Friday Tip-Off: Mental Game

OK, so I promised another mental game tip last week and SHOT Show managed to get in the way, so here we go.


Lanny Bassham’s “With Winning In Mind” offers wonderful insight into how to increase performance in stress situations. However, the shooting parts of the book are predominately focused on Olympic style rifle, where competitors have the opportunity to run a mental program for each individual shot fired.What I’d like to do, is explain how I apply those concepts to only being able to run a mental program for each string or stage.


I’m going to focus mostly on Steel Challenge, as a strong mental game is absolutely critical to putting up your best performance. If you have a rough stage in a good sized USPSA Match, you usually have 30-45 minutes to shake it off and get ready again. Steel Challenge on the other hand, you know immediately how your string went, and you only have a few seconds before having to put down another run. In reality, I have two separate mental programs that I run during Steel Challenge matches, one for prep/ getting ready, and then a separate program when I get in the shooter’s box.


Mental Program

Lost in thought getting ready for my run.

When I’m about 2 shooters away, I’ll start running my first mental program. Staying focused on getting ready (I also run this same type of program almost consistently in practice), I draw on the Lanny Bassham principle that a strong self-image leads to a stronger performance. So, I mostly focus on visualizing a fast, clean draw with a perfect grip, and then seeing my sights in the center of every plate with a quick snap transition to the stop plate. I finish off my thinking “That’s like me!”, thereby building my self-image of hitting every target 1-for-1. Remember, the more you think about something happening, the more likely it is to happen. I can’t tell you the number of times I accidentally let myself imagine a puff of dust in the berm behind the target and then went on to miss that very same plate on the next run. It is extremely important that you control what you visualize when you’re getting ready. Even if you are worried about the difficulty of a target or array, it’s still always better to imagine it going right, rather than bad.


Now, when I step into the shooter’s box, it’s time to forget about the steps and focus on performing. Instead of visualizing the string and thinking “That’s like me”, I’ll transition into thinking that I “need to shoot like me” which bring up the memory of going 1-for-1 on each target.

Doug Koenig is one of the best at running mental programs.

Doug Koenig is one of the best at running mental programs.

After the make ready command, I run a very specific and consistent set of checks like making sure my dot is on, my holster is unlocked and not tensioned way down, etc. I can’t tell you how important it is to do the exact same things, each time you get to the line. If you break your mental program, your chances of performing your best aren’t very good at all. After the gun is loaded and ready to go, my left hand will go into the start position first, shortly followed by my right, which came directly from having a grip on the pistol. A short nod and exhale on the “Stand By” command and I’m ready to go. I challenge everybody to come up with their own mental program that works for them and stick with it, as it’s definitely one of the fastest ways to improve match performance.


Let me know if ya’ll want more on this subject and I’ll talk about being able to run 2 programs for different segments in a stage (long USPSA stages and 3-Gun). Until next time, Train To Triumph!

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