To excel in any sport, you have to have a certain drive; A need to win. If you want to go out on weekends and have fun, that’s great! If you want to make it to the top levels of the sport, you need to figure out how to win. For me, it is all in the preparation and execution of the plan I developed. Simply put, everything you do should have a purpose. It isn’t as much of a strategy as it is a mindset.
So, if everything should have a purpose, what kind of practice should you be putting in? If you want to win, you can’t just go out to the range and rip through a couple hundred rounds without an idea of what you are trying to accomplish. You have to get your mindset right and decide what you need to work on. When you figure that out, go to the range with a plan devoted to advancing a skill or fixing a weakness. About 3 years ago, the weakest part of my game was shotgun. I had plenty of experience hunting with a shotgun, but I couldn’t load it fast, shoot it fast, and I didn’t have much confidence shooting specialized ammo. For the next year, I worked on every aspect of my shotgun game. Since then, I have found that it is my favorite gun to shoot, and I feel like I traded a weakness for an strength. Eventually, you will turn all your weaknesses to strengths and if you work on your game so much that it feels like you are at your max, push it harder so your max feels like half speed.
Another part of the mental game is preparation for a match. Figure out what works for you and stick with that routine. Personally, I like to get to the range a day early to plan stages, walk through them over and over and then do it again. Spending so much time working on a plan lets me figure out tiny things to do, or not do, to save time. I want everything I do to be as efficient as possible. The only way to figure out what that is, is to go over the stage again and again. If you do it enough, it becomes like any routine. For example: Let’s say you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, take a shower, eat breakfast and drive to work. Take that same set of activities and add that you slept through your alarm, but everything still has to happen. You have walked through the routine enough to know that you can go straight from bed to the shower, brush your teeth while you wash your hair and eat breakfast while you back out of the driveway. Planning a stage works the same way. Walk through it enough until you see what can all happen at the same time, or see that maybe you can skip breakfast.
Once you have a stage planned, you need to execute. Part of that execution starts well before it is your turn to shoot. When I get to a stage that I planned the day before, I take the walk through time to make sure I remember every step of what I was going to do. After the squad starts shooting, I help reset, but I have a strategy in my reset. I like to walk to the very end of the stage and reset as I head back to the start. While I am walking between targets, I constantly go over my stage plan and ingrain tough target locations into my memory. When I am the on-deck shooter, I make sure to walk through the stage exactly as I am going to shoot it, if it is allowed. The preparation continues when it is time to stage my guns. As I stage each gun, I make sure to go over exactly what I am going to do with that gun and where each target is from the staging location. Finally, when I am in the start box, I take about 20 seconds to go over the entire stage in my head, before I give the RO a ready signal. When the buzzer goes off, it almost feels like I don’t even have to think about what I am doing. If something comes up that needs to be fixed, or the plan gets knocked off course, I am not overwhelmed by trying to remember what I was going to do, because I have already done it so many times. I can fix the problem and get the plan back on track without losing track of my stage plan.
Now comes the hardest part, forget everything you spent the last day and a half memorizing. After I shoot a stage, I try to completely forget anything about it. Target distances, round count, reloads, reholster locations, you name it. The reason is simple… That stage is over and the next one is going to be completely different. The hardest part of planning to do something so specific, is not doing that exact same thing on the next stage. So, when you get to the next stage, immerse yourself in it. Memorize every blade of grass and rock that you need to stand next to. The more time you spend focusing on that stage, the faster you will wipe the program in your brain from the last one. It takes some practice, just like anything, but after you have done it a few times, you figure out what works for you. The important thing is to find out what it takes to make your brain “click”, and then repeat that process.