Slumps and Inhibitions in Target Shooting

The following information comes from The Elusive Ten by William Reichenbach. The Elusive Ten is also available to purchase in print.

Every game has a bugaboo. In revolver shooting we have “slumps.”

Our sport, being what it is, namely the outward expression of one’s ability to utilize his control over his nervous system, it stands to reason that one cannot hope to be always in peak condition.

In this modern world, with its nervous tempo, an even and uneventful flow of affairs seems to be a thing of the past.

Our lives are subjected to more or less violent emotions which cause disturbances in the equilibrium of our nervous system.

Now, since good results in shooting can be had only when one’s nerve-machinery is purring smoothly, it is conceivable that results will not be as gratifying if, through an emotion or a succession of them, the even beat of the machinery is disturbed.

With persons who have a stoical temperament, the surface of the sea of equanimity is not easily rippled by a gust of emotion. On others, however, (and they comprise the majority) slight, and ofttimes unimportant emotions will have the effect of a “storm upon the waters.”

Some of us have an amazing elasticity which smooths the ripples in short order, without aftereffects. Others (and, again, they are in the majority) lack this elasticity. These latter I wish to address particularly.

You, my friends, will probably experience periods of slumps in your performances, periods which, according to your individual set-up will be of short or long duration. I want you to view these slumps without alarm. I want you to keep up your confidence because slumps pass away.

As long as you cannot avoid emotional stress (or think you cannot), the control lever to your nervous system is in weak hands and your shooting results are unsatisfactory. On the other hand, grip the control lever firmly and the slump is over.

Does this suggest something to you?

Leaving out disturbances of a purely physical order, let me say that if we cannot avoid stresses, let us at least try to acquire elasticity. Not being a pathologist, I cannot advise you very well on the subject, unless it be that I offer a sort of thumb rule:

Make it a habit to forget things of an unpleasant nature as fast as you possibly can. Don’t get on the range with a disturbed mind.

This needs training, of course. But your will to forget things which are unpleasant, is half the battle. So far, you have permitted such things to rid themselves. You may have wished for elasticity, but you have never seriously tried to will it firmly enough.

I said that slumps will pass and therefore they should not cause undue apprehension.

Once you have acquired elasticity, you not only will overcome slumps more rapidly, but you will be able to eliminate all sorts of inhibitions too.

I know fully well that in discussing things of a psychological nature I am treading on dangerous ground. Still, I take consolation from my conviction that even the most learned psychologists are sometimes at variance with each other. Although their dissertations may show a convincing clarity of logic, sometimes they are contradicted by the representatives of a different school equally convincing—and there we are.

What if I confine myself to a sort of homemade method of autosuggestion? Could the learned gentry possibly kick about that? For instance: a shooter at home in his basement range shoots “85” and better all the time. He has reached, as I call it, a level of 85. When he is requested to step up and repeat the score in public, he flunks. Here we have the same man, the same gun, ammunition, target, and conditions. What is it that prevents him from performing uniformly? It is true it is the same person, but upon the system of this person has suddenly settled the cloud of an inhibition. This inhibition whispers:

“Now you are not alone. You are being watched by other people, important people whose opinion you value. For God’s sake, don’t make a fool out of yourself now. Don’t dare to pull your shots or permit any to get out of the black. Why, that would be disastrous. Get a grip on yourself. Aim carefully. Don’t let your hand wave like that. Man, you are going to muff that target, I can see it. There goes the shot. By golly, it is a nine. How did that happen? I saw you close your eyes when the shot went off. Well, thank God, it is a nine anyway. But, be more careful with the next one. Come now, shoot nicely, everybody is watching. There, damn it, you pulled that one. There goes your 85. It’s no use trying, you’ll never make it anymore. Trust to luck then and bang away. Oh! Oh! Hell! Never mind. That gun didn’t feel right in the first place. I am sure it would have been better if you had used some of the other ammunition. What score? 72? What in h…?”

That is what your inhibition whispers in your ear. It whispers while you should be having no time to listen, while you should be paying full attention to the mechanics of shooting.

Now, suppose you listen to what I have to say—and I shall not whisper. Don’t endeavor to banish the inhibition by trying to do the opposite. Don’t kill hot with cold. Out of a positive inhibition, don’t make a negative one. Instead employ another, a different, positive habit.

To show what I mean, let me give you an example: Assume that you have had the bad habit of getting up at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings (a positive habit). Don’t foster the thought that from now on you are not going to get up at 10 a.m. again (a negative thought), but say instead: “From now on I will get up at 8 a.m.” (which worthy resolution is again something positive). Get the idea?

Applied to shooting, don’t say: “I am not going to listen to the voice of nervousness.” Say instead: “I am going to think along the following lines when I am up front:

“Well, here we are, old sock, old bean. Well, well, this does not look any different from my basement range. Why, conditions are better here. I don’t have to be afraid of scaring the household with my banging. Nice people here, good friends all. Why, I might do right well. Just look how nervous some of the other shooters are. I wonder what about? Any one has his little troubles, I suppose. Come to think of it, I had very little trouble today. Well, well, if these birds persist in being nervous, they will be playing right into my hands. But, get set, boy, oh boy. It’s your turn. Now, in the basement, the last time, I shot a 91. They expect me to shoot only 85. Maybe I can show them something. Remember: grip, squeeze, etc. Hell, I do that automatically. Here goes. Hm! Not so bad. This one, I jerked a little to the left. I saw it though. Called it 7 o’clock in the nine-ring. Let’s look. Right. Another one! Right on the nose. Life is not so bad after all, eh? Well, fellows, there’s your target. What’s the score? 86? Fine.”

A positive thought of that friendly nature is just as powerful over your nervous system as the sinister one. It does not scare you or make you tense, but it gives you the supreme deliberation which is the backbone of good shooting. I could go on proposing autosuggestive guides till I were blue in the face, but that is not necessary. As long as you have seen the general drift, you can make your own medicine—maybe better than I can. And that is all I am going to say on the subject for a while. Whew!!!

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Slumps and Inhibitions in Target Shooting

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