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Get in the zone

It is cold and wet, you are on the end of the line and you are not expecting any birds to come towards you. As you look down the line to watch others shooting, the bird flies past you. How many times do you lose concentration for a few seconds, only to be beaten? Of course, you do not need to be in clay competition mode when you shoot, but concentration is a key part to enjoying your day. In this article, I will be addressing the subject of concentration and how you can improve this for a gameshooting day.

I am a big advocate of enjoyment being coupled to improvement, and to do this successfully, you need to be able to focus more on the important things within your shooting. Concentration is about being aware of everything going on around you, the ability to remain in control and, most importantly, staying calm. You can only shoot well if you are calm. This is not the same as being relaxed, but you must be calm to take in all the important information around you.

In recent years, I have looked at both clay and gameshooters? physical reactions while they are shooting ? observing, among other things, the heart rate in conjunction with awareness. It showed how important the right type of concentration was ? not too much and not too little. So, the challenge for the game field is keeping control of both nerves and excitement ? let one or both of these take over and your concentration will be lost.

Measuring concentration

So how can we measure concentration? It is difficult to quantify, but what we can do is measure the associated areas, such as peripheral vision (see The vision to succeed, 26 September). However, I look at how the body reacts and the best way of doing this is to use biofeedback. From these results, I can consider solutions for maintaining concentration. What we are trying to do is get ourselves into what many shooters call ?the zone?.

Gameshooters have, without knowing or understanding why, had amazing days out, shooting stunning birds ? they have just hit the so-called ?purple patch?. This, in sport psychology, can be explained by the ?inverted U principle?.
The inverted U principle is based on emotional response. If you are not focused enough then you will perform badly, while if you become overly focused, you will also perform badly. The optimum point is at the top of the arc, in a zone of optimum performance. Being in that optimum zone means you are focused and calm.

Getting into the zone

So, how are we going to achieve getting in the zone? I like to remember ABC: Always Be Calm. By always focusing on being calm, you will be better placed to react. When you practise for a gameshooting day, it is easy to go to a high tower, shoot a few clays and feel in control. However, when it comes to the actual day, especially on smaller days when there is more pressure not to miss, a fear of failure can override your focus.

I measured the heart rate of those shooting game and the results were surprising. Typically, what I found was that many of those shooting who had a resting heart rate of 70bpm (beats per minute) could typically see an increase to 140bpm, or in extreme cases 160bpm ? which is an elevation that you might expect after running for a good few minutes on a treadmill. Obviously this is not a physical but a mental reaction to the situation. These results have been recorded in both game Shots and clay Shots.

A vicious circle

When the heart rate increases, peripheral vision and concentration are affected, resulting in missed birds. When you miss birds, you try harder, but you apply less thought. And so a vicious circle begins. The more you miss, the more you try ? and it just gets gradually worse. Some shooters are so badly affected that they try to improve the situation by changing their gun or their cartridges, but the answer lies closer to home: it is the shooter.

Breathing is a great tool to use to improve concentration. For thousands of years, centering has been used as a breathing technique in martial arts. Centering is a breathing technique whereby you take in a deeper breath than usual while focusing on a point an inch behind your belly button at the same time. This technique aids you to become calmer and improves your concentration. Don?t worry, you don?t have to take up a yoga position on the first drive! And remember, to increase concentration we need to look at being more focused and calm.