It’s been a few weeks since I last posted and, as I write this, I am enjoying my first holiday in months with the rest of the Sadler clan in North Wales. I absolutely love being in Abersoch. We’ve been having family vacations here (and have even lived down here for extended periods) for my entire life so it has become something of a safe haven where we all completely unwind and relax. It also has a pretty epic shooting school which will be featuring in a future blog…
I have really been looking forward to a break and taking some time out. My work weeks are
usually very demanding and then I tend to head on out to the countryside every Friday evening. Being so busy, doing lots of driving and constantly being on the go can really take its toll, so I was excited to know that I was in for some serious down time with the most important daily decision being ‘which beach to walk the dogs on’! Before I hit holiday mode, I had two big shoots – a sim day at Six Mile Bottom in Cambridgeshire and The Fieldsports Champion of Champions Shoot at Grimsthorpe Shooting.
Six Mile Bottom sim day is a ‘must’ for anyone in the South/Midlands who wants to get their eye in ahead of the season. Guns meet at The Green Man Pub for breakfast, so I turned up nice and early ready for a top day of shooting but also catching up with some of the girls. I make sure to get a day’s shooting at Six Mile every season as I think the hospitality is excellent, the targets varied and challenging but the most impressive aspect is the stunning scenery!
With breakfast and the safety briefing wrapped up, it was time to head off to the first drive – I was so excited to put some lead in the air. All the guns were paired up, but each shooting a full drive, and I was lucky to be paired with the lovely Ali Henton from The Field magazine. It was the first time we had shot together and I really wanted to make a good impression but – and rather embarrassingly – Sod’s Law prevailed and I was absolutely rubbish. I was of course safe with every shot I attempted, but I just couldn’t get my eye in! I love a Sim day – more so than going to a clay ground – but I was not enjoying my poor efforts. At one point, we had some cracking driven targets, which are my favourite, but I was missing them! I was mortified. To make matters worse, Ali told me she wasn’t a huge fan of a driven targets but that morning was absolutely smashing them! I was actually grateful for the horn to go at the end of the first drive and I joked that I was shooting on behalf of the Clay Preservation Society…
This pattern continued for most of the morning although post-elevenses, with sugars and salts replenished, on the fourth drive my eye returned. I must have gone through a good 100 cartridges on this drive alone and loved every second of it. Unfortunately, I hadn’t put one of my ears in properly and, being in such close proximity to the other guns on the platform, I could feel my ear ringing. Excellent.
By the time we reached the final drive, I was looking forward to getting back on the driven clays. I remembered this drive from previous visits and loved the high soaring driven targets flying out from the forest. I started shooting and felt I was back on form. It was getting very hot and so I took my baseball cap off and threw it to the floor. Within seconds I’d had an almighty hit to the head, which knocked me for six, and cut my head open. Great. I know that if I had kept my hat on there may not have been such a cut but it would have offered little protection from the wallop! Thankfully it was shortly time to call it a day, which was lucky considering (and I didn’t know this at the time) the whack to the head would give me concussion…
In an age of Instagram filters, Facebook check-ins and witty Tweets, is easy to think that everyone is out there winning at life but, and this is the reason I have written this particular Blog, sometimes things do go wrong! We all have off days. You have to just draw a line, call it a day and don’t let it impact your confidence or future shooting ability. Even if you have been shooting all of your life, there will be days when you forget a piece of kit or just aren’t on form. Forget about it and move on. Some days things go wrong regardless of how well organised or experienced you are. Some days you seem to struggle getting your eye in or your favourite target has turned into your nemesis. Everything that could go wrong at Six Mile Bottom had gone wrong. I’d even forgotten to put my ears in properly – something I’m incredibly pedantic about. Shooting is a mental sport and when you have over exerted yourself whether through work demands, a long drive or too little sleep you can really notice this on your concentration. So I decided to take my own advice and to draw a line, move on and try and look forward to the weekend’s Fieldsports Champion of Champions competition.
I was nervous about turning up to Grimsthorpe, the location of the Fieldsports Champion of Champions event. This event saw the winners from each category (Beginner, intermediate and Experienced) from National Ladies Shooting Day 2016 come together to compete in order to find the Champion of Champions. I had been invited as a guest by Fieldsports Magazine and The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, having hosted National Ladies Shooting Day at Oxfordshire Shooting School back in June. The invite was also extended to the other hostesses of National Ladies’ events so, even though I still felt a bit embarrassed at my poor form the week before, and did try and back out mid-week, in the end I told myself to go and treat it like a great social event if nothing else. It’s about how you come back from those off days and how you channel the nerves that matters.
Grimsthorpe is a stunning ground with some great targets. I love a challenge and the high far looper was a personal favourite. Most of the ladies there had never shot in a competition style environment before and the nerves were visible. My first competition style shooting was at The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club’s third anniversary competition at Lady’s Wood Shooting School. I only did it because Gabs Whorwood (my shooting ‘bestie’) convinced me it was a great idea. I was so nervous in the car over there that I was toying with the idea of helping score and not shooting at all. When Gabs and I had to have a shoot off for first and second place in our category I remember being so nervous I sweated all over the stock of the shotgun we were sharing!
What I have realised is that shooting is predominantly about bringing your mental ‘A Game’. It can make such a difference to your performance if you are mentally in the zone but can stay there. I am queen for pulling myself out of the zone – sometimes I am put off by how many people are watching or, when I have shot a pair and have to repeat my performance, I’ll think to myself ‘you can do this’ – knowing full well that this will only have the reverse effect. This is something I spoke to Duncan (my coach at Lady’s Wood Shooting School) about before I shot the English Open back in May, and his advice was that the moment I think of something which pulls me out of ‘the zone’, to take a second, (safely) lower my gun and take a big deep calming breath. This physically relaxes the shoulders and neck and gives me chance to focus on something else – which is usually my dog Archie. Then raise your gun and start again.
I am not an experienced competitve shot nor am I saying that I am out winning competitions all the time, but I thought it might be useful to set out how I combat any nerves or how I stop piling on the pressure when I feel I have performed badly:
- Just try and just enjoy yourself. Easier said than done and I know we all want to do well, but competitions can be nerve wracking enough without piling the pressure on yourself to hit everything. If you have had a bad day, take your next shooting opportunity as ‘one for fun’ as a confidence builder.
- In your first competitions, have an achieveable score to aim for and be pleased if you hit it. If you have a coach or instructor you see regularly, ask them for their predictions of scores. I aim for 50% and anything above that I am delighted with.
- Don’t shy away from shooting in front of other people! It doesn’t get easier the less you do, so desensitise yourself by getting out there as much as possible. Ladies shooting is brilliant for a confidence build, but so many ladies get super nervous the moment a man is in the vicinity. Get down to your local ground and just have fun or partake in any competitions they might have so you can get use to the formality and the competition day nerves.
- Find your shooting bestie! Buddying up can keep you calm during competitions but can also help pick you up when you are having an off day. I wouldn’t have participated in any shooting competitions if it wasn’t for Gabs and when I am beating myself up about a particular stand or an off day, she is the first to remind me of my ability. We work well together and understand each others approach to shooting.
- Try and either make a note of (or jot it in your phone) of any targets you are struggling with- whether in a competition or just on your off day. Take these to your instructor and turn it into something to positive to work on. I have sent pictures of my score card to Duncan before now showing where I have dropped points or next time I’ve been at Lady’s Wood will say “I was less than 50% on stand 5. It was crossers, can we work on those?”
- Learn your coping technique. I once asked Anita North, at one of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club conferences, how did she deal with the mental pressure to perform well. I still use her advice now. She said that she has a routine when she gets onto the stand. This helps prepare her mentally and by doing the same thing each time helps get her in the zone. Competitive clay shooting is about being successfully repetitive and so this made sense. For some people its about distancing themselves from others just before they take their turn. For me, I like to adjust my glasses and hat so that I feel comfortable but have no distractions visually. I mentally switch off from any conversations going on around me. I have found that recently I have taken to blowing down my barrels after I’ve finished each pair. This started when I shot particular cartridges which struggled to fully clear after each shot, but I do this now regardless, as I find the big exhale actually calms me down and keeps me focussed.
In the end, I shot well at Grimsthorpe and had a really lovely afternoon. I was glad that I ignored my nerves and got back out there. Positive self reflection is a good tool to aid with development, so, after a week of poor shooting performance, concussion and a competition (albeit an informal one) what did I learn? No one starts off perfect but – as they say – practice makes perfect. Keep at it and don’t let one below par day or experience impact your future ability. Don’t be put off by others watching you or feeling self conscious about your ability. The truth is, everyone’s actually focussing on their own scores and how to shoot the target that you’re tackling. Learn from your mistakes, remember that we all had to start somewhere and don’t listen to the nerves.