For the last 2.5 years I have travelled with my now husband on the competitive circuit. I have watched Will and other friends shoot and loved seeing all the courses and all the targets. I have shot very little on “courses” over the last 6 years as I have been so busy with other life things but I have shot birds and lots of clays at private locations, and with the GRITS. Certainly not enough to practice up my up my own personal game. I spent almost 20 months working to shoot left handed and went back to my right side (a whole other article in itself) further confusing myself. And then I did something really out of character in September. I got conned into shooting my first ever FITASC event at the Southeast Regionals no less. I was so nervous I thought I would puke or pass out, whichever came first. To my great shock, neither happened and I actually had fun!
So then I did something really crazy. I got talked into shooting the Nationals by a good friend, Linda Henson and I thought, what the heck? I have nothing to lose…’cept my butt apparently, which I did! Good grief, I was so nervous I totally blew my first four stations on each course of the Main Event. I when I say blew it, I sincerely blew it. Down about 23 targets each time, I then shot like I could care less and did much better. There was still no road to recovery after the abysmal start on each course of the Main and that was that. Since I had completely botched the main event I decided to shoot the Krieghoff Cup for fun because I had already proved how bad I could shoot. After a slow start on the first couple of stations, I rallied, just enjoyed it and pulled out a respectable score for someone who had so much ground to make up (and egg to wipe off face)!
What did I learn? That this competitive stuff is all about mental performance and practice. My hat is off to all those who get out there and compete on a regular basis because though they make it look easy, it “ain’t”! I have never downplayed that at all, I just realize it a little more! All I have ever done is go out there, laugh, giggle and not focus too much in the box. My passion is wing shooting and if you miss a bird it really doesn’t count, because another will come. Naturally I hit a lot more because I am not shooting “not to miss”. In other words, I am not trying to make it perfect. I am looking at the bird and the rest just happens. I am not checking the bird barrel relationship, not thinking of the line, not thinking about a big fat doughnut on my score card, I am just shooting.
I found in the Main Event is I was so nervous about performing because I was an instructor, thinking everyone will think I should be able to hit everything, and as it went, I ultimately employed nothing, nada, zero about what I teach! Sounds weird, right? Not so much. It has been a wonderful learning curve for me in managing the mental game and stressing my own pre-shot planning. I talk about it almost every single day and never have I thought about it more than when teaching but I thought about it very little while shooting myself! I thought a lot about nothing but screwing up and I did….I measured a lot, and focused very little on the target or better said, the little stuff on the target. It gave me an excellent perspective on what goes through other shooters minds and has allowed me to be able to better help my students and manage performance anxiety. This happens to all shooters, competitive clay shooters, competitive bird shooters and just those of us who enjoy shooting for nothing but fun. Some folks were born to compete, others not so much. Some of us have to work much harder at it than others.
What do I want to do now? I want to shoot with my husband and friends at these shoots, just trying to remain focused on what is in front of me vs. the “background” noise in my own mind and not worry so about who is judging my teaching ability compared to my posted scores at shoots. I have spent years developing my teaching style and am as passionate about that and my students as anyone out there. Now comes the time for me to enjoy just shooting courses and COMPETITIONS and not worry so much about proving anything except how much I enjoy the game.
Elizabeth Lanier Fennell