The power of the mind is immeasurable. When allowed, it is capable of driving the body past its perceived limitations and can help create desired physical outcomes. Through training, the mind can become an individual's foremost tool in sports.
To some extent, athletes, business professionals, military personnel, and law enforcement officials all rely on different, specialized strengths, both mentally and physically; however, the training derived in one activity can oftentimes be carried over into others. In a discipline such as marksmanship, the mind is an important tool, and when utilized, can lead the shooter to the podium and beyond.
It is commonly believed that the outcome for skills such as marksmanship and archery are 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. While these numbers could be argued depending on the situation at hand (combat vs. recreational or competitive target shooting), the mind is virtually limitless in its capabilities. Through mental training or visualization, an athlete can create a thought process that can reduce stress; increase confidence, self-awareness and control; lead to better form and faster improvements; help an individual perform more consistently; and lead to more desirable outcomes and greater success.
My first experience with mental training came at the age of 13 while attending an Olympic development clinic for modern pentathlon, an Olympic sport that puts athletes through a grueling, one-day test in the events of shooting, fencing, swimming, running, and horseback riding. But it was not until five years later while a freshman at the University of Notre Dame that I really experienced the power of mental training. Having put my pentathlon career aside to focus on my studies, I decided to continue shooting as long as possible since I had earned a spot on the U.S. National Shooting Team after winning the Junior Olympic Air Pistol National Championships the year before. Because of my team status, I was required to attend specific matches during the year, such as the Junior Olympics and the World Championship team tryouts.
While I understood the challenges that lay in front of me, my goal for the year was to get as close to maintaining my team status as possible despite not being guaranteed a place to train while earning my degree. After some negotiations and agreements with the university's athletic and security departments, I was granted permission to train with my air pistol three days during the year in a squash court in the athletic center. Understanding that the university was going above and beyond what most would, I was appreciative of its willingness to work with me. However, I also knew that with only three days of hands-on firearms training I would have to rely on visualization exercises to put me where I needed to be before the crucial matches. This not only tested my training skills (quality training over quantity) but brought me back to the mental basis of my preparation.
When I had first been introduced to mental imagery at the age of 13, the idea was very basic. I started learning to relax my entire body while attaining a blank or "quiet" mind. As my mental training advanced, I practiced imagining familiar places and activities while incorporating all of my senses. Eventually I took this to the firing line, where before a competition I would envision myself standing on the firing point, feeling even pressure in my feet, my legs steady, my body solid as if one with the floor. I would inhale deeply, filling my core, and then exhale and allow my entire body to settle into position. My imagery was so real that I could actually feel my finger on the trigger as I took up the first stage before slowly raising my arm up through the target and back down to my aiming point, even though I was actually sitting in a chair behind the firing line. With my eyes closed I could feel them focus on the front sight, seeing the sight picture as if I were truly behind the sights, as my pistol settled in my holding area, steadily squeezing the trigger. The sound of the gun going off would resonate in my ears as
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