The shot between heartbeats

It has been found that shooters shoot ‘the shot’ between heartbeats so the subconscious must be a pretty interesting system; certainly the conscious mind would have difficulty in doing that.

The state of your mind and body’s arousal is a key factor in performance. To optimise the level of your performance requires that you have the best level of arousal for you. For some people this is a low state of arousal and to be as relaxed as possible is the goal, so that the subconscious is able to dominate and the performance and not be interrupted. Others need to wind themselves into a state of competition , often by deliberatly making an outrageous remark about another competitor or a statement that everyone else is rubbish and that they are the only true archer present: by doing this they put themselves into a high state of readiness and a position from which it is important that they do perform. There is no way back! I can think of a number of runners who do that, also one or two famous boxers, (and a few Archers). Interestingly there are cultural factors at work here as well. Those taught in schools in the UK are in a culture that says to them “think of yourself last and be humble about the work you produce” whilst in the USA I have visited friends whose children had to stand up in class and announce how good their work was to their classmates, something which would not happen in the UK. Different approaches from different cultures. (The UK and USA have often been described as two cultures seperated by a common language) The UK’s approach is often a cause of not doing well as there is an inbuilt lack of confidence in the national mind. To further illustrate this difference in confidence, I have a little true story. I visited an indoor archery range during a visit to the USA and met with the owner to discuss some topic of interest. He had an archer in the range area who was asked to demonstrate the effectiveness of the target material. He at once announced that he would show me that it was the best in the world and that he would shoot the tightest groups in the world to demonstrate the targets effectiveness and his skill. The archer walked the 20 yards to the target bale and with a pen maked the target paper with a cross. At this point I was really impressed , he was so confident that I was sure he was going to shoot some really impressive arrows. He walked back to the shooting line and proceeded to shoot arrows that landed all over the target and none were within four inches of the cross he had marked, or each other. He simply said “oh I’m not shooting so well today”. It was quite natural for him to make wildly optimistic claims and fall short of them….something an Englishman is taught never to do. No value judgements here just observations of two different cultures. The result is that each nation comes to the problem of competition in a different state of confidence as well as of arousal so you have to see the problem from your particular angle. Most of us are somewhere inbetween the two extreme states, needing both to calm ourselves AND to rise to the occasion. This means a degree of control over our state of mind and some experimentation to find what suits us as the end state of readiness which is our aim.

Calming The Mind

Essentially this is done by creating a routine to relax. It is a mental sequence which occupies your mind and leds you to a relaxed state. There are a number of methods to do this and you can try an array of them to see how you get on. Ideas on this include listening to tapes , you will have seen this being done I am sure, which have a variety of content. Jay Barrs said he listened to heavy rock and while it wouldnt work for me it may indeed deaden the mind!(What a cheek I here you say) Other tapes have repetitve sounds that are soothing such as sounds of the sea or distant sounds of the wind. Also I am aware of a mental routine that starts with you imagining yourself to be.. in a place that you feel comfortable… like your bedroom at home where you are warm comfortable and protected… and you can imagine the physical objects in the room in great detail. This can be made deeper by imagining the smells and the feel of the room and objects(all of which employ more of the conscious areas of the brain than just the minds “eye”.) This occupying of the mind with “comfortable feelings” works to a deep level in the more stressful situations…in fact it is stress control in another guise.

If you can use such techniques to calm yourself as and when you may need to or to have a calm place to “go” when in a strange situation such as a head to head shoot off in a foreign country, then you may be able to get a hold of yourself to perform well upto your potential.

Optimum Stimulation for the Task In Hand You dont want to arrive at the shooting line half asleep! Your relaxation has gone well… what now. The mind must be able to focus on the task in hand and combine the mental routine which we started in Chapter Two with the enhanced performance you want on the day of the big occasion. The goal should be to reach the point where you “must” shoot your best actually doing just that. This is easier said than done. However there are a number of pointers that will set you off in the correct direction….as it takes time to master the art of peaking for a performance mentally as well as physically.

Comfort Zones:The process of producing a performance starts in practise… if you can shoot and score 110 dozens at the club ground then fine after a while you expect to do so. You now have an expectation of your level of performance. To shoot 116 dozens you feel that it is slightly above your average, you are more likely to shoot 110 next time than 116. If you are to get the best out of your shooting you need to be able to feel more comfortable shooting 116 than 110. At the vital moment you may need to shoot 118, not 110 or 116. If you feel uncomfortable shoooting that sort of score it is not going to help you BELIEVE you can shoot that score ,and CONTINUE shooting at that level. The man who drives a car at 50 mph most of the time will drive at 70 mph for a while ,but feels uncomfortable and will likely slow down to 50 mph again rather than drive next at 100 mph.(Discomfort depending on the speed limit also). Or again ,you learn a level of performance that you feel is you and anything a little lower or a little higher your mind wont accept. This in turn limits performance. It actually stops you being able to deviate from the norm too much. This you have to find a way around. Jay Barrs talks about using positive affirmation by means of hand wriiten …by you.. cards which you read several times a day.Like”I do feel happy shooting 118 dozens and expect to do so”. These cards are read every day six times a day ,until one day you realise you actualy believe the statement on the card! By doing this you have changed the mind set you had about your performance. You can include in these cards a statement such as “I am comfortable becoming the champion of ….(what ever your goal)” which you can include in your set of say six or so cards for the whole period of your build up (whilst some of the other cards may be changed or discarded as goals are achieved, and others substituted) After all it may be four years to the next Olympics! After a while you do take on board the statements on the card….I know as have tried it. I was set to run the London Marathon having decided to take up something to keep fit at the great age of 45….I ran a Marathon in 3 hrs 17 mins (faster than I expected being over age overweight etc.) so I stupidly said to myself of course you can run three hours next time. I meanwhile heard Jay Barrs talk on Positive Affirmation Cards and decided to try it. I am comfortable running at 6.5 min miles. I am happy to run at 3 hour pace . I can run a 3 hour marathon ….. etc,etc…well I ran at the fastest pace I have ever run for 23.4 of the 26.2 miles..and would have beaten 3hours by ten minutes….and my poor body gave up! It took me for ever to get to the finish. The mind set I had achieved had set the body a task it could not achieve on the day. So effective had the cards been that I did believe them but could not drag the performance out of my poor old body ( the result 3hours and 50seconds) More physical training and I would have made it. Enough of my madnesses… what about archery I hear you say. (Its that English schooling again). Familiarity is a great aid to comfort and so the 118 dozens you can now expect to shoot at your club ,will have to be shot at the venue of the tournament. This is the next step , to familiarise yourself with the venue, the competitors the food….all in your mind as well as in reality where possible. There may be no real substitue for the experience of say head to head competitions, but you should look to simulate the experience and to feel comfortable and in best form on the occasion about yourself and your shooting. Quietly confident is how I like to feel. The arrival on the chosen day at the chosen state of physical and mental readiness depends on timetabling the run-up to the event….and producing a peak of performance.

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