I started writing this article in between training and competition rounds at the 14th Asian Shooting Championships in Qatar. The longs days at the range gave me time to reflect and observe how different shooters prepare and cope for the stresses and challenges of releasing their competition performance.
Beware of the coach
In terms of your competition performance, the most dangerous person you will meet at the range is probably your own coach. It’s a funny little anecdotal story that I have heard over the years about coaches being too enthusiastic to change a shooter’s technique or modify their equipment in training before the event.
The time in and around the competition — particularly if you are the competition venue for training before the event — is not a time to make major changes to your technique or equipment setup. It is a time to consolidate the months or years of work you have already undertaken by using the time to read the range and to learn to adapt to any environmental challenges the range might pose.
Prepare in advance
If you are having problems with your technique, it is best to solve them before you get to the competition. It is all well and good to say that but sometimes we end up at the competition with all the baggage of a bad preparation for the event.
Even if you come a week or two before the event, it is highly unlikely that you will make any significant advance in your technique development while at the competition venue. Performing a lot of training before the competition at the venue will likely just reinforce whatever problems you have brought with you.
Before the competition, your training needs to focus specifically on the process of competition and the strategy and tactics you will use. Looking for technical advancement in performance is unlikely to occur but advancement in your preparedness and in your mental approach to the competition is very achievable during this time.
Make your plans for the competition well in advance so that you are confident that the path you are following matches your goals and aspirations for the event. Get help from your coach in preparing this competition plan. It should set out the activities you need to perform over the five to six weeks before the competition. It should feature a tapering of the activities and their intensity so that you arrive at the competition with energy and confidence to compete at your best ability.
Performance capacity is a bucket – don’t empty it in one go
You have a finite performance capacity at any one moment in time. If you compete hard you drain energy and mental focus. If you train hard you do the very same thing.
While you are at the range In the run up to the competition, ration your training so that you dip in and out of your performance capacity but don’t exhaust it. Keep the capacity for the competition. Too often I have seen shooters spend all of their energy and ability in chasing scores in unofficial and Pre-Event Training (PET) — leaving themselves with nothing left in the bucket when it comes to the start of the competition proper. Scores in unofficial training and PET do not count in the competition.
Make time for recovery
Recovery is essential in replenishing this performance capacity in terms of both physical ability and also mental ability. Training and competition activities must be balanced with time and space built in for recovery. Within your training plans allow time to perform active recovery for your physical exertions and include relaxation and mindfulness for your mental exertions.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked recovery tools that we have in our kit bag. Particularly at competitions and in the run up to the competition, getting good sleep is essential to allowing your performance capability to emerge.
When sleeping, both the body and mind go through processes of repairing the muscles of body, developing new and stronger responses and the mind sorts and processes the activities and learning that was undertaken that day.
Maintaining good sleep hygiene is something you should address immediately if you have a problem with restless sleep. Taking sleeping medication is not something I would advise. It is far better to address the causes of a sleep disorder rather than to treat the symptoms. Professional advice is always recommended in dealing with sleep disorders.
Never stop, never give up
Competition is such an unpredictable event. One thing that I see time and time again are shooters giving up on their performance before the end of the round or the end of the competition.
The determination to keep going is what marks out the competitor from the participant. So often just when it looks like your score is too low, the rest of the field runs into trouble and the game is back on again. When your performance looks at its darkest is the time to dig down and draw upon your resilience and determination and keep going — every target is precious, right until the end.
You have to be brave and keep on fighting. Turnarounds in a competition do happen.
Watch and learn
During the competition there is plenty of opportunity to observe the range and watch the targets before your turn to shoot. Take the time to watch the target trajectories on each range. See how the target is affected by the wind or by the visibility of the background. Watch at different times in the day as the angle of the light will change the perception and visibility of the targets.
Watch the exit points of the targets. Look for the crossing point as it will give you a location to hold the gun in the ready position. Remember the centre mark on the bunker is only a guide. It is not necessarily the place where you should always mount the gun to. The crossing point is normally to the right of the mark and above it.
Use this time to check your shooting lenses. At each different time of the day that you will likely be shooting, check that the lenses will work for you in that light. The more you plan in advance of your rounds the easier those rounds will be for you.
Drink and then drink again
You need an hydration plan for the competition. Dehydration can creep in without you knowing and when you realise you are thirsty it is already too late. An hydration plan just means that you set up a routine to ensure that you remain hydrated throughout the day and not just at the range. Make sure that you not only just drink water but also replace the lost salts and electrolytes that your body needs to maintain its functions.
A good approach to an hydration plan is to sip water on an almost constant basis. Sipping water means taking just a mouthful every few minutes. Walk around with a water bottle in your hand on in your pocket. Avoid drinking large quantities of water in one go as all that will happen is that you will be making frequent trips to the lavatory. Drink less, but often.