2 Should You Preload Your Mental Program?

In my previous article, I introduced several new terms such as Preload and the Mental Management Tournament System. Today we will look at them in greater detail.

A competition mental system such as the Mental Management Tournament System is a planned, practiced system of controlling the thoughts of the conscious mind at critical points in the shoot.  The critical points that I teach for sporting clays are the following:

  1. Presetting the Mind for the day of the shoot.  This point occurs just prior to taking the field for the first station of the shoot.
  2. The Preload begins as you walk up to the station and ends when you begin your Mental Program.
  3. The Mental Program controls your conscious thoughts just prior to shooting and during the time you are actually shooting the targets.
  4. Shot Reinforcement occurs just after you shoot a pair or single.
  5. Station Reinforcement occurs after you step off of the stand as you imprint running the station in your mind.  This brings closure to the station and helps in your Self Image growth (more on this in future sessions).
  6. Performance Analysis occurs after your final shots of the day are completed.  You record your Performance Analysis in your Performance Analysis Journal.

Remember everything we do has three phases to it.  The Anticipation Phase is what we picture when we are preparing to do something.  The Action Phase is what we picture when we are actually doing it.  And the Reinforcement Phase is what we picture just after we do it.  The first 3 of these 6 points, Presetting the Mind, The Preload and The Mental Program are all Anticipation Phase actions. These all relate to the Conscious Mind in our Triad State model.  Shooting the shotgun is the Action Phase and relates to the Subconscious Mind in our model while the last 3 points, Shot Reinforcement, Station Reinforcement, and Performance Analysis are all Reinforcement Phase actions and relate to the Self Image in our model.

You have a competition mental system ONLY when you have first determined the best things to think about at each of these critical points. Secondly, you have trained to duplicate these thoughts and finally, you have disciplined yourself to consistently think this way in competition.  What you think about at these critical points should not be left to chance.  You cannot have a consistent mental performance if you think inconsistently in competition.  In my opinion, the major reason shooters think inconsistently in shoots is that they never determine in advance just what they should be thinking about and train their minds to only think on these things.

In this article, I wish to address the Preload.  This term is one that I use to label the thought process that occurs during the preparation of the shooting of a station.  It begins as you are walking up to a station.  The Preload is a left-brain activity.  You are gathering information and making decisions about how you are going to shoot the targets.

Much goes into the thinking process for this step.  Your analysis begins as you walk up to the station.  First you might determine where traps are located.  Are the traps visible or must you look for the targets to enter the shooting area?  If so, where will you pick them up?  Can you determine the logical path the target should take even prior to seeing the targets thrown by the trapper? How many and what kind of targets are being thrown; single, report or true-pair?  What are the angles of the targets?  What speed?  Are they rising or falling when you take them? What size are the targets?  What role does typography play in how you should shoot the targets?  Does the wind and light play a role in this station?  Will you change chokes?  Where is the best place to break the targets?  What will be your gun key point?  Where will you look for the first target?  Where should you stand in the box to gain the best advantage?  How should you shoot them, pull-away, sustained lead, sweep them or spot shoot them?  Do you pre-mount the gun, half-mount it, move-mount-shoot it or do something truly creative that will get the job done.  Most of this analysis has to be accomplished within seconds of seeing the station setup.  If you are first to shoot you must make decisions quickly and do so with conviction if you hope to do well on the station.

The Preload is where the seasoned veteran separates him/herself from the beginner.  Learning to shoot the gun is one thing but learning target strategy is something else altogether.  The skill sets are totally different and both must be mastered to win.  Non-hits occur for four basic reasons; equipment failure (almost never happens or should not), poor technical execution (even the gun-gods do it sometimes), improper mental execution (that’s what keeps me in business) and improper target strategy (failure in The Preload).

You’d better know how to hit the targets so you do not have to worry about that part of your game.  A technical coach can save you thousands of dollars and cut your learning time in both technical skills and target strategy skills.  Next, pay the price in training.  Learn to recognize and shoot every type of target until you can do it in your sleep.  That’s what the pros have done.  The sport you are shooting is all about target strategy, technical skill, mental consistency, and execution.

OK, so my technical coach has drilled me until I’m hitting every kind of target known to man (until the trap setters think of something new).  So what should I be thinking about during this period?  Here are my suggestions:

After you have carefully gathered the available information and made the appropriate decisions as to your target strategy mentally rehearse the process that you have chosen to execute.  Do this religiously prior to ever putting your foot on the station.  This will do several things for you.  First, the subconscious will move you to do whatever the conscious mind is picturing.  Give it a game plan to follow.  This will eliminate confusion and give you focus going into the mental program.  Secondly, process rehearsal is an imprint in the Self Image.  We tend to become what we imprint and we are imprinting success.  It will become “like you” to hit these targets just the way you have rehearsed them.

Next, be decisive.  Lack of decisiveness leads to loss of focus, to confusion and is a major drain on the mental energy of a shooter.  Once you have determined what your target strategy is to MAKE THE DECISION TO STAY WITH THE DECISION.  Your first best guess (and that is all we have is the best guess in most cases) is normally your best one so believe that it is the RIGHT one and just do it.

There is a time to do a lot of thinking and that is in the Preload.  But there is a time when your thinking should go from many thoughts to few and that is in your Mental Program.  The Preload is a left-brain activity but shooting is, or should be more of a right-brain one.  To make the transition from left-brain to right-brain we run the mental program.  We have talked a lot about the mental program in past articles but I suggest that you remember that it’s primary purpose is to move you from thinking about a lot of things in the Preload to almost thinking about nothing while shooting.  The time to analyze is in the Preload, not while calling for the target.

Finally, it is important to practice what you are going to think about in competition while training for the competition.  Far too often practice is just shooting certain types of targets over and over.  While this is proper and useful in developing technique it does little to develop target strategy.  Remember to practice rehearsing the process in your training.  Practicing the Preload helps you to become more efficient at decision making in tournaments and promotes confidence and consistency.

The Preload is a conscious mind activity combining analysis, decision making, rehearsing of the process and finally of becoming and staying decisive.  You can do this!  Consistency demands it of you and you must become consistent to win.


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