Editors Note: We'd like to welcome Tracy Barnes as our newest contributor. You might recognize her, or her twin sister Lanny, as they do crazy things like compete in the Olympics with skis and guns. Tracy knows a thing or two about competition and she'll be providing periodic articles with helpful tips to help you become a better competitor.
Summer is quickly approaching and so are much anticipated shooting matches across the country. Some of us will travel hundreds of miles for a chance to try our hand at a competitive shooting competition and we all hope to score among the top competitors. Most of us have put in the time at the range, and dry-fired countless times and we are feeling ready and confident for the match. But how much thought have you put into the match logistics? The competition day itself? Many of the shooting competitions we’ll be shooting across the country aren’t just one day of shooting, but rather multiple long and sometimes grueling days.
You’ve practiced your skills, but how do you prepare physically and mentally for an exhausting multi-day match?
Also see: Choosing a Competition Shotgun
Here are some tips to help you get through the long weekend of shooting.
Tip # 1: Keep your blood sugar constant. Maintain energy levels with proper nutrition.
The key to maintaining energy levels during any given day is keeping your blood sugar levels constant. You body likes to be in a state of homeostasis or more simply stated, balance. When your body is out of balance, it will work harder to get back to that balanced state. Eating the proper foods will help you avoid an energy crash just after lunch or late in the afternoon. If you properly balance your diet, your energy levels will stay consistent throughout the day. To do this, you’ll need to eat foods that have low glycemic levels. Don't hammer the sugary drinks or pop tarts. High glycemic foods burn quickly in the body, leaving you with low blood sugar and low energy. When you drink or eat something that is high in sugar or has a high glycemic level, then you're likely to get a sugar spike followed by an energy crash. Eating foods that have good fats and proteins will give you energy for longer periods of time and eating more frequent smaller meals instead of 3 large meals will help maintain your energy throughout the day.
Tip # 2: Stay Hydrated
If your body isn't hydrated, you will fatigue quicker, and you will have problems concentrating on the task at hand. Your body contains over 70% water. Keep that 70% ratio, and your body will thank you for it in the long run. Also, stay away from those sugar drinks. Juices and sport drinks have high amounts of sugar in them. You'll probably only need that amount of sugar if you're going to run a marathon. If you consume that amount of sugar without a fair bit of exercise, you're likely to have a sugar spike in your blood followed by an energy crash.
If you ever find yourself shaky during an event, it might not be just nerves. What you eat and drink can play a huge role in how you feel, so focus on water and maybe even an electrolyte supplement. These electrolytes are important for proper muscle function. Without proper hydration and electrolyte replacement your body and performance can be seriously impacted. The rule of thumb is that if you are thirsty then you are already on your way to being dehydrated. Stay ahead of the game by sipping on a water bottle frequently. Add some lemon, a pinch of salt, and a small amount of honey to your water bottle to help replace your lost electrolytes. You can also find quality sports drinks that contain ingredients other than sugar and dilute it in your water bottle.
Tip # 3: Sit Down, Lay Down, Close your Eyes, and Get off your Feet.
In between stages try to get some rest or down time. It is important to not only get off your feet, but take a short mental break as well. If you try to stay focused on your shooting from 7am to 7pm your mind will have a hard time keeping up and keeping motivated. Let yourself have some downtime between bouts and you'll see a huge difference in your concentration levels during your stages.
Also, when you get off your feet don’t be afraid to take a quick cat nap or power nap. A few minutes of shut eye can really help your body to regenerate and refocus.
We also recommend wearing compression socks. When you are on your feet all day, your blood and lymphatic fluid will pool in your legs and feet and cause your legs to feel heavy and unresponsive. Wearing compression socks will help your body maintain circulation and help your legs be ready for action.
Tip # 4: Stay out of the Sun
The sun zaps your energy. Stay out of the sun. Bring a big umbrella or find other ways to seek shelter from the sun. Wear lots of sunscreen and reapply throughout the day. Your skin is your biggest organ, so if you get sunburned, your body will fight hard to heal that instead of helping you with your mental and physical tasks of shooting. Sunburn also dehydrates you, so if you do get burned, chug the water.
Tip # 5: Goal setting/Mental Prep (Look at the whole picture)
Try not to focus on what you can't control. This is an important one. The biggest things you can't control are the weather and your competitors. So don't focus on them. Be prepared for the weather, but don't worry about what your competitors are doing. There is nothing you can do about them. You can only control your shooting, so focus on that.
Set performance goals, not results oriented goals. For example, don't set goals like 'I want to beat every guy or girl out there.' Yes, that is the ultimate goal, but if you shoot your very best and someone else just happens to be better than you that day, that is all you can ask of yourself. So instead set goals like 'I want to have a smooth stage without any fumbles, I want to have a good trigger squeeze, and proper target acquisition, etc.' Focus on your proper shooting not the outcome and the outcome will come with proper shooting.
Also, most matches have multiple stages. The person who performs most consistently and shoots the fastest in ALL of the stages will be the best. Aim to be consistent in all of your stages. If you go out guns a-blazing in the first stage, only to loose focus and falter later on, you're likely to lose the match. Take a breath and realize that there's more than one stage and multiple opportunities to perform well.
Stressing about things you can't control can be exhausting and counterproductive. Save your energy and focus on what you can control.
Tip # 6: Too much visual stimulus can be a bad thing.
There’s a lot to think about and take in over the course of a three day match. Let say, for example, that you have a three day match with 5 stages each day and close to 30 rounds at each stage. That’s 450 very concentrated shots that require focus from your brain. Now think if you are also watching 6 shooters complete their matches. That’s another 2,700 rounds that your brain is processing. You may find that this is too much. So, find balance at matches. The amount that your brain is processing and the amount of stimulus that you are taking in at matches is far more than you normally have at any of your training days. On top of that, you're now expecting to focus, learn from what your competitors are doing and focusing on the process of what you need to go through to complete your stage.
My point is that you need to find balance. Too much stimulus is going to fry your brain and by day three, you may find that your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders. Matches are a great time to learn from competitors, but it’s also time to stay focused and be able to practice and execute what you’ve learned. Maybe pick a few shooters that you’d really like to watch (consider all levels of shooters…what to do and what not to do.) and watch those, but then give your brain some time to focus and prepare for what you have to do. How many times have you gotten wrapped up watching others, then your name is called and you suddenly don’t feel prepared. If you take some time to get focused and settle your mind into what you need to accomplish, then you’ll find that you’ll get more out of your performance.
Tip # 7: Learn to overcome nervous energy.
We all get nervous for events and our nerves affect us in different ways. Sometimes, we get so nervous that we have to make frequent trips to the bathroom, or we lose our appetite and can’t eat. Other times our nervous energy is outwardly expressed. Lanny and I have different habits before a race. I am always quiet and don't feel like talking much while Lanny is a motor-mouth, talking a million miles an hour to get her nervous energy out. Some people express their nervousness by talking about the match (which helps them) while others talk negatively about how they might screw up. Everyone tends to express nerves a little differently and it’s important to figure out how you react when you are anxious or nervous. Then you can learn to deal with it and even overcome it.
For me, I needed time by myself to process what I needed to do and go through and visualize my competition. I’d always warm up for the race away from the screaming spectators and all the other girls who were nervously warming up and doing sprints to prepare for the hard effort. Maybe you’ll need to take a walk away from the range. Sit in your car where it’s quiet and you can’t hear what’s going on. You may also need to separate yourself from those that have that nervous energy. Some people get incredibly nervous before an event and just being around them transfers some of that nervous energy onto you. Figure out what makes you nervous and get away from that. If it’s the hustle and bustle of the range, then go walk somewhere else. Get your focus for your event. If you need to watch a few people run the course, do so, but then take the time to prepare for YOUR event. If you’re the nervous chatty kind and you feel that by talking you’re able to calm your nerves a bit, find someone who you can talk to and who’ll listen and help you settle down.
Being nervous causes us to expend a lot of energy, if we can limit and control those nerves, then we’re likely going to have more energy and focus for the match. So be mindful of what your mind can handle. Come up with a strategy that will keep your nerves at bay and help you mentally prepare for your match.