Using Mental Skills in Shooting Competition

By Lindsay Holtz, Guest Blogger and Performance Enhancement Specialist with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP)

Army Veteran Justin Miller, a Galion, Ohio native, pauses before taking a final shot during the 2012 Warrior Games pistol shooting competition held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 3. Miller earned a bronze medal during the final pistol competition. (U.S. Army Photo by SSG Emily Anderson, WTC)

In competitive shooting, every step of one’s routine matters. Army Veteran Justin Miller spent the last few months working on the components of competitive shooting to create a consistent and accurate routine. Miller gave up all sport aspirations due to his injuries, but then he learned about the Warrior Games.

“I hadn’t heard anything about that before. And as they were talking I was thinking about my experience in shooting, swimming, and why not cycling,” Miller said. “It provided a lot of motivation.”

Shortly thereafter, Miller found himself on his way to attend the first WTC shooting clinic. It was at this first clinic I met Miller. I am a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP).

I introduced mental skills training with these athletes from day one. The training focused on creating routines and developing a consistent shot plan, including both physical and mental strategies. According to  SFC Janet Sokolowski, one of the team’s coaches from the Army Marksmanship Unit, “shooting is 90 percent mental. Once you get the fundamentals, it all becomes mental.”

Miller took this to heart and found that deliberately crafting and writing down his routine provided him with a personal point of reference to keep him consistent. In addition, Miller consistently set daily goals which provided him with something to think about while shooting during each practice.

I also worked with Miller on imagery techniques combined with biofeedback training. By using imagery, Miller is able to conduct a match in his head, and he found during practices that his shot groups have gotten closer. Miller is also able to think through and bring in all aspects of shooting without physically holding his weapon. The mental skills Miller incorporated in shooting have allowed him to be more automatic while in the midst of shooting.

While Miller has implemented a number of mental skills into his work in shooting, he has also found them to be valuable in his everyday life.

“One day, shortly after the shooting clinic in January, I was on my way to an appointment. My anxiety was spiking, and I began to think about what we discussed at the clinic,” Miller said. “I was able to use the skill of tactical breathing and it helped calm me down and gain greater control.”

Miller said at that moment there was a “pivotal change” for him. Using mental skills helped him get to a point that he was able to get out of the barracks and enjoy doing things again.

He has shown the importance of shooting through his dedication and passion both between and during practice. For him, shooting allows him to find enjoyment in a sport with similar intensity as rock climbing for which he has a strong passion but is no longer able to participate. From the his experiences  on his journey to the Warrior Games, Miller has found a passion for recreation therapy and plans to take what he  learned and help others, like him, find a passion for something in which they may have lost hope.

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