This year I returned to Competitive shooting after a break to focus on my business and getting my family settled in Montana. The break was good, and well deserved, but something brought me back to competition; perhaps it was the feeling of having left the game too early, or maybe I just have a need to compete. Whatever the reason for the return, I decided I would shoot two matches this year, the NRA Mid-Range National Championships and the USAS 300 Meter Nationals/ World Championship Selection Match.
I really didn't think much of my return to competition, until two things occurred. First, I had a conversation with Mike, a friend of mine who shoots IDPA and IPSC Pistol Matches. He told me he had to take some time off from competition, much like I did, and was interested in returning to competition. The conversation was the night before Day 2 of the USAS 300 Meter Nationals, and likely contributed to my success the following day. Second, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to me returning. Thank you Mike for spurring on the Conversation and always encouraging me to compete. Likewise, before going any further, thank you to everyone whom I've met along the way and for the encouraging words about my performance this year.
The meat and potatoes of the conversation I had with Mike, was "what is your approach to returning to competition and how do you pick back up, knowing your training hasn't been there?" The question took me off guard and really got me thinking deeper into my goals and approach to the match. After a few seconds reviewing my goals and what my focus was, I realized it was quite simple, not easy, but simple. Pick 2-3 things that will positively impact performance and do those things well.
Thing One: For me, there is a part of my shot process that is key, and helps me see the sights better during the active aiming portion of the process. After checking my Natural Point of Aim, with my head still on the stock, I look down and away from the sights. Doing so allows my eyes to rest, while I breathe in and prepare for the approach. There is no need to look intensely through the sights during this time, since I already checked my NPA. I only look away for a few seconds, but it is enough time to mentally review what happens next, ensuring I am prepared for the shot. Equally important, I can see better when it really matters. I learned this trick from Tom Tamas, at the time he was my Coach at the Army Marksmanship Unit. What I didn't realize until after talk with Mike (many years after first learning the technique), is that for it to work, I also must check my Natural Point of Aim, and it needs to be correct. So, by simply focusing on Looking Down and Away after confirming the correct NPA, I was actually helping myself complete other tasks while staying focused on only one key task.
Thing Two: If I could only use two words to describe what it takes to shoot a good shot, it would be follow through. In my humble opinion, correct follow through or incorrect follow through is a result of something(s) done correctly or incorrectly prior to or during the execution phase of the shot process. Follow Through is essentially, doing nothing, so if a shooter doesn't have correct follow through, it is likely due to something earlier in the process, this is especially true if a shooter normally has correct follow through, and now does not. Knowing this, I figured if I have correct follow through, I am more likely to have executed the shot well, leading to shots that are on-call.
By Combining my two performance goals 1. Look Down and Away every shot to help me see the sights better and 2. Correctly Follow Through, I was able to perform at my potential, maximizing my skill level, even though it has diminished some from when I was competing all the time. Aside from performance goals was my need to forget about "how it once was" and loose the expectations that things will be the same, they won't it is different, so embrace it. By embracing the "new" I was able to stay in the "here and now" and not the past; staying present and being mindful has been a key to my success all along, and I owe that to Peter Haberl, Sports Psychologist with the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
While not everyone takes year long breaks, or longer, many shooters will have times in their careers when they are forced to take time off the gun due to injury, school, work or other obligations. Having a plan for the return, and understanding things will be different can be very beneficial and allow you to accomplish your goals.