We have all experienced a drop in our scores in competition, when compared to what we shoot in practice. I have a theory that a major contributing factor to this is that our tens in training are just not good enough. All those 10.0’s and 10.1’s we shoot in a training match become the 9.9’s or worse in our matches. Our average 9’s can become bad 9’s or even 8’s. Now sometimes it might work the other way & the skinny 9.9’s become a 10.0 in a match. So if you are shooting 390’s in practice with 10 or so skinny shots, in a match you are suddenly scoring low to mid 380’s in competition. But there is really no predictability in your result & hence the overall competition results might vary quite dramatically from string to string & day to day.
I remember the Russian shooter Tatiana Goldobina (Olympic medallist and world champion) saying to me once many years ago that her coach always wanted her to get “inner tens” in training because one’s hold always gets a bit worse in competition. Tatiana won the 2004 Athens World Cup in both 3P & Air. Her air rifle final in the World Cup was phenomenal – something like 104 or more. When I congratulated her on her result & the fabulous final, she told me that she had done better in Russia where she had shot a Final record in one of their matches of 107.2 (or something like that). In the Olympics her air rifle final was not so great, and although there were many 10’s, they were all low scoring shots. When I asked her about it, she said that she couldn’t settle her heart rate and had too much movement in the rifle. My point is that match pressure affects everyone, but because the quality of her training and with her technical ability so high, she is still able to produce 10’s even when under pressure.
I have experienced this myself in my own positions. I used to think that when my performance dropped in competition, it was more because I was nervous. However I have since found that this performance drop was more to do with lack of strong technical ability – resulting in poor quality tens. All the nervousness did was highlight the technical deficiencies. After I improved my technical ability, my results improved even though I was still nervous in competition at times.
Below some of the factors that will contribute to the production of ‘quality tens’ and each of these factors must be diligently worked on when training.
Natural Point of Aim (NPA)
Failing to find our NPA means that we are using muscle tension to help put the rifle on to the target. Now in training, when we use muscle tension we can get away with it most of the time because we are in a low stress environment. So the use of muscle tension tends to have a detrimental impact only when we are tired, or when we are approaching a good score in a string (how many times do you drop your last shot, or a shot after a series of 10’s). In a match when we have an increase in anxiety, we get an increase in heart-rate, muscle tremors & lots of other impacts on our body. If we do not have our NPA we are muscling the rifle onto the target, and consequently will suffer even more poor shots. How many times have you started poorly in a competition, and then recovered once you have relaxed a bit when the score is already destroyed.
Closely aligned with NPA is the need to have the right parts of your body relaxed. This will differ from position to position, however there are many body parts that need to be in a state of relaxation in order to achieve a quality ten in competition. These include (for RH shooters) left arm, right shoulder and neck. The other aspect of relaxation is heart-rate management. Through breathing and relaxation, the heart-rate can be lowered in competitions to help combat the anxiety that sometimes occurs when we feel under pressure in a match.
This covers a range of actions, which must be repeated the same each time to give the same outcome. These include:
- Approach to centre of target
- Time for each shot
- Thought process before & during each shot
- Follow through
- Trigger release
- All the elements of position
- Relaxation & tension the same each time
- Outer position feel
- Inner position feel
- And so many more
Time must be dedicated in training to developing your skills in each of these areas.
Obviously the better our hold, the more likely we are to get a quality ten. Whilst a number of the items mentioned above in ‘consistency’ contribute to this, the single most important aspect, particularly in the kneeling & standing positions is balance. Training to improve our balance will automatically improve our hold as it will reduce sway and the tendency to muscle the rifle onto the target.
A coach I know talks about getting shooters to get rhythm or tempo into their shooting. The idea is that if you have a good tempo you get into a groove and get better shots. Whilst this is true to some extent, I have thought about this a lot recently, and feel that this focus on tempo or rhythm doesn’t always achieve the right outcome. We have all heard the saying “perfect practice makes perfect”. Yet how many times in practice have we fired a shot that wasn’t perfect. The ones where we know that we’ve held on to it for too long, but fired it anyway. Or when the position didn’t feel right at the outset, but we didn’t start again. We rush to look through the scope or bring the target back to see if the shot went in. Sometimes they do, sometimes not. After all – even the bad shots go somewhere. I think part of the reason why this happens is that we get used to firing shots in a tempo and forget sometimes about checking the other stuff.
In summary, by making the shooting position stronger technically through diligent practice on all the different aspects discussed above (and others), and by achieving a higher level of performance in practice, we will be on the way to getting a higher level of performance in competition.
© Kim Frazer, 2004