The Elements of Consistency

Consistency is necessary to run stations and running stations is a requirement to winning scores. Although we have looked at this topic before it still ranks among the top questions I receive from shooters so lets revisit the topic and add some new and more complete information to the discussion.  Let’s begin by breaking down this term as it applies to the shooter.  Here’s what the dictionary has to offer.

Con•sis•ten•cy |kənˈsistənsē| noun ( pl. -cies)

– the achievement of a level of performance that does not vary greatly in quality over time

– steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.

– agreement, harmony, or compatibility in uniformity among the parts of a complex thing


If you apply the definition from the dictionary to a sporting clays shooter it reduces to something like this.

“I need to determine a process that will break targets that doesn’t degrade in effectiveness over time and do it exactly the same way every time I call for a like target.”

Achieving consistency is not easy and it is an ongoing challenge for every shooter throughout his/her career. We can, however, better understand a thing and master it if we break it down into its elements. I offer three.  First the shooter must carefully choose their primary.  Next, they must master what they have chosen and finally they must trust what they have mastered.  Let’s look at these three elements in more detail.

You must carefully choose your primary.

To achieve consistency you must choose the very best way to do things.  A shooter has at least three systems that impact the outcome of a target attempt.  These are the technical system (how you move the gun), the mental system (how and what you think about during the process) and your course management system (how you take the targets, target analysis and gun placement). Elite shooters have determined a favored or primary way of performing each of these systems.  For example, you should have a primary way of holding the shotgun, standing in the box and moving once the targets appear. The keys here are choosing a primary way and carefully defining it.  You cannot hold the gun the same way every time if you have not defined your primary way of holding it.  How tightly do you hold it?  How far forward of the receiver do you place your forward hand?  Where do you place you finger on the trigger?  There should be a primary way that you have defined that yields that best results for you.

Do you know how you are placing your feet in relation to your break point and why you are standing this way?  What about weight distribution between your feet?  Is that important?  If so what is the best way to stand to break targets.  What you choose is your primary.  What is your primary head position on the stock?  How much pressure should you feel against your cheek?  How much is too much or too little?  Are these things defined?

What about your mental game?  Do you have a defined mental game plan?  Have you chosen your primary way to think before during and after you shoot a pair or single? (Please refer to your back issues of Clay Shooting USA for a more complete discussion of these issues.)

How about course management issues?  When do you pre-mount the gun?  Why do you do this? What method of target attack are you going to use on this presentation; sustained lead, insert method, pull through, spot shoot it?  Where is the best break point, gun hold point and area to look for the target?

We could go through every element of form, mental control and course management but I think you get the idea.  Most elite shooters have carefully defined ways of doing everything they do.  Do you?  Is it defined?  If you know why you have chosen to do something it dramatically increases the likelihood that you will choose to do it consistently.

I suggest that you take time and write down what you have chosen.  Take a snapshot of your current form elements, mental elements abd course management strategies and put it in your performance journal. You may be surprised that you do not have everything as defined as you might need.  Carefully choosing your primary will make the next step easier.

You must master what you have chosen.

Mastery is a relative term.  It might mean different things to different people.  The level of mastery I am referring to is to have enough understanding, control and proficiency to be able to execute the process well enough to reach your goals without conscious effort.  To achieve this you must stay with what you have chosen.  You cannot be jumping around, constantly experimenting with new things.  You will never achieve mastery if you do not train with a process long enough to master it.  I have no way of knowing for certain how long it will take you to master a skill but I can give you some indicators that you are close to mastery.

You are getting close to mastery if you do not have to think about doing a skill to be able to do it well.  In fact, if you have to think about a skill to perform you are performing it consciously rather than subconsciously.  Sporting clays targets require subconscious skill levels for the shooter to be able to hit them consistently.

Here is another indicator to watch for.  When you are no longer temped to try a different way to do something you are nearing mastery.  New shooters have a lot of doubt about their skill choices.  Is this the correct way to shoot or should I change?  Veteran shooters tend to influence new shooters and as they do not always agree, confusion is probable.  When you are confused you tend to seek change.  Now, do not get me wrong here, I realize that as we grow in knowledge it is sometimes necessary to change our minds but can we at least agree that throwing out what you have brought with you to a competition and searching for something new while you are in the competition is a really bad idea?  I suggest that you do your changing in training not in competitions.  Once you leave your last training session agree to stay with what you have chosen.  Give it a good try.  Remember when you choose to change you may be dropping something superior to what you are picking up.

How long does it take to become great at something?  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers uses the number 10, 000 hours.  He makes the case that talent is developed by hours of work.  I suggest that consistency is developed by hours of training using the primary that you have carefully chosen.  Every time you change the primary you tend to restart the clock on the 10, 000 hours.

You must trust what you have chosen.

Champions who have paid the price to master a proven way to excel do not need to worry about the possibility that they might not perform well.  All they need to do is to duplicate what they have mastered.  Just trust it!  Trust that all of those hours of training will be there when you need them.  Remember, if it took you a long time to acquire a skill it will take you a long time to forget how to do it.  Trust your training.  Now, if you have spent little time in training you may have little to trust.

One of the problems facing some of our master level clients is that they are not accomplished at trusting themselves.  In their zeal to constantly get better they never are satisfied with their skill and have difficulty trusting as a result.  This is unfortunate and costly.  If you are going to frequent competitions you must balance your expectations with your performance level a bit.  The greater the demand for perfection the smaller the window that is open to trust.  Some shooters are just never satisfied and beating themselves up is a common result.  We should all want to improve and you can be certain that your competition is getting stronger all of the time but the time to worry about it is in training not in the competition.

Champions are consistently good at what they are doing because they have carefully chosen a primary way of doing them.  The primary is defined and known in advance of the competition.  Champions train until the primary is so embedded that it is almost impossible for them to do it any other way.  Finally, champions trust instead of try in competitions.  This gives them a huge advantage over the competitor who is till searching for his primary.  He has nothing to trust.  Champions consistently run their pre-programmed primary ways of getting the targets in their pattern and that is how they earn the title of champions.


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