After my last match, I took about a week and a half off from actually shooting the rifle with the SCATT. Instead, I focused solely on the mental training aspects in Basham's "With Winning in Mind" program. This consisted of reading my Directive Affirmation often, and visualizing shots. A couple days ago I picked up the rifle again.
Before I even began shooting, I noticed two things. One, despite over a week off, the rifle did not feel the least bit foreign to me...I still felt sharp. Visualization is indeed a means to maintain physical skills to some extent. I also felt my Directive Affirmation kicking in, i.e. part of me really does start to expect 96%+ scores, but I cannot say that has reached 100% just yet.
Shooting-wise on day 1, I shot 3 sets of 10, each with an average score of 93%. That is a very good average considering the time off. Usually with time off, my first day of training is pretty rough, as in sub-90%, but the next day I'm much better. So I was shooting 4 10s on average, with 8s creeping in. I have to admit that I sometimes forgot to run a Mental Program on each shot, and when I did, the chances of a 10 were lessened. I also struggled with one of the concepts of Basham's Mental Program, a stage called "Intention" or "Aggression". After visualizing a 10, then the steps to get a 10, the next step is to adopt a mentality of "Intention" or "Aggression". I understand this intellectually, as over-holding is a common problem for shooters, as is "chicken-finger" and other mental barriers that keep a shooter from dropping the hammer on an otherwise acceptable sight picture. But I come from a background of contact sports (ice hockey, jui jitsu) so "Aggression" means something different than what I think Basham is getting at. Truth be told, when I heard him talk about it, I did not completely understand the idea.
Well as luck would have it, one of my readers pointed me to another book on Mental Training, called "Peak Performance" by Charles Garfield. I have only read the first few chapters, but one of the early chapters talks about an athlete's "volition", as in the emotions he or she experiences when intentionally achieving a peak performance. The athletes describe the emotion at that time as one of being in complete control, of absolute confidence. So it occurs to me that this is what Basham means by "Intention" or "Aggression", not necessarily as something physically active, but instead an emotional state of absolute confidence and control over the situation. I think a good term for it might be "swagger." And yes, when I remember the feeling of shooting an X on demand in the past, it is something like that. What Garfield and Basham are saying, I think, is that it's not about feeling that way after you randomly shoot an X. Make yourself feel that way before you shoot the X, and the X is likely to follow. And this makes sense, as the supremely confident athlete expects a certain result, he/she does not have to fight for it mentally.
So the next day of shooting, I did just that. I ran the Mental Program, but this time during the "Intention" phase, I would tell myself things like, "I am in control of this rifle...it may move but I am controlling it", and "I have absolute confidence that my trigger will fire when it needs to," and "my trigger breaks are always clean" If I had any emotional sense of doubt creeping in, I would put the rifle down and start over. The result was a 10 shot string of 98% (eight 10s), with excellent releases on every shot. I had some shots where the hold was unsteady, but my trigger release was quick when a 10 sight picture appeared. I had some shots where the hold was steady, and the release was slightly more deliberate but a clean surprise break. It was shooting that just felt great, both from a technical standpoint, but also from an emotional standpoint. It seemed easy and effortless.
I'm especially happy with what happened on the last shot. Obviously I could not ignore that I was shooting well. The number 96 was sort of in the back of my mind, and of course an 8 on the last shot would give me a 96, but a 10 would give me a 98. So I took some deep breaths and cleared my mind, and imagined that I had already shot the 10, and now a whole new match was starting and I have no score and am on my first shot. I focused on fixing that feeling in my mind. And bam, shot a 10. Having done that, I am beginning to feel more confident that noticing I'm shooting well is not going to sabotage my scores as much.
Well the moral of the story is some things are beginning to click, and it's important I think in Mental Training to synthesize more than one program, because sometimes the way one author explains something might be misinterpreted, even though he is intending to say the same thing that reader understands correctly as put by another author. And I have to emphasize, I don't think any of this is making me technically better. For months or maybe even a year now I've seen on the SCATT that I have pretty darn close to a 10 ring off-hand hold. But that's taken years of physical practice to achieve. What's happening is more of a feeling that clouds are being lifted that were keeping me from capitalizing on making the most of those technical abilities.