Getting out of your performance slump

Whilst the following article has been written for the smallbore shooter, many pistol shooters may find the comments apply equally to them.

Almost every shooter experiences a drop in performance at some time in their career. Whether it is a dramatic drop off in scores, or just patchy performances, dealing with the slump in a systematic and analytical manner is critical to ensuring that the magnitude of the slump is minimised, and the performance levels can be returned to a level that the shooter is satisfied with.

You might be an A grade shooter used to achieving 590 plus performances who suddenly finds that 582 is the best you can do. Or you might be a B Grade shooter who normally scores in the mid 580’s, and now you find you can’t break 580. Whichever type of performer you are, the approach to dealing with a drop in performance can be split into three phases – equipment, technical and psychological. Discussed below are the key aspects of these three elements that together make up the shooter’s performance. Space does not permit an in depth analysis of each question posed, however there are many articles on the aspects raised that will guide the shooter to the correct solution.

Equipment analysis

If this fails, then equipment analysis is the most obvious aspect to eliminate when seeking a reason for a form slump. The analysis should take into account the following factors and each should be addressed in the order raised:

  • Rifle: Is the rifle performing correctly? Is the bedding okay? Has anything been changed on it?
  • Sights: Are the sights functioning correctly? Are the iris filters clean? Are they working? Does the windage/elevation adjustment work?
  • Shooting Glasses: Are your shooting glasses set up correctly. (I know of one top shooter whose lens was replaced incorrectly and it was no longer adjusting for the required astigmatism correction. Once corrected, the shooter’s performances immediately improved.)
  • Ammunition: Have you changed your ammunition? Is your ammunition grouping properly? (When tested in a proper test bench – not out of your shoulder). Does your ammunition perform in the conditions under which you are competing (e.g. humidity, wind, etc.)?

All of these aspects must be considered and eliminated?

Technical analysis

a) The technical analysis should commence with a review of your shooting diary (and if you don’t have one, maybe it’s time to get one).

The review should help you pinpoint when your performances began to drop. Review your diary entries prior to this date to determine if there was any technical change to your shooting clothing, ammunition or equipment that could have contributed to the drop in performance.

b) Are there physiological aspects of your performance that have changed?

  • Physical condition: Have you any sort of injury that might require a position modification? For example you may once have been able to shoot with a very tight sling, however nerve or muscle damage may mean this is not longer possible, and a position modification is in order.
  • Clothing: Does your clothing fit or have you lost or gained weight? Is it giving the right support? Is your glove okay? Is your sling worn out, or has it stretched? Is it slipping on your arm?
  • Position: Do you need to make adjustments to your position between summer & winter? For example your cheekpiece a little higher or lower for more/less weight in the face. What about the clothing you wear under your jacket – if it’s different between winter and summer you may have your position a little tighter/looser than optimum. Check that diary for your changes!
  • Conditions: Are there particular conditions under which your performance is lower? For example mirage, light, wind, overcast? Do you need to make a sighting adjustment or rhythm adjustment to your shooting to rectify the performance.

Psychological attitude

If you have eliminated the technical & equipment aspects as potential causes of your shooting woes, then your final avenue is to explore your mental approach. Some questions you may wish to ask yourself are:

  • What am I thinking about during my shoot?
  • Is my concentration fully on for each shot?
  • Is my performance erratic at all times or are there patches of good interspersed with patches of bad? (For example if you score 98 100 94 95 99 98 you probably have a mental lapse contributing to your results rather than a technical or equipment problem.)

Digging yourself out of the hole

Identifying the problem is only half the battle. You must now work to overcome it. If your problem was equipment or technical you will quite quickly see your performances lift again. Should the cause be due to a psychological weakness there are various tactics that may be employed to overcome this. As stated previously it’s not possible to articulate these in great detail here, but some of the techniques you may wish to explore are:

  • Relaxation – there are many techniques available, and you must find the one that works best for you;
  • Mental rehearsal;
  • A change in your match tactics (e.g. when do you take a break in your string of shots?);
  • Talking about and focussing on your positive results, and never discussing your 9’s;
  • Making a technical change to your equipment to make yourself focus on the process, and stop thinking about the score.

Some other articles on this site will explore these further.

© Kim Frazer, 2001