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Seven Mental Skills of Champion Shooters: Motivation Part 1

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

Importance of Decision Making in Shooting
Sport is a game of decisions - all throughout a match a person is making decisions which affect the outcome of the game. Some of these decisions are made consciously; for example :
Do I serve the ball to his backhand or forehand?;
Do I pass the ball or shoot for a goal myself?;
Do I go for a winner or play it safe?

However, many of the most important and significant decisions are not made consciously at all, and many sportspeople are totally unaware of the pre-programmed patterns of decision making that are limiting their performance.

In this article I take a look at some of the conscious and unconscious decisions that affect shooters, and make some suggestions for improving both conscious and unconscious decision making to improve YOUR performance.

Three Important Decisions
Firstly, it's crucial to understand that both as shooters, and as ordinary human beings, we all are making decisions about three things which affect us enormously : decisions about focus; decisions about what things mean; and decisions about what to do right now.

At every instant you're making a decision about what to focus your attention upon, then once your attention is focused on a particular event or set of circumstances the next decision you make is "What does this mean? Is it good, bad or unimportant either way?" This is then followed by the decision about "What do I do now?".

Let's consider an example. The first decision, "What do I focus on?", most people readily understand and appreciate it's importance on the surface.

At each moment, what you decide to pay attention to, and what you decide to focus your thinking on, affects how you feel, and what you do. A person who is focused on the target and their own successful shooting routine and rhythm is obviously going to perform more consistently than another performer thinking about someone watching them from the audience, or who's mind is on their hot date after the shoot!

The best players in any sport have learned how to manage this crucial triple decision making process to get the best out of themselves.

However let's probe a little deeper into this process. Consider an example from the game of golf. You tee up your ball on the first hole, (a par 5), and hit a glorious drive straight down the middle of the fairway - the best drive you've done for ages! Feeling good, you walk down to the ball and take out your 3 wood, again striking the ball sweetly and watch with pleasure as it comes to rest just an easy pitch from the green! You walk up confidently, take out your wedge, and with a smooth flowing swing, connect solidly with the ball, and watch in bliss as it sails in a perfect arc directly for the pin.

Suddenly, a freak gust of wind drifts your ball into the steep right hand side bunker!

Now ...... what you decide to focus your attention on at that moment determines how you feel and how you perform!

What do many people choose to focus on in such an instance? The misfortune of going into the bunker, perhaps thinking things like: "There goes my birdie chance now"; or "I hate that bunker; I never play it well. Last time I was in that bunker, it took me three shots to get out, and I ended up with a triple bogey"; or "I always manage to mess up a good drive"; or even "There goes my round today"!

Or perhaps their attention gets captured by thoughts of "I should have ........ I should have aimed further to the left", or "I should have used a different club" ..... etc. etc.

In order to do better at something, it's useful to ask the question, "What do the top people focus on at any point in time, and in particular circumstances?". In this instance, invariably champion golfers focus on their strongly desired goal, and committed standard of performance. They choose to focus their attention on the excellent drives they just did, and on previous good bunker shots, and imagine successfully getting up and down in two, to still make birdie, rather than dwelling on the misfortune of landing in the bunker.

Relate this to your own shooting - what decisions do you make in similar situations? How might you direct your decisions about focus that would lead to more consistent performance?

Your Consistent Focus is What is Important
I like to suggest that we human beings are a lot like guided missiles - we move toward whatever we regularly and consistently focus on and picture in our imagination and thoughts, with feeling.

It's not what you think about occasionally that's important, but what you're consistently and regularly focusing your attention upon that influences your life, and performance.

Think for a minute about when you were a younger person - didn't you imagine yourself there as you watched your heroes at the Olympics on TV, and think to yourself, "I want to perform like that!" Likewise, we first imagine ourselves into every new job, relationship, activity and performance, before we do it in reality.

So realise that your decisions about what you focus your attention upon are directing your life. Ask your self, right now, "What have I been thinking about most today, and this week? What has my focus been upon? What have I spent most of my time thinking about?"

It's interesting to note that for many people, their focus is often on what other people are doing : the latest office gossip; which celebrities have been sleeping with whom; the racing form; or details of the recent performances of their favourite sports stars.

Champions tend to be much more concerned with themselves and their life to focus for too long on other people.
Every thought has one of only two consequences - it either moves you closer to your dreams, or it takes you further away. There are no other choices, and no 'idle' thoughts! What you decide to focus upon and think about moves you in that direction.

However, many people allow their focus to be distracted and controlled by other people and events, rather than being directed by their own dreams and desires.

For many people, life is like a river, and they're just floating along with the current - current fashions and fads, current events and current problems. The trouble is that sometimes that current can smash you into the rocks or over the waterfall - so it's a good idea to have a direction in mind for where you want to go, and regularly and consistently focus your thinking on that.

Directing Your Focus
What this means in practice is to develop the discipline to consistently focus your attention and thinking on what you want.

For many people, thoughts are things that happen to them - I hear it all the time! "I can't help it; I always do it" they say, as if someone else was actually putting the thoughts in their head! That's garbage!

No-one is in charge of your thinking but you; no-one but you directs your thoughts, so quit whinging and bitching or making excuses - and learn to discipline your mind!

All mental training MUST begin with the discipline of training your focus, and realising that YOU control and direct your thoughts. Thinking positively doesn't always guarantee success, but when has thinking negatively ever done you any good?

In the next issue I will discuss the other two, less conscious, decision making processes that influence your confidence, self belief and performance consistency.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

The secret to motivation is the way you communicate - with yourself, and others. Communicate in a particular way and all you'll get is resistance and apathy; change your communication style and you will get enthusiasm and positive action - from yourself and in those you coach!

This is the third article in a series of articles on mental training for improved shooting performance.

Previously I have mentioned that there are seven essential mental skills for shooting success :

  • Positive Self Motivation
  • Powerful Goal Achievement Strategies
  • Emotional State Mastery
  • Positive Mental Attitude
  • Strong Concentration & Focusing Abilities
  • Positive Self Image & Unshakeable Self Confidence
  • Precision Visualisation Skills

Importantly, I believe each of these mental skills are learnable and teachable.

In the past, qualities and attributes such as tough-mindedness, confidence, relaxed concentration, emotional control, and self belief were thought to be 'innate' ..... a shooter either 'had it' or they didn't, and as a consequence coaches have spent most of their attention training technical shooting skills and more recently physical fitness.

However all the skills of the sports MIND can be learned and improved with some simple mental training techniques.

I introduced the first of these mental training techniques in the previous two issues when I spoke about Visualisation.

I said that Visualisation is the most important mental skill for shooters, and that to direct your shooting performance effectively you want to use clear visual images with feeling, not words, and that visualisation works because it has a measurable, physiological effect on our body.

I also noted the importance of getting into the right mental state to visualise, outlined six specific applications for visualisation for shooters, and gave some simple tips for getting the best out of your visualisation sessions.

In this issue I want to talk about the important topic of motivation.

WHAT IS MOTIVATION?
What is motivation, and where does it come from? How do we 'get motivated', and how can we motivate others in an effective manner? How come some people always seem to have so much motivation and energy, while others struggle with apathy and lack of direction?

Put simply, motivation is an energy - an energy to do, to accomplish. In order to understand this energy a little better, take a few moments now to think of a specific time when you were really motivated - a time when you felt that energy to do, strongly. Take the time to remember where you were, what you were thinking, and how you motivated yourself.

How did you communicate with yourself in order to get motivated?

You will no doubt have found that you used one of two simple motivation strategies - either a positive motivation strategy, or a negative motivation strategy. Now in this context 'negative' doesn't necessarily mean 'bad', and positive doesn't necessarily mean 'good'.

I define negative motivation as a form of motivation that moves you away from a negative happening or experience - moving you away from something you don't want to happen. The essential motivating part of negative motivation is the thought of something 'bad' happening.

Negative motivation often comes from an external source with the threat of some kind of punishment if you don't do something. For example, your parents telling you you have to clean up your room, or mow the lawn, or you won't be allowed to go out on Saturday night. Or your teacher saying you must have the assignment handed in by Monday morning, otherwise you'll get detention. Or your coach shouting that you should concentrate harder or you'll never make the team. And so you motivate yourself to do whatever it is, because you don't want those negative consequences to happen

Of course, you can also motivate yourself in this negative way - for example, leaving early for work because you don't want to be late; doing your homework assignments because you don't want to fail; watching the foods you eat because you don't want to get fat; preparing carefully for a shoot because you don't want to lose; and so on.

POSITIVE MOTIVATION
In contrast, positive motivation is a form of motivation which moves you toward a positive happening or experience, moving you toward something you do want to happen, and the essential motivating part of positive motivation is the thought of this 'good' experience or result happening.

Some examples of positive motivation are someone working out at the gym four times a week because they like the way they look and feel when they work out regularly; or working to a study timetable because you want a good grade; or putting in 100% effort in training because you want to do ell in the shoot on the weekend.

It's useful to recognise that while both negative and positive motivation can have important roles in motivating us to avoid personal danger, get out of bed in the morning, earn a living, keep healthy and fit, achieve recognition in our sport, and so on, there is a significant difference in the consequences of using each type of motivation in your life.

Negative motivation can result in excessive anxiety and tension, while positive motivation tends to positively energise and arouse you. Negative motivation causes you to think about what you don't want, while positive motivation gets you focused on what you do want.

Having a positive focus, particularly as a shooter is just so important - because we move toward what we think about. I like to say that human beings are like guided missiles, and the guidance system of us is the thoughts we think. Think about not wanting to shoot an '8', and that's often where your shot ends up! Think about not wanting to get nervous and mess up the important speech, and that's often just what you do! Think about not being late for that important meeting, and often everything seems to conspire to make you late!

We move toward what we think about, so it's important to imagine and picture what we want rather than what we don't want. It's been identified that the top performers in any sport are invariably more positively motivated than negatively motivated - what motivates them are strong desires for their dreams and goals, and this is one reason why having goals is so important. [More on this in the next issue]

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE?
One way to identify your current motivation strategy is to simply pay attention to the words and images you use when you're motivating yourself, or others. What words do you use when you want to motivate yourself, or someone else, to do something? How do you communicate with yourself and others to achieve motivation?

If you're saying to yourself things like, "I have to go to training today"; or "I've got to improve my fitness"; or "I must concentrate harder"; or "I ought to practice more"; then you're using a negative motivation strategy, and you're not managing yourself as effectively as you could.

Remember, positive motivation grows out of desire and wanting - not from should's, have to's, ought's, and must's. I believe the more you can choose to live your life and do every task from a "I'm doing it because I choose to and want to" way of thinking and talking to yourself, the better your life works, and the more successful you are in the long run.

Working in this way with yourself, you manage yourself better and you don't get 'resistance' from yourself because you feel forced to do something against your will. Remember how you felt when your parents said you had to help with the dishes, or had to mow the lawn, or had to do some other chore, when you wanted to watch television or play with your friends? You felt pushed and of course you resisted, and as a result your heart wasn't in it when you did the chore, was it?

The same thing happens if you communicate to yourself in that way - if you use "have to's", "ought to's", "should's" and "must's", then you'll find yourself unconsciously resisting yourself, even if it's a task that's worthwhile, for a cherished goal you want to achieve.

The thing to realise and understand is that often in sport the only thing that keeps a competitor going is their heart - and if your heart isn't in something, you'll eventually give up. Communicating with yourself using negative motivation language is a sure way to lose heart, and you're too good for that.

So from now on, every time you hear yourself say "should", or "ought to", or "must" or "have to" about any task that you're undertaking ..... stop, and deliberately change your language to 'want to". You want to "want to"! Rather than should, ought to, have to and must, use words like want to, like to, desire to, love to. You want to do this to enhance your motivation!

Of course, if you're a coach, or teacher, wanting to build motivation in others, then this information is doubly important, isn't it? Listen to how you've been talking to your staff, players, students or clients lately. Have you been building "want to's" based on strongly desired goals and dreams, or have you been telling them they "should" train harder, or "have to" concentrate more, or "must" be more determined to win?

SIX TASKS
I encourage you to try it right this instant. Right now, think of six tasks that are on your agenda to do this week. They might be work tasks, an assignment due for some course you're doing, home chores, or training for your sport - it doesn't matter.

As you think of each task, rather than say to yourself, "I have to do such-and-such", think instead: "I want to get that report to my boss by Friday morning"; or " I want to go to the gym three times this week"; or "I want to practice my shooting for a couple of hours three afternoons this week"; or I want to get the washing and ironing done tomorrow". I now use this process for everything I choose to do - including wanting to put in my tax return on time!

Did you notice the difference in the way you felt about the tasks when you changed the language you used? You would have felt more relaxed and at ease about doing the tasks, and felt more 'motivated' to do them.

MOTIVATING OTHERS
I recently read that because so many people are so used to motivating themselves negatively, in order to be most effective in motivating others, first state what you DON'T want, and then state what you DO want - in the same sentence.

What is important is the sequence in which the negative and positive aspects of the directions are given. For instance, if I were giving instruction to a football or basketball team about improving on their defence, notice how the order of what I say influences your response. Which of these two statements is more appealing to you? :

"This time, let's start aggressively and maintain concentration throughout the entire match. No missed tackles, fumbles, or sloppy passing."

OR

"This time, no missed tackles, fumbles, or sloppy passing. Let's start aggressively and maintain concentration throughout the entire match."

Most people find the second statement more useful, because you are made aware of what to avoid, and then given a positive direction or goal at the end - which is what remains most clearly in your mind.

Of course, in my opinion, an even better alternative would be a pure positive motivation statement such as :

"This time, make every tackle, hold on to the ball, and pass accurately. Let's start aggressively and maintain concentration throughout the entire match."

Why accede to others' negativity at all? Let's teach them how to be positive!

In the next issue I will discuss how to establish a compelling, positive vision for your success using the power of commitment.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

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