We all have a built-in sense of timing and of rhythm. We rely on it subconsciously every day as we go about our activities. It permeates all that we do from walking and running, to the speed at which we speak to even how fast we type on a keyboard. As coaches we might see timing as an essential component to the successful outcome of a shot and it forms the basis for much of the technique and the measurement of consistently within the performance of the shooting technique.
In this article we are going discuss how timing and a sense of rhythm are essential to the shotgun athlete and the many ways that timing affects the performance of the shot and to a successful result.
A sense of timing
When we work as coaches we use our sense of time to measure and guide our athletes actions as they perform the technique of their shooting. From the basic sense of realising the target in flight, through to the time taken to move the gun to the target and finally to the time at which we decide to trigger the shot. As a novice or beginner, we perform these actions in a conscious way concentrating on the activity. Acquiring and perfecting the movement is carried our with no relevance to the time taken to make the movement. However, as we progress in our ability to master and perform the skill being learnt, our awareness of a correct sense of timing for the performance of the action comes into its own as a defining measurement of the consistency of the athlete in performing the action.
It’s not all in our head …
Our sense of timing comes not from a single defined internal clock or indeed any one part of our brain. But what we do know is that our sense of timing is dependent on many internal and external factors and stimuli. (Sahani, 2011) makes the interesting suggestion that our sense of time is directly influenced by external stimulus. This is interesting concept for us to note as it would appear to confirm some observations that many coaches have expressed to me. This is that an athlete’s timing in the performance of their shooting technique changes based on the range characteristics and environmental conditions.
This might seem obvious but let us look at the circumstances which go to support this statement. If you were to ask a coach or an athlete under which conditions would they prefer to shoot in they would no doubt list something like the following:
- Bright overhead light.
- No wind.
- High contrast between the clay target and the background.
- Consistent release of the clay target by the trap computer
- Steady and consistent flight of the target
What these list of conditions offer us is the best possible opportunity under which we can read the emergence of the target from the trap and to follow the target throughout its trajectory without having anything externally affect its visibility or direction of flight. When these conditions are at their best we sense that the target is easier to read and consequently easier to shoot. I can recall this as situations when athletes refer to the targets as like shooting “bin lids”.
The high visibility and ease of reading the target lends to a sense or belief that there is more time available to shoot the target. The athlete might experience a sense of time dilation as they are more prepared to make the movement based on increased sensory information and thus believe that they take longer to shoot the target1.
Using timing to gauge the quality of the shot
Coaches can use the timing interval from the call for the target to the first shot on the target as an indication that the athlete is performing the shot consistently and is also reading correctly the flight of the target. This is one element for measuring the likelihood of a successful shot and at its heart is the sense that there is a “sweet time” to the performance of the shot.
When the conditions are poor and in particular the quality of available light, the athletes can perceive a shortening of time as their reactions are based on less sensory information being available due to the conditions. Targets appear to fly quicker and appear visually smaller to the athlete. This creates the opposite affect of high visibility targets where the time appears to dilate, now we get time contraction. We see this taking place in the initial movements of the athlete, where before they would move quickly but with control, we now observe the smoothness of this movement lost as the athlete senses that their time to react is less than what they would normally require for the target.
We train our athletes to compensate for the lower visibility by moving their gun or eye hold closer to the exit point of the target. We are trying to shorten the time to acquire the target in flight and to give the athlete more time to make the shot. Knowing that this is a trade off in the performance of the technique we should be aware of the subsequent alteration to timing that this can bring about.
Rhythm within the squad
We see time take another guise when we work within a squad of athletes. In middle and long distance running the pace and rhythm of a group of runners provides a strong basis under which the group mutually reinforces the performance of each runner within the group.
A sense of squad rhythm can take over within an uninterrupted round of shooting. Not every athlete takes the same time to mount, prepare and call for the target and this when combined together with the other squad members gives the squad an overall timing for the round to each shooter. As the athletes each have a natural rhythm to their movement and to their pre-shot ritual they can take the key to start the pre-shot ritual from the completion of a shot by another athlete preceding them within the squad. This sense of squad timing can become the basis of a rhythm that a shooter can latch onto for the round, particularly if they can slip their own pre-shot ritual into the squad timing on another shooters specific action. This rhythm can provide a base on which the athlete can reinforce their own shooting rhythm and creates a positive feedback loop and strengthen the athletes performance.
Dictating the pace of the squad
Athletes within a squad can dictate the pace of the squad by slowing or speeding up the timing of shots and for an athlete who is sensitive to timing this can prove to be an undoing of their own sense of control and ultimately their performance as they let the pace of the squad dictate their own shot and technique timing. This is why training in squads that have different timings is necessary to develop the tactics for dealing with both quick and slow squads.
Our own technique and style of shooting creates a personal timing rhythm that we practice day in and day out during training. For every hour of competition we will spends tens of hours in training and as coaches we need to utilise that time to ensure that the ritual and technique that the athlete develops is one that not only reinforces the outcome to be a successful shot but also that the timing of this overall shooting technique takes place within the time that is available under the rules. With the introduction of a countdown clock in the shotgun finals it is more important than ever that the performance of an athletes shooting technique is efficient and not laboured in time.
Our internal timing is affected by the emotional and physiological state of the athlete. This is one of the main reasons why we place so much emphasis during competition that the athlete rely on their training and fall back on their technique perfected over many hours of training at the range. The fear and competition anxiety that can overcome an athlete during competition directly affects the timing of the athlete. They can speed up their movements in an attempt to get the shot over more quickly and this in turn reinforces the sense that the athlete is not in control of their technique and lead them into a spiral of change to the technique with the ultimate affect of causing more lost targets.
Knowing and understanding your own internal timing creates a strong platform for managing the psychological aspects of your performance and helps to alleviate the adverse affects of competition anxiety. As a controlling mechanism, the use of a time-based pre-shot ritual is one of the best approaches to maintain a consistent rhythm within your shooting technique.
Taking the time to create a good pre-shot ritual will pay for itself many times over in the heat of competition. It is essential to practice this ritual and to pay attention to the timing of each stage. These timings can be observed and monitored by the coach and will provide a strong indicator should the timings vary that a change is possibly taking place in the shooting technique. Heading off the onset of such changes can result in rescuing a good competition from the jaws of a bad competition.
Take time to be in the Zone ……
When in competition or training we see our performance come together in a way that our movements, our observation and our timing appear to synchronise and we can perceive an ease of attainment and enjoyment in performing a good shot. In the field of psychology this mental state is described as Flow, we would colloquially call it, being in the Zone.
Research into the correlation of muscle activity and timing2 shows that elite athletes have better timing control and show lower average muscle tension during the performance of their sport technique than do club level athletes. The work indicates that international level shooters can more easily enter a stage of preparedness that is conducive to the onset of Flow because they have more defined motor control and utilise less tension in the performance of the activity. Our desire to prepare our athletes to perform their shooting technique with control and smoothness of movement is echoed in this research.
Hopefully this article has set you thinking about the importance and effects of timing and rhythm within the shooting technique and in the wider activities undertaken before and after the performance of the shot. As a controlling mechanism for the pre-ritual and the performance of the shot, timing can be used to bring consistency and repeatability to the movements and thus the outcome of the shot.
(Misha B Ahrens, Maneesh Sahani, 2011) – Observers exploit stochastic models of sensory change to help judge the passage of time
Hagura, Kanai,Orgs & Haggard, 2012) – Ready steady slow: action preparation slows the subjective passage of time ↩
Janson, Archer & Norlander 2003) Timing In Sports Performance: Psychophysiological Analysis Of Technique In Male And Female Athletes ↩