Taken from Your Competition Handgun Training Program:
Game Day Performance
General – Even though your game day (match) performance is really based on how you train, there are better ways to approach a match rather than just go shoot it. For this reason I thought I would write a short section of all of the things that are important on game day. I want you to maximize your performance so you can validate or modify your program as necessary. Think about using any match you shoot as a quiz that will help you really measure where your skills are, and how your training program is doing. Without these quizzes on a regular basis, you won’t be able to assess whether your program is working or not. Believe it or not, even when I shoot a large state level match, I think of it as a quiz for the next bigger match. This mentality allows me to reduce the pressure at that particular match to an extent, and is a technique I recommend you try. For example, if I shoot a club match, I look at it as preparation for the state match. When I shoot the state championship, I look at it as preparation for the area championship. When I shoot the area championship, I look at it as preparation for the national championship. When I shoot the national championship, I look at it as preparation for the world championship. I could go on and on, but the point is that I take the stress inducing importance of the match out of my mind, which allows me to relax and shoot better. It also equalizes all matches and I tend to treat a club match like a championship match. Most of you do better at club matches anyway, right? Why not trick your brain to think all matches are the same so that you don’t put large amounts of pressure on yourself at one particular match?
Pre-Game – What you do before the match, within about a seventy-two hour window will certainly have an effect on your performance. I will break this down into a few sections.
- Nutrition and Hydration – First of all, you will want to take the time to fuel your body right so your energy levels are up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can eat a great meal the morning of the match and be ok, because it’s too late! Your body has already processed the food in your stomach from days before and plans on using that as fuel, not what you ate for breakfast. However, that breakfast is still important though as it too will contribute to your overall energy levels and how you feel. Drinks lots of water to hydrate before the match, up to seventy-two hours before the match, especially if it is going to be hot. Please don’t underestimate the effects that dehydration will have on your performance. Stay away from alcoholic beverages the night before, and maybe even a couple days before.
- Practice and Preparation – Your practice sessions for the match should not change much. If you are shooting a local event, I want you to treat that like another training session for that week. However, for a major match, I want you to hit all of your scheduled sessions up to seventy-two hours before the match and then stop. You may shoot a bit after that, but I don’t want you to be tired or burned out the day of the match. My routine is to practice up to seventy-two hours before the match and then if I shoot after that, it is only to zero my gun, check ammunition, etc. I do however recommend that you continue to dry fire up to the match, just don’t overdo it. The great thing about dry firing versus live firing before a match is that when you dry fire you can’t miss. Live fire practice right before a match might have negative effects if you shoot bad that day. The exception might be something like Bianchi or the Steel Challenge where we normally hit the practice range right up to the hour of the match.
- The Training/Match Relationship – This is a key component in performing your best at matches, and is a simple one to use. Simply take the time to look over your training notes and make sure that you are applying the skills you have in practice to the match, as well as your limitations. The best time to use this is during your stage planning process. For example, if you are a really good shooter while moving, then you can plan more movement on stages than someone who is weak in that area. Maybe you are not challenged at all by longer shots and do quite well on them during training, and you have the opportunity to use some longer shots to save yourself significant time on a stage, then do so. Conversely, if you know you have problems with a key technique in training, and that you have not perfected it, then use that knowledge in your planning if you find that technique required at a match. Pay particular attention to that area on the stage, so you can be sure you succeed.
- Gear and Equipment Check – As far as preparation goes, do use the seventy-two hour window before a match to check, and double check gear, guns, and ammunition. Your complete break down of the gun should occur here, and you should also be drop checking (making sure each round will fit in a chamber gauge made for your caliber) your ammunition. Make sure you have a packing list prepared if you are traveling. Check and clean your magazines and all other gear
- Stage/Match Recon – If at all possible, you need to get to the match early enough to recon the layout of the match stages, as well as the stages themselves. You might think you can use published stage diagrams to plan for the stages, but this is wrong. Most are not even close to correct. The only stage diagrams that I have ever seen that could be used to plan with were ones done by Tim Egan who ran the Area 1 match for a couple years, his stage diagrams where unbelievable, and completely correct. (With multiple views!) This is a critical component that I have skipped in the past and paid the price. This is a very important part of your mental preparation and planning that will help you shoot much better. If possible (check with the match director), I recommend that you get to the match early and check in. Normally they give you a match booklet of all stages during check-in, which is a very valuable tool when you are scouting the stages. If not, bring a notebook and sketch the stages and key information. Try to get a loose plan together on how you will shoot most of the stages, and if you have a schedule, try to note what the light conditions are going to be like when you shoot. If you are shooting a USPSA match, there will normally be props involved so try to get a look at how they work and where they move. I don’t recommend you finalize your plan on your recon session, since you might change it when you are actually with your squad and you don’t want to have a plan programmed into your head that you may change. Just get a feel for where each shooting position and target is, and what they look to be in terms of distance. This will allow you to start to build a conscious memory of the stage so final planning will be much faster when you are there to shoot.
During Game – The top shooters tend to “work” a match. You might have noticed that I said “work” a match rather than “shoot” a match. This is because if you are doing what you should be doing, you are really going to be working to keep yourself prepared for the next stage and then perform on it when the time comes. Here are the important points to working a match:
- Stay consistent – The more things you do the same, the better your chances of performing well, and staying in a positive, comfortable state. This includes trying to stay consistent with your practice sessions (they should mimic how you operate at a match right?). Load the same; prepare your magazines the same, etc.
- Shooting order – Know when it will be your turn to shoot. This will allow you to go through a focus breath and success statement as well as multiple active visualizations before you shoot.
- Visualize – Do not skip this. I can’t believe how many shooters I meet that do not know how to visualize. This is really important. We discussed active visualization in the mental section. Use the technique. You should be able to face away and see yourself shoot the entire stage (at speed correctly) without opening your eyes.
- Prepare – Once you are done shooting a stage, it is not time to relax. It is time to prepare. The next stage will be on top of you before you know it. Prepare (clean and load) your magazines. Glance at your gun to ensure it is good (I have done a quick glance and noticed a rear sight pin drifting out). Re-apply grip goo (pro-grip or whatever). Look at your match booklet for notes you took on the upcoming stage about danger areas, etc. If there are props on the stage and you are close enough to see the stage, try to sneak a look at them and how they operate.
- Scout and final plan – When you get onto the next stage, wait for the briefing before you make your final plan. You might get guidance from the RO on something you did not know previously. Then go ahead and scout each position to check and see if anything has changed from your previous recon. Once done, finalize your plan and begin to visualize it, over and over. Don’t stop visualizing until you are convinced you are ready. IF you have done all of the above, and are really ready to shoot the stage, take a minute and relax!
- Stay fed and hydrated – I will keep this simple and short. I buy nutrition bar’s that have a carbohydrate/protein mix in them so I don’t get an energy spike and drop, and I take two bites at a time 2-3 times per hour. Small bites like this keeps my blood sugar stable and my energy high. I also constantly sip water and stay away from Gatorade and sugar drinks. You need to do both of these consistently during the match; they are big keys to performing well. I have and have seen other good shooters fall off the edge because they don’t follow this simple plan.
Post-Game – Ok, now its time to capture all of that key data and squeeze that brain for information that you might not remember later. Get your match log out and document the details of how it went. You should also review your video and document anything that you noticed. This might include things you performed well or need improvement on. Remember that you will use your logbook notes to modify and possibly change your future training sessions, so you will want to make sure your match logs are done right, and are thorough.
Until Then – Train Hard