Readers following the blog know that I have been struggling to get my off hand scores in competition to match my practice scores. Put another way, I have not been shooting as well in competition as I do in practice. This past weekend’s match was a typical example. My first two sighter shots standing were a 10 and an X. I was calm and focused for my first record shot, a 10. Then suddenly my pulse began racing, and I shot two 8s. Those two 8s were a sort of pressure relief valve, letting me be calm again. My next 6 shots were 9-10-9-10-X-10. So not withstanding the two 8′s, my score is 84, with a potential 94, which would match my personal best in competition. For my final shot I was not nervous, but somehow shot high with a 7, finishing with a 91. In practice I am shooting 96+, and there is no logical reason I shouldn’t be shooting at least that well in competition. In fact, I have the SCATT set to make it harder to score in practice.
Enter Lanny Bassham and his “With Winning in Mind” book and Mental Management CD seminar. Bassham is a former Olympic gold medalist in shooting, who developed a “mental management” system for training the brain for top performance. I first read his book several years ago, and dismissed it as Tony Robbins-like feel-good nonsense. But recently I read the autobiography of former Navy Seal sniper trainer Brandon Webb, and he wrote that initially he had the same doubts about Bassham, but sniper trainees were greatly benefiting from Bassham’s books and CDs, setting new course records. So I decided to give Bassham another shot, and was able to find his seminar CDs for sale used, from a very accomplished shooter who gave the CDs high marks. It turns out that Bassham’s CD seminar goes into much more detail than his book, and won me over to try it.
The core of the system is Bassham’s model of mental performance. He identifies three “circles”, the conscious, the subconscious, and the self-image, which need to be in balance. The conscious and subconscious circles are fairly self-explanatory, i.e. the former is focus and concentration, the latter is the muscle-memory skills developed through hours of practice and repetition. But the self image circle? Bassham says that how you see yourself influences how well you will shoot, and that self image will propel you or pull you back. Even if you have the conscious and subconscious ability to shoot 96+, if your mental image of yourself is that you typically shoot 92, you will typically shoot 92. If you start shooting better than that, your nerves and subconscious will pull you back. If you start shooting worse, you’ll focus more and bring the score up to that average. Your self-image basically anchors your performance, in that you will experience debilitating discomfort and distraction any time you are shooting worse, or motivating energy when shooting worse, than your expected performance. Bassham says that shooters with my dilemma are very common, he calls them the “frustrated experts” who shoot outstanding in practice but not in competition.
The key, according to Bassham, is that I must change my self-image. The practice data says I can shoot a High Master off hand score. So why shouldn’t I think of myself as High Master off hand shooter? If I really saw myself as a High Master off hand shooter, then I wouldn’t start to get nervous as soon as I start shooting well off hand in competition…after all, shooting 10 after 10 in competition is normal for a High Master. I know I can shoot High Master scores in prone. My first 9 shots prone this weekend at 600 yards were 10s and Xs, and I didn’t get nervous or flustered…that’s “like me” to shoot well prone…I finished this weekend at 96%, just shy of High Master. I have to convince myself that it’s “like me” to shoot well standing off hand. In other words, make my self-image guide the scores, and not the other way around.
Bassham says the self image can be changed, and he sets forth a plan and techniques to change it. The first step is to write down an “affirmation statement” that is sort of the goal to be achieved. I want to re-read what he says about developing that statement before I write mine out. More to follow…