.
Conventional wisdom says that if you say to yourself that you can break that 50-yard chandelle, eventually you will believe yourself and you will be able to break that 50-yard chandelle. Our research shows that if you have hit a 50-yard Chandelle 500+ times, that you don’t have to tell yourself that you can hit it because you know you can and you just do it. Telling yourself you can do something, while positive, does not build skill because skill is an insulated circuit in the brain and the insulation grows not by thinking about it, but by actually doing it. If you want to know more about this read the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle–it definitely changed the way we coach and what we coach and the order in which we coach things.
Skill is developed through repetition but it must be the correct repetitions. There are certain Threshold Concepts (TC) that must be crossed and in a certain order for skill to be developed rapidly. A TC is a deeper understanding of what is going on when a person does something and, when the threshold is crossed, the person’s perceptions and concepts of what is going on are altered forever! Crossing a TC typically comes from developing skill to a level such that the brain has chunked many circuits together and all these smaller circuits are woven into one large circuit and all of a sudden skill increases and the task becomes easy.
In basketball, the first TC would be dribbling without looking at the ball and always knowing where the ball is allowing full mobility on the court. In hockey, the first TC would be skating and being able to have full mobility on the ice at all times. One other big thing that occurs when a TC has been crossed is the speed at which a person learns accelerates sometimes as much as two to three times faster than a person who has not crossed the same TC!
We are beginning to see these TC evolve in shooting skeet, trap, sporting and wing-shooting and, while they are similar, they each have their own uniqueness and order in which they must be mastered. But the beginning TC is the same in all disciplines. What is the TC you ask? The ability to move and mount the gun and knowing where it is pointing at all times without looking at it!
As professional coaches for 23 years and each of us having 40,000 plus hours as coaches, and Brian already pushing 1,000 hours coaching with us, certain things come to the forefront. Perhaps the most obvious one is that the overwhelming majority of missed targets are due to muzzle awareness either before the shot or during the shot. We continue to be amazed at the number of sporting shooters who, for whatever reason, just will not learn to move and mount the gun so they are destined to shoot with a mounted gun and to never cross the first and most important TC of shooting a shotgun.
We are all products of our past experiences and the more experienced you are at doing something the easier it becomes because the brain has chunked more and more circuits together and automatically does them for you. This chunking process allows for greater and greater efficiency when doing something, which in turn allows for less and less focus on the process of what you are doing. That in turn allows the brain to focus more intently on what it needs to focus on.
We know it sounds like double talk but when you step back and look at it, you only have so much focus, and the more of that focus you have to put on things you are doing in the cage, the less you have to focus on the targets. We see this as the evolution of a shooter. As a shooter becomes more and more skillful, the less they have to focus on or think about when they are in the cage, which moves their focus on the target to higher and higher levels.
When we are able to go to a shoot and observe shooters we are amazed at how much they are focused on the end of their muzzles when they are getting ready to call pull. They look at the gun when they load it and then focus on the muzzles while looking at the break point then they glance back at the trap and back to the muzzles and then mount the gun in the break point all the time looking at the front bead to make sure everything is lined up. Then they move the gun back to their hold point still looking at the front bead and glance at the trap then back to the muzzle and out to the break point and you guessed it–back to the front bead. Then at the last second they glance over to the trap and call pull and they wonder why their eyes keep bouncing back and forth between the barrel and the target during the shot!
Until you know without looking at the barrel where the gun is pointed at all times, and what it feels like to have it mounted correctly without looking at the figure “8,” you will never pass through the first TC and will be destined to chasing the targets down with the muzzle trying to get the lead right. Shooters who pass through this first TC are much safer because they don’t have to look at the barrel to know where it is pointed!
These shooters also learn at rates that are amazingly fast, and it is easier for them to focus on the target. Why you ask? Well, because they know where the gun is pointed at all times without looking at it. Several things happen and they are immediate. They are safer instantly and, because they don’t have to look at the gun to see where it is, they have more of their available focus to put on the target and they learn faster because the gun no longer distracts them. Said another way, it takes shooters who have not gone through this first TC as much as two to three times longer to learn the same basic concepts, which increases the frustration level not to mention the amount of time it takes to learn to shoot a shotgun at a moving target. The other big thing we see is that the inexperienced shooter is not nearly as safe in handling their gun on the range and especially on a hunt. Oh, and there are six more TC that must be passed through to be a real contender in clays and not so many to be proficient in the hunting fields, but we will talk about those in future epistles!–Gil & Vicki Ash