Claybrakn... Keeping Your Head in the Game (7/10)

Keeping Your Head in the Game 

By Frank Neumayer   

Question:  I can shoot some decent individual scores in both practice and competition, but my problem seems to be consistency.  I can’t seem to put together good scores back-to-back… or even hope to run 75 or 100 straight!  What am I missing here? 

Answer:  Regardless of the game, when I hear a shooter talk about having problems with consistency, the first thing that comes to mind is a lack of focus and concentration on every shot, every time.  It’s been said that clay target shooting is “90% mental and 10% equipment”.  This is probably the greatest truth you’ll ever derive from all the top gun articles, books, and DVD’s on the subject of clay target shooting.  Because you’re having some shooting success, let’s concentrate on just the mental aspects of your game.  Let’s assume you have all the basics pretty well figured out as they relate to your set-up, gun, choke, load, and pattern.  Remember, clay target shooting is a game of mastering ever-changing variables, so mental attitude and mental discipline will play heavily on how well you’ll succeed.  With that in mind, I can only pass along to you what I’ve been able to glean from much of the excellent material available that speaks directly to the mental game, and has worked well for me over the years.  So, let’s focus on what I believe are the major points to improving your mental approach to the game.

     First Point:  You need to identify, control, and eliminate distractions.  I’ve never been to a shoot where there wasn’t some type of distraction taking place.  Most often it involves those in the gallery, kids, pets, vehicles, loudspeakers… you name it.  As a shooter, you’ll need to mentally turn these distractions into tolerable noise that you can simply subdue or ignore, while still maintaining solid concentration and focus on breaking targets.  Keep in mind, “expectation is a means toward resolution”.  However, there are times when distractions just can’t be ignored and you’ll simply need to deal with them.  If this is the case, you should always come from the position that the distraction is not intentional or deliberate.  This way you’ll have a much better chance of easily getting it stopped or eliminated.  With this mind-set, and by asking politely, I’ve never had a problem getting an annoyance stopped quickly.  The key is being mentally prepared and knowing that some type of distraction will take place.  This way you’ll be much better prepared to properly deal with it, if and when it happens.

     Second Point:  You need to be adaptable in making quick adjustments for the conditional variables presented.  Before arriving at the shoot, have you mentally prepared yourself to adapt quickly and properly to all the conditions you may encounter?  Here are the conditional variables I’m talking about:  Weather (wind, rain, lighting conditions, and temperature); Targets (type, style, color, and visibility); Fields (how well set, background, height of houses, voice calls or hand pulls, automatic machines or hand-set); People (full or short squads, who’s scoring, pulling, refereeing, or loading houses).  You need to think about how you can easily adapt, handle, or accept each of these variables so they won’t impact your shooting success.  In order to remain calm, relaxed, and focused on breaking targets and posting high scores, you’ll need to train your mind to prepare solutions in advance for every possible variable that may be presented.  The key is to eliminate surprises… and the best way to do this is by being mentally prepared to adapt quickly, easily, and without stress to every possible situation.  


     Third Point:  You need to be consistent and methodical in your approach to every shot, every time.  When shooters are in “the zone” as we know it, they have all the distractions under control, they’ve made the right adjustments for all the conditional variables present, and they always apply the same disciplined approach to every shot, every time.  All three elements are important… but from my experience, a disciplined approach to every target, every time is the most critical factor to winning events!  Here’s what I mean by a disciplined approach.  With patience, timing, and rhythm, the shooter will go through the exact same sequence of events for every shot.  For me it’s a seamless 5-count process:  1) Focus my eyes as I start mounting the gun;  2) Complete the mount and lock into the gun;  3) Call for the target;  4) See the target, then move to it and break it;  5) See the break and follow-through.  Also, every time as I start the process, I mentally say a brief mantra (see it; break it; stay in the gun).  This little phrase helps channel all my attention, focus, and concentration to the five second task at hand. 

    Forth Point:  There are also a couple of other important factors you need to consider.  The first is to dispel all negative thinking.  Negative thoughts will only set you up for failure, so don’t talk yourself out of a good score before you even walk out onto the field.  The second is you need to stay focused… but don’t over-analyze and over-think everything on every shot.  Trying to remember every single detail about everything all at once can be overwhelming, so just relax and trust in the established set-up and target breaking routine that you’ve developed in practice.  In addition, there’s certainly a lot of excellent advice and information available for shooters that speaks directly to the mental aspects of clay target shooting.  Don’t hesitate to select a quality book or DVD on the subject, especially if you want to dive deeper into the details of how to develop special or unique techniques to quiet your mind, reduce stress, physically and mentally relax, or to improve your mental clarity, focus, and concentration. 

     The truth is, even if you could apply all the excellent information and techniques available, regardless of the game, practice and experience will always be the best teacher.  In order for me to maintain the sharp mental focus and discipline needed during competition, I start my shoot routine at least the evening before and then continue with it throughout the length of the shoot.  It’s really not complicated; I just simply watch what I eat and drink, perform my few daily physical and mental exercises, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest.  So… as you continue to work on improving your physical target breaking ability, be sure to practice every aspect of your mental game as well.  Again, if clay target shooting is “90% mental and 10% equipment”, then it’s only logical that you should be applying the majority of your improvement efforts toward the mental aspects of your game.  Remember… always believe in yourself and trust in your ability, and that positive thoughts produce positive results!

     If you have a specific question, send me an email at and I’ll do my best to get it answered.  Please keep your questions brief and to the point. 

See you at the club… Frank


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