by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Someone asked for a listing of 10-meter pistols similar to the one I did for 10-meter rifles. I’ll get to that, but today I want to finish the training session. I mentioned last time that I would tell you how to go from a 550 average to world-class, even though I’ve never done it. Well, knowing “how” and “doing” are two different things.

In the words of Jedi master, Yoda, “There is no try. There is only do or do not.” That’s the secret of the Olympics or Carnegie Hall or any other pinnacle of excellence. It probably sounds like I’m saying, “Hang in there and one day you’ll come out on top,” but I’m not. That’s the slogan of the loser. If you “hang in there,” you’ll be certain to hold down the bottom of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

See the win
What I am talking about comes up in all the books on becoming a top shooter. It also comes up in all the writings of anyone who has made it to the top of any field. You must be able to visualize the win before it happens. That’s what I meant when I said this session was going to sound new-age. It isn’t at all, but until you understand what it is, that’s the impression most people have.

The master’s routine exposed for everyone
Before a performance or contest, every top master has a routine they go through to get ready to perform. This routine was portrayed on the silver screen in two different movies about sports that I’m aware of. The first was Kevin Costner acting as a baseball pitcher in the 1999 film, For Love of the Game. He has a routine in which he says to himself, “Clear the mechanism.” When he says it, all outside sounds fade away. You get the impression that he is aware of his surroundings only to the extent that he has to be to pitch the ball. After watching the movie several times I got the impression that he may have had hypnosis and this key phrase was his way of auto-hypnotizing himself to concentrate and focus on what he had to do to win.

The other film that illustrates visualization is The Greatest Game Ever Played, based on the true story of U.S. Amateur golfer Francis Oiumet playing in the U.S. Open against the greatest golfer who lived up to that time, British Open champion Harry Vardon. Interestingly, it is Vardon and not the principal character who demonstrates visualization. In this instance, both extraneous sights as well as sounds vanish, and the viewer is left with the impression that Vardon could see only the cup, with nothing between him and it but grassy space.

The winner’s circle is in your head
Both films are wrong, of course, but they have to be, because both attempt to take an average person – a viewer in the audience – into the mind of a champion. That’s a place few people would recognize. I have been there for brief visits, but I never found the key to a more permanent residence. But those short visits taught me that the place is real, and it’s where you have to go if you want to win.

Watch a winner!
The summer Olympics are coming up soon. You may be able to see from the outside what I’m talking about. I’ve seen clips of downhill skiers and high jumpers (especially high jumpers!) just before they started their run and they look like they’ve lost their minds. In fact, they’re entirely focused inside their minds at these moments, mentally running the course and visualizing a perfect run or jump. If you were to ask them a question during this routine, they would not hear you – not the champions, at least. You can see them with their eyes closed and their heads bobbing up and down as the tape runs in their mind. Over and over they run the tape, seeing every step or move along the way, until any other type of performance is foreign and unrecognizable.

A 10-meter air pistol champion has to focus like that before every shot in a match. They have to visualize the ten before the trigger breaks. I have talked about this before – that once you get to a certain level of excellence, the trigger starts breaking without your conscious effort. You don’t have to pull it, because your finger does it before you can think to tell it to. This is where thousands of hours of dry-fire practice come to bear on the subject. Your body is so used to the pistol that your finger knows to hold the shot until your eye sees the perfect sight picture. You cannot force this – it has to start happening on its own, and the catalyst that makes it happen is practice. Like I said, I have seen this level of concentration, but I have not devoted what it takes to make it my permanent shooting style.

Now if all this means to you is that a positive attitude is necessary to be a winner, you’re missing the whole point. Attitude is meaningless, or rather, this goes way beyond attitude and intrudes forcefully into behavior. What you are doing is creating a mental image of the universe in which you intend living. The win is in that universe.

At this level of performance, a trigger with 5 grams of creep before the letoff feels like ten miles of bumpy road. A gun that flips up a half-inch at the muzzle feels like a .44 Magnum. The recoil of a 7.5-grain pellet feels like a bucking bronco. This is also where you learn to slow your heartbeat so the shot can occur between the bumps. It’s not an easy place to find but the rewards make the journey worthwhile to those we call champions.