For competition shooters, especially new ones, an upcoming tournament can be a cause for increased anxiety. For elite shooters, better performance in tournaments can mean bigger endorsement deals and sponsorships.
For the rest of us, here are some drills and techniques that you can use to calm yourself and focus before a competition to perform your best. Some of these are shooting sport-specific, while others are good tips to use in any high-stress situation.
This article also assumes that you are at least moderately familiar with shooting sports. If you are planning to shoot your first competition, there will be additional safety steps that you need to take.
Dry Fire At Home
One of the best drills that you can do at home is dry firing. This involves going through drawing, sighting, and squeezing the trigger on an unloaded weapon. Dry firing creates muscle memory and allows you to focus your practice on specific areas that you need to improve, such as sight picture.
When you dry fire, it’s best to train as close to realistic scenarios as possible, without ammunition. This means wearing the same equipment and apparel you plan to use during the competition and of course, using the same gun. Tape a target on the wall or use anything that is already handy like a picture frame or lamp. Use that as your target to get your sight picture. Stand at the ready position and practice drawing your gun and quickly bringing it up to the firing position and sighting in on your target. Squeeze the trigger so that the hammer falls.
Being deliberate with your draw will seem slow at first, but once you become proficient it will become fast. Dry firing is one of the best ways to improve your draw speed and accuracy.
This is a classic relaxation technique that is good for just about any situation. There are many breathing techniques that can help, but the easiest is just taking several deep breaths. Focus on your breathing, filling your lungs each time you inhale. This will help to clear your mind of anxiety and focus on the task at hand.
If you feel your anxiety level rising, walk away from the firing line and find a (relatively) quiet place. It’s always best to work on your breathing exercises away from distractions.
Watch Other Shooters Before You
If you’re a new shooter, watching professionals or semi-professional shooters might give you more anxiety. But ultimately, we feel that there is a lot to gain by watching your fellow shooters.
When you observe your fellow shooters, you need to be in the right state of mind. Remind yourself that you are there to observe their technique, and not marvel at their abilities. Watch their footwork and how they position their body. You may not be able to shoot as well as they do (yet), but you can emulate their movements and use their experience to help you shoot better.
When in Doubt, Talk it Out
You will find some of the nicest people in the world at shooting sports competitions. If you’re feeling some anxiety about competing in your first tournament, just strike up a conversation with someone. Chances are that they have felt the same way in the past and may have some great insight on how to deal with it.
Anxiety is never fun to deal with, and that goes double when participating in a competition like shooting tournaments. Whether it’s your first competition or your 100th, nerves before a big event are normal. We’ve talked about some simple methods to calm your nerves and help you perform your best. Remember to have fun, because chances are that’s why you started shooting in the first place.