View Full Version : Calming the game day jitters

June 29, 2002, 11:31 PM
Well, got IPSC match #2 under my belt today. Had the little safety routine down like a champ today. Had more compliments than criticism today.

Not sure why the compliments. I still sucked, but with good excuses today. Had to switch guns to one I just built a week ago (basically untested, only 2 mags have been run through it), cuz my front sight on my primary gun took a vacation 3 rounds into the match. Never did find it after it flew off.

The new gun was way off my normal sight in, and, unfortunately, for the past two weeks I've been trying to get away from "feeling" the gun, and using the sights more. "Feel" works fine for felon-sized groups at 25m, but I found out, last time, it has no place in competitions. New gun shot high and to the left. I'm normally a low 6 o'clock shooter. Also has a little trouble with FTF. Hand to hand feed it once or twice per mag. Ugh.

Anyway, lame equipment excuses out of the way, my major problem. Nerves.

Ever see when Barney Fife had to really pull his gun on a dangerous suspect? Remember that funny way he would shake like a leaf, almost shaking his hat off his head? Well, that's me for about the first 3 or 4 rounds. Maybe not quite as bad, but close enough. It's visible shaking.

Actually, over time, I've found the shakiness also happens when shooting with people I don't know. I guess that's the problem with shooting by yourself back in the woods. You can hit all the A's and 10's you want by yourself, but it doesn't make a rat's butt of a difference when you have the nerves of a lizard that's trapped in a schoolyard. Sometime, you have to show up in public.

As the day progresses, I can get rid of the shakes, but I still have the tell-tale signs of nervousness. Death grip, sweatin for no good reason, running (even after practicing, over and over, walking the stages), and just generally "blanking out" during the course of fire. I sometimes only remember the command, "Load and make ready", and the next thing I know, my gun's re-holstered and people are putting pasties on the targets. RO's pattin me on the back telling me what great job I did, and I'm wonderin, "Huh? What just happened?"

Next time, I gotta video tape me shootin. They say that they can see the muscles in my forearms flexed all the way from the back.

So what's the trick? I've got high metabolism, and a high heart rate, but I know I can do this. I practice back at my range almost every weekend, and dryfire about 20 minutes a night after work. Hell, 2 weeks before this match, I lived, ate, and breathed today's match. I was hittin A/C's all day long by myself, but have this choking problem when it gets out in public.

Is it the public? Maybe it's game day jitters? A little (or a LOT!) of both? These nerves worked great carrying me through highschool, landing me top spots in football and wrestling, and work great at my construction job, but tense muscles have no place in shootin sports.

I've sworn off coffee, and avoid any soda products with caffeine. My only indulgence is an occasional cup of green tea, and my smokin a pack, to a pack and a half, a day. But hey, a man's gotta have a vice, right?

So, what next? Drug me silly before a match? Maybe a shot of scotch before a match?:D ;) Jus kiddin, but you know what I mean.

Anybody else that had this problem? How do you overcome a normal resting heart-rate of 92 beats a minute? Am I some sorta freak, doomed to be the one that makes "D" shooters look good? Can this be trained out?

June 30, 2002, 12:35 AM
Suggest more matches. After a while (if you're really there to have fun) you won't be so worried about looking stupid.

I, when new, had my (obvious) shakes pointed out to me. Kept shooting matches (all over) and now I don't care.
(Well, we'll see if I get shaky when squadded with Mr.'s Jarrett, Barnhart, Racaza, Yost, etc.)

June 30, 2002, 07:07 AM
More matches will do the trick. Started nervous and newbie a year ago, now, brains no longer go out that portion of the anatomy when the buzzer goes off!:)

Navy joe
June 30, 2002, 09:31 AM
Well if you can't quit smokin maybe you should just smoke one for the nerves while you're running a stage. :D

June 30, 2002, 11:45 AM
Hmmmmm, Navyjoe may be onto something there.....:)

June 30, 2002, 12:12 PM
I still get the jitters on match day. I try and follow a routine to calm myself: shake the arms out, take a deep breath, and focus on what I am about to shoot.
Equipment is checked and double checked before I hit the line, and I try and keep a clear mind.

June 30, 2002, 12:20 PM
Weshoot, if I were shooting with Barnhart, Leatham, etc. it would take the pressure off me since there is no way I would look good. ;)

Ditto the coffee for me. Except coffee IS my one vice, oh, well.

Also it helps me to have eaten something. More true for the rifle matches (highpower) but helpful for handgun as well. Some have rejected this advice since they cannot think of eating a meal less than the size I reserve for Thanksgiving dinner. Here, I mean, not a big meal, just enough to keep blood sugar in a normal range.

Yankytrash, how do you practice? I know if someone clocks me at a practice, or I clock myself with a stopwatch, then my scores improve. The best practice I had was when I borrowed a timer (with start buzzer) so the practice more closely resembled the competition. One of these days I will invest in a timer.....


June 30, 2002, 09:15 PM
I will look MARVELOUS.

July 1, 2002, 03:27 AM
Found an interesting article on the subject. It really puts a few of my fears into perspective, and explains my choking a little better:

Staying Focused:
The Battle Against Match Nerves
by John Dreyer

"The truly great shooters pay little or no attention at all to their competition, or anything else for that matter. For them, the contest takes place inside their head. The real struggle is to get in the zone. When they find it, the rest just seems to happen. It's as if the world around them melts, the distractions disappear and the universe is reduced to the few simple elements of eyes, hands, gun and target."
- Gabby Hulgan (1996 NSSA World Skeet Champion)

You have confidence in your equipment. Your practice sessions yield satisfactory scores. Now the challenge is to simply execute what you know that you are fully capable of doing when it really counts. It sounds easy enough, but unfortunately, our minds don't always cooperate. Feeling nervous about having a great performance is certainly natural. However, when that feeling turns to panic because you think that you are the only shooter on the line feeling this pressure, your mind has defeated you. You will not be able to focus on the task at hand. Rest assured, every competitor feels this pressure to execute to the best of his ability. The challenge for you is to channel this same pressure constructively and to not let it overwhelm you.

Your mind is the control tower for all your physiological reactions. If your hands start shaking, your palms get sweaty, you can't think straight because you "feel nervous," it is probably because you're thinking of the situation negatively instead of as an opportunity for success. Dr. Bob Rotella, a specialist in sports psychology, offers six steps to help deal with pressure, anxiety and nervousness:

Think good, pleasant, soothing thoughts rather than worrisome or negative thoughts.
Keep your mind on the present, on the shot you're going to execute right now. Think about what you want to happen. Remember, anxieties are always about what just happened or what might happen, so stay in the present.
Assume the best is going to happen, rather than anticipating the worst. You wouldn't go to work every day thinking you were about to be fired, so why try to shoot with that type of mental approach?
Use the power of perception to dwell on your strengths.
Feel as if you were destined to have good things happen to you rather than as if you were born to have bad things happen.
When you start to feel tension, stop and take deep, slow breaths.
Frankly, I think performing through nervousness is what sport is all about. Sport is supposed to teach you how to deal with your mind and emotions. Ultimately, when you're in a situation that makes you nervous, you need to remind yourself that this is right where you want to be - this is YOUR DREAM COME TRUE.

Dr. Debbie Crews, a sports psychologist from Arizona State, has done a lot of work on mental training and testing in sports, and gave a presentation at the 1997 Shooting Coaches College at the Olympic Training Center. Her topic: athletes who choke under pressure. She feels that her results are applicable to shooters, as well as golfers, with whom she specializes. Her research shows that when an athlete needs to perform a highly-skilled action, it must be the subconscious that does it, not the conscious, and our minds must be relaxed and in the subconscious mode to do it. The left and right sides of the brain must be in harmony (balanced activity) and there must be no conscious self-talk or activity 1-3 seconds before the action takes place.

Establishing a routine is possibly the greatest combat against a lack of initial mental focus. Going through the motions of a pre-established and familiar plan can get your "mental wheels" moving in the proper direction. If necessary, a written checklist can serve as a tool to assist in "getting your head screwed on right." Now that all of your equipment is in place and you are at ease, the stage is set for a great performance. The first string of slow fire begins. You raise the pistol and flawlessly execute the fundamentals, confidently firing a ten. Now the challenge is to stay focused. You can and will succeed, each and every time. Remember the little red engine that could?

The single most valuable method of preventing loss of focus due to match nerves or other distractions is concentrating on your shot plan. Keeping tuned to the plan will help put doubts and distractions out of your mind. Here are some thoughts on the subject from some notable champion shooters...

If you find that when you don't stick to your plan that you shoot right where you always do, I have a thought for you. Self-sabotage ... Look at it this way. [Here are thoughts running through your mind during a string of sustained fire when not concentrating on your shot plan.] "Oh man I'm shooting great, I'm right on track to shoot my best score ever. Hey wait a minute, am I capable of this?(scratch 9) Can I shoot as good as I'm doing?(solid 8) I've never shoot this good before,(slider 7) can I shoot as good as those Big Guns?(slammed in on paper miss)." And you know the funniest thing about all these doubts running through your mind? They flash by in the blink of an eye. They happen even before you know your defeating yourself. And I'll tell you something else. Sometimes you won't even know you did it until your talking to someone after the match. Listen to yourself and you will hear your own best critic.
-Jim Henderson

For me, there is no substitute for match experience. There is nothing like going to matches, seeing good scores starting to build, dealing with the mental aspects of a good score, and also dealing with the mental aspects of that buddy you want to beat. Taking all of this into account is no substitute for the experience of shooting real matches. After you get over that initial "stage fright," you will concentrate more on trigger control, etc. when it is in "real" competition. For me, concentrating on my "routine" keeps me from thinking about anything else. Thinking about the fundamentals of grip, stance, trigger control etc. pushes any negative thoughts out of my mind. If I can maintain this kind of positive thinking, then I am able to overcome match nerves.
-Allen Fulford

You are the only person on the range!!!! Don't concern yourself with the problems of the other shooters, you are the only person on the range. If you lend your screwdriver to a shooter, what will you be thinking of, Shooting or the screwdriver? You will be thinking about the screwdriver! You go to a match to win it. Accept your wobble area and shoot within it. Think positively.
In shooting, you learn more about yourself than any other sport.
-Frank Higginsonhttp://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Dreyer_infonet/focus.htm

July 1, 2002, 03:38 AM
...and here's another one:

The Art of Shooting Under Pressure
Derived from the Similar Experiences of
Symphony Orchestra Musicians

Dr. Åke Lundeberg is a German physician specializing in psychotherapy and also trained as a violin teacher. He works full time giving courses in the art of performing under pressure. A paper he delivered in York England in March of 1997 during a conference on "Health and the Artist" superbly detailed and analyzed the condition of stage fright in orchestral musicians. By taking the liberty of doing a little editing of his paper, I have painstakingly translated his thoughts to apply to the experiences of the competitive pistol shooter. That translation is what follows...

Negative Pressure

Anxiety is likely to occur whenever you must perform well in some endeavor of great importance to you in the presence other people, whose judgement you fear. Murphy´s law is at work: Anything that can go wrong will do so, but much more and much worse than you ever thought possible.

Thinking about the possible disastrous outcome of your performance and its consequences is the core of match pressure.

It has been known for a long time that the best way to deal with match pressure is to concentrate completely on the plan of shot execution. True, but alas, easier said than done. About 300 BC Chuang Tzu said that "an archer competing for a precious golden prize shoots as if he were blind." His concentration is on the reward and the consequences of missing it, instead of the shooting itself.
I have developed a specific method of concentrating on shot execution and routine. This kind of concentration does in fact happen intuitively whenever a shooter is in the groove, i.e. when the shot execution simply flows effortlessly with intense concentration. But intuition all too often fails to function while you are under negative pressure. I teach a way to use consciousness, so that you can always know that you are in fact concentrating on shot execution rather than the possible disaster.

Common Misconceptions about Match Pressure

A great shooter has an inborn confidence and needs not feel any match pressure.
This certainly appears to be true. Great shooters rarely show negative feelings, which is not the same thing as saying that they never have such feelings. The higher your classification, the greater the fall can be. However, great shooters are generally very good at managing match pressure.

All it takes is confidence
Of course, confidence helps. But there is no such thing as 100% genuine confidence. Most great shooters report that they at times are troubled with self-doubts.

If you have a reliable technique, you will not suffer from match pressure
There are many reports of the opposite, shooters of great technical ability, who have suffered severely. But, of course you can get anxious knowing that your technique is not in shape.

The Art of Shooting Under Pressure

Most shooters feel negative pressure at times. The art of performing under pressure is a technique that you can learn and develop. The goal is to cope with pressure in a way that allows your true shooting potential to be unfolded. You can learn effective techniques for this purpose. Nevertheless, there are no short cuts in the shooting sports. You need to work with the area of nerve control continuously. Placing the plan of shot execution on center stage is a great foundation for coping with pressure.

I used to believe that match pressure symptoms are caused by all kinds of frustrating experience in the past. While there might be some truth in that, it is evident that some shooters while performing superbly on the firing line, they can have deep personal troubles including lots of bad experiences in the past. In contrast many sympathetic and mature persons can experience very negative pressure on the line. The conclusion is that the art of shooting under pressure is largely a technique. And such a technique can be taught and learned. The crucial questions are thus: What do you actually do before and during a match? How is your consciousness organized?

There are basically three ways of reacting to match pressure:

Everything goes better, the shooter feels elated and his/her concentration and execution is enhanced.
Performance suffers from various symptoms, such as fears, panic, body parts shaking, loss of concentration, etc.
The shooter becomes apathetic and may still shoot competently but not at his/her best.
The first reaction is, of course, the ideal one. The other reactions lead to achievements below the true potential of the shooter, because mind and body get occupied with other things than shot execution itself. When you do experience negative pressure, Murphy´s law is at rule: Anything that can go wrong will do so, but much more and much worse than you thought possible. Say you are to walk across a plank located between two cathedral towers. The task as such, i.e. the technique of walking is very easy indeed. But Murphy´s law will take over. Your brain will be flooded with pictures of coffins, undertakers, broken limbs, etc, and these pictures will govern your behavior, making it likely that you will indeed fall. Murphy´s law is very persistent. Say you have experienced a match pressure symptom such as a shaking forearm or a lack of concentration and you shot far below your potential. The experience was frightening and you will try to avoid it at all cost in the future. Then what happens? In the case of a shaking forearm, you hope intensely that your arm will not get that tremor again. But the primitive part of the brain regulating these fear reactions does not understand the words no or not. It thinks in pictures. The picture communicated will be that of a tremoring arm! The brain thus receives a command to make the arm shake again. It works like "Do not think of the color red!" Red is precisely what you think about, possibly trying to paint it over with other colors. The art of shooting under pressure is all about reversing Murphy´s law. For a great range performance, two things are needed, an excited state of alertness (fed by your desire to excel) and a relaxed state inside of that. You might call it the "eye of the storm" or "peace of mind in an eager body."

Reversing Murphy´s Law

Whether you feel pressure or are downright bored, you give energy to things other than shot execution. The remedy is thus to make sure that you devote yourself entirely to the plan of shot execution. Body and soul are different aspects of one unity, mental fears and physical tensions coexist, alertness and relaxation of mind and body are needed, getting into the shot plan is the best remedy of match pressure.

Relaxation and Attitude Training

Our attitudes deep down will largely influence our performances. Therefore it is effective to work with negative attitudes to performance (we all have them more or less). Shooters can utilize relaxation procedures including the use of a relaxation trigger, that is a mental image that displaces negative thought. This trigger can be used before shooting and also on the firing line. The excited state of mind and body will then mix with the relaxation that the trigger represents, helping to achieve the desired mixed state of both tension and relaxation called the eye of the storm. Furthermore the shooter is taught to control thought processes whenever needed before performance and on the line. Thinking constructively will not exactly erase all negative feelings, but rather limit their effects. It is more a question of living creatively with an appetitite for success, because if there is no hunger at all, performance is likely to suffer and become over-relaxed and indolent.


July 3, 2002, 10:19 AM
Just go, shoot, have (safe) fun.



July 4, 2002, 11:32 AM
I am a believer in the complicated stuff written above, but use a few simpler things:
1. Practice-even if you can only do it a little. Not just popping caps, but working on the stuff you know you do poorly (weak hand, barricade, whatever). I know this sounds simple and stupid, but confidence is important.
2. Be SURE of your equipment reliability before match time. The first point above does this.
3. Set realistic goals before each match, based on what you really want to achieve-My favorite is "I will get through this match without a major mental error." It will keep you from getting so wound up in scoring and winning.
4. Remember-the most important competition is with YOURSELF. You may never beat Robby or even your club top gun, but you can improve and beat your last performance, if only by something as simple as the goal set in point three.
5. Run the stage in your mind several times before your time on the line. This is the visualization part you read about. It is hard for me to do this, I am a socialble spirit, but has paid off. Chat AFTER your stage.
6. I have found that changing your shooting plan for the stage in mid string, no matter how good the idea seems at the time, seldom works out well.
7. Some deep, calming breaths before you signal "ready." You start when YOU want to start, don't let the S.O. rush you (he doesn't want to, anyway).
8. In the end, you may beat somebody, and that is a bonus. That counts for something. See 3 and 4 above.
9. It's only a game.... Sounds trite and is tough to swallow if you are a very competitive person, but is true.
10. Watch the others. Learn from them, and remember that not EVERYBODY is watching you. They are chatting, when they should be mentally doing the stage, like you already have!
11. Even if you ARE nervous...this is normal. Just don't let it show so much outside. I don't mean be cocky, just don't sit around and dwell on it. Get busy visualizing. A calmer outside generates a calmer inside.
12. When the shot was bad, let it go. You can't improve your score by concentrating on that last "mike."
Disclaimer: I am a SS class IDPA shooter with only a total of 3 State matches (but two trophies!) and a bunch of small informal shoots under my belt, so I am no expert. But, these things have really worked for me. I am having great fun and am a much better shooter than I was when I started.
Best of luck, enjoy your sport!

July 6, 2002, 04:55 AM
I'm goin' shootin' and I'm gonna have fun and I can't wait and I gotta long drive and I'm gonna get to shoot my gun and I'm gonna do real good and I won't get hurt and I'm gonna shoot A's (because ACCURACY TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER SPEED) and I'm not nerved up and I gotta get goin' so here I go oh boy oh boy oh boy.................

Oh, and don't forget, in New York your guns must be in a locked case seperate from ammunition and inaccessible to the driver. And you better have your match papers too.


July 6, 2002, 06:30 PM
What jhp said: visualization- if it's a field course, what targets you're going to shoot- in what order, from what position, where you're going to do your reloads, are they quick/flash shots or precise shots, where can you drop some points for speed- if it's a speed shoot, draw at the be..not at the beeeeep, which target first, the rhythm you need for a smooth run, where the reload comes, etc. When you get this all going in your mind the extra stuff- people talking in the background, brass hitting the ground, and the RO's voice will all be in your conciousness but secondary/subdued.You won't even think about being nervous. Easy to do, not so easy to write about.....

July 7, 2002, 08:24 AM
I went, I shot, I left.

I also met a fellow TFL'er (not sure which one 'cause there's at least three with the same-SOUNDING screen name) and it was good, because we were SHOOTING.

('Felt' like I did okay, but we'll really KNOW when the results get posted.....)

EAA Witness 9x21 two-port factory comp, standard adjustable rear sight, Gilmore holster, 15-rd mags, Dillon mag pouches, "right snappy-sounding".
Stock gun w/comp. 1" @ 25yds. 100% reliable.

July 7, 2002, 10:34 AM
Well I guess even I suffer from game day jitters ;) . My first three targets of yesterdays IPSC special classifier cost me a bunch. One delta one mike, one charlie one mike, one charlie one mike one NO SHOOT. :eek: :( :mad: :barf: . I have no explanation why I crashed hard style on a 90 point stage. Well at least I didn't have any safety or other major stage meltdowns. I did notice that I kept reverting to IDPA rules. Tac-reloads, staying back off cover .i.e out of the baricade box and taking targets in tactical order:rolleyes: . Definately not my best match.
WeSHOOT2 that was me that you met at the waterveliet match. I hope you shot better than I did. Its always nice to meet a TFL'er on the range.

July 7, 2002, 05:25 PM
Yes, nice, very nice to meet someone here there.

Sorry to learn you :barf: , but it still beats not shooting (and did you learn anything?).

I shot the hole :D thing clean....................