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Ten gold strategies to achieve peak performance in important shooting competitions

Introduction

Competitive  shooters need sharp awareness, quick decision-making skills and good technique. 

There are many factors that can affect a shooter’s performance[i]. These include postural balance, breathing techniques, ammunition dimensions, technique and tactic, length and weight of the gun, and biomechanical interactions in the HumanGun System[ii] 

Of equal importance is that competitive shooters must learn to manage a high level of psychological and physical stress before and during shooting competitions.  High levels of anxiety and poor management of emotions can negatively affect shooting performance and results[iii]. This is notably so because heart loads are typically higher in competitive settings which can affect, breathing, body and hand tremors and general physiological and psychological responses. 

As a result, achieving success in training and particularly in competition can be a real struggle for shooters. 

Indeed, it is very hard for shooters to consistently achieve outstanding results during important events, especially over extended periods of time.  

To assist in managing these situations, coaches can help competitive professional shooters by offering some scientific strategies to reach and maintain peak performance[iv].

The aim of this short article is to present ten gold strategies for coaches and shooters to achieve peak performance in all competitions, from national championships to the Olympic Games.


1)    Follow a program which consists of a variety of types of training

Physical condition is of utmost important when a shooter reaches to high-performance levels. Imagine two shooters with the same technique.  The fitter is at an advantage. Because he or she has outstanding reserves, better posture, increased stability and by virtue of typically being in better health and having a more positive attitude.  

Although technical training remains the focal point of a competitive shooter’s training program, physical training should be given a considerable amount of importance.  Additional types of training which should be part of the weekly program include  psychological training and tactical training. The average number of days allocated within a week for technical training of a professional shooter is two or even three times higher than those allocated to other types of training[i].

In order to achieve outstanding results, a well-balanced training program is necessary, regardless of time pressure this may at times put on the athlete.[ii]

Needless to say,  coaches should allow their shooters proper recovery time during intensive training, be it technical or physical, to avoid injury.  Recovery and rest time are essential to a well-rounded training program.

 2)      Reinforce shooting muscles

Shooters can focus on strength training to develop muscles which contribute to shooting performance[iii].

There is  a significant relationship between shooting performance and wrist and deltoid strength in pistol shooters[iv]. Therefore, hand grip strength training programs are essential for pistol shooters as increased tension in muscles can induce gun trajectory[v].

Using electromyography can identify of wrong and weak muscles act during aimed shooting.  It can also detect tension of shooting muscles during aiming and their effects on gun movementsIX

3)      Improve balance and stability

Balance plays a primordial role in shooting disciplines[vi].  It allows a shooter to develop an ability to stabilize both the gun and the movement of the various kinetic lines of the shooter’s body. The gun’s major movements are related to the kinetics of the body and the muscular abilities of the upper trunk.  Shooters with excellent stability can minimize horizontal movements of their gun. 

The implementation of a physical training program combined with technical training allows for an  improved ability to stabilize the gun. 

Because the length of the gun or the distribution of its weight affects stability and the performance of a shooter [vii], all coaches should also ensure that their athletes are competing with the equipment best suited to their body size and strength.

 4)      Reduce body sway

Obviously, displacements of the body’s core are directly related to the gun’s movements. There is a proven relationship between body sway and performance in competitive shooters. Notably, studies have shown a direct and significant relationship between reduced body sway and optimal performance in air pistol and running target[viii].

Some studies report that heavier shooters had significantly less body sway[ix]. But others believe that weight has may affect centre of pressure movements but not performance[x].

This means coaches should be careful to consider all the variables which could affect a shooters’ performance such as their strength, coordination, etc., independently of their height or weight[xi]and pay close attention to their athlete’s ability to reduce body sway.

 5)      Improve cardiovascular system

A stronger heart, recovers more quickly and stays closer to its average rate when the shooter is under psychological and physical pressure[xii].

Shooting performance also directly influences heart rate and vice versa[xiii]. Competitive shooters are trained to consistently pull the trigger later in a cardiac cycle, compared to inexperienced shooters. The lower the heart rate, the better the chances of pulling the trigger later in the cardiac cycle, thus allowing for better perceptual and cognitive performance in shooting tasks [xiv].

In a competitive shooting setting, the time from pre-competition to the end of the competition lasts about  60-minutes. The pre-performance stage is important to regulate heart rate and emotions to mitigate the impact of various variables that may affect the athlete as the competition carries on.  Measuring a shooter’s heart rate during the pre-competition stage is as a useful sign of how much they may need manage their emotional and physiological reactions as they shoot[xv].  

Competitive shooters have a significantly lower average heart rate in the pre-performance stage than inexperienced or untrained shooters[xvi].

 6)      Improve visual-motor aspect of shooting performance

Shooting is a competitive sport in terms of shooting latency, accuracy, and stability. 

All shooters appreciate that trigger control and sight picture are important[xvii]. Competitive shooters however will concentrate more on gun stability during shooting period as opposed to inexperienced shooters focus more on visual-motor aspects of shooting [xviii]. Both are important to optimal results.

Reducing tremor by working visual-motor skills and stimulating cognitive resources can significantly improve performance. Physiological tremor is rarely visible and may be heightened by intense emotion, physical fatigue, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, lead poisoning, stimulants or fever.  Hand tremors and fine movements, though hard to be seen, play main roles in shooting results. A deviation of 0.03 degrees in targeting causes to lose a 5-cm target 10 m away. 

Some studies worked on brain stimulation protocols in shooters and resulted in positive results[xix]. It seems then that brain stimulation can also improve shooting performance. An increase of cognitive resources may help maintain and sustain attention for the time necessary to perform visual-motor skill[xx]and thus optimize performance.

7)      Training and experience

Training time and shooting experience affect shooter performance[xxi].

Studies report a  significant relationship between a shooter’s competitive performance and his or her experience and training hours[xxii].

In some studies, the training time has the most effects on the shooter performance and in others, experience proves to be more beneficial[xxiii]Mistakes and distress cause sub-optimal shooting performance, especially if a shooter lacks relevant experience and necessary coping skills that can only be developed by proper training[xxiv].

A gold strategy is to find a balance between training and trying to gain as much experience in competitive settings as possible.  In the end, nothing can recreate the stress and anxiety of a real and live competition.

 8)    Physiological monitoring

Physiological monitoring allows for a better understanding of the processes underlying shooting performance and can also provide insight on how to improve performance. 

This monitoring consists of assessing the activation and functioning level of a shooter’s body more precisely the heart rate[xxv].

Heart rate shows the shooter’s level of emotional response. It could be used as an objective sign of the physiological state of the shooter before the competition. Heart rate is an indicator of the autonomic nervous system’s ability to adjust physiological arousal to adapt to the demands of the stressful situation. Analyzing the athlete’s heart rate five minutes before competing is an accurate way to provide a quick estimation of the athlete’s state of mind and level of anxiety.

An elevated heart rate shows the ability of the autonomic nervous system to change physiological arousal to suit the demands of the stressful situation, while low level of heart rate shows poor responsiveness of the autonomic nervous system[xxvi].

Physiological patterns associated with the highest and lowest shooting results showed that superior performance was related to the ability to achieve relatively low levels of autonomic and cortical activation[xxvii]. In other words, the best competitive shooters have high self-efficacy - which means they experience less anxiety, less palpitations and less tremors during shooting competitions – and thus maintain a more stable and consistent heart rate. 

Remember, a measurement of the shooter’s pre-performance heart rate is a key reflection of the shooter’s state of mind [xxviii].

9)  Psychological monitoring

Psychological monitoring combined with classical psychological interventions (relaxation, attentional strategies, etc.) can improve shooting performance[xxix]

A shooter’s psychological health depends on balancing emotions, goals and beliefs.  A shooter’s beliefs, so long as they are positive,  lead to successful performances.  Yet, all levels of shooters experience pre-competition anxiety due to negative thoughts about their performances or performance related distractions including the condition of their rifle, their competitors, the accuracy of their target, demand for the fairness of the performances and need for achievement, etc.[xxx].

To optimize shooting performance, the coach and shooter can adopt practical strategies to improve the athlete’s psychological state. A shooter needs to learn to control his attention and focus during shooting competitions.  

The goal should be to focus on skill and execution and prevent distracting thoughts from impairing performance[xxxi].

 10)      Use of scientific devices and electronic systems 

Scientific instruments and devices and electronic systems can show patterns of gun handling and control to determine how they affect reaction time and accuracy among shooters of differing skill levels. Their results indicate that skilled shooters' experience smoother and more efficient gun movement while aiming than inexperience shooters[xxxii].

Finally, some software based electronic systems allow shooters to monitor and analyze their physical and technical training in terms of the internal parameters of effort or heart rate, respiratory rate, maximal oxygen consumption (VO² max), etc. All this information can be downloaded to a personal computer and the graphical visualization of them can be accessed[xxxiii].

Conclusion

The ideal performance of a professional shooter can be easily disrupted by stress, fatigue, injury or unexpected performance problems often found in shooting competitions [xxxiv]

The goal of this brief article was to offer a top ten list of elements that coaches should consider as instrumental, if not essential for the ongoing development and consistent improvement of a competitive shooter’s performance.

In the end, if a shooter stays fit, trains and compete regularly, works hard, utilizes all the monitoring tools available to him or her  and focuses on positive goals, he or she is bound for greater successes.


[i]Șerban C Tifrea C. Research with regards on the importance of physical preparation for the discipline 10m air rifle men, at the european level. discobolul. 2016 Oct: 69

[ii]Ibid. 4

[iii]Suppiah HT, Low CY, Choong G, Chia M. Effects of a Short Daytime Nap on Shooting and Sprint Performance in High-Level Adolescent Athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 2019 Jan 1; 14(1):76-82.

[iv]Mon D, Zakynthinaki MS, Cordente CA, Antón AJ, Rodríguez BR, Jiménez DL. Finger flexor force influences performance in senior male air pistol Olympic shooting. PloS one. 2015 Jun 29; 10(6):e0129862

[v]Svecova L, Vala D. Using Electromyography for Improving of Training of Sport Shooting. IFAC-Papers On Line. 2016 Jan 1; 49(25):541-5

[vi]Mon D, Zakynthinaki MS, Calero S. Connection between performance and body sway/morphology in juvenile Olympic shooters.

[vii]Mon D, Zakynthinaki MS, Cordente CA, Antón AJ, Rodríguez BR, Jiménez DL. Finger flexor force influences performance in senior male air pistol Olympic shooting. PloS one. 2015 Jun 29; 10(6):e0129862.

[viii]Mon D, Zakynthinaki MS, Calero S. Connection between performance and body sway/morphology in juvenile Olympic shooters.

[ix]Hue O, Simoneau M, Marcotte J, Berrigan F, Doré J, Marceau P, Marceau S, Tremblay A, Teasdale N. Body weight is a strong predictor of postural stability. Gait & posture. 2007 Jun 1; 26(1):32-8

[x]Mon D, Zakynthinaki MS, Cordente CA, Barriopedro MI, Sampedro J. Prevalidación de un test de equilibrio en tiro olímpico sin armas. International Journal of Medicine and Science of Physical Activity and Sport. 2016.

[xi]Ibid 10

[xii]Ibid v. 

[xiii]Mosley E, Laborde S, Kavanagh E. The contribution of coping-related variables and cardiac vagal activity on prone rifle shooting performance under pressure. Journal of Psychophysiology. 2018 Apr 27.

[xiv]Ibid xvi

[xv]Ortega E, Wang CJ. Pre-performance Physiological State: Heart Rate Variability as a Predictor of Shooting Performance. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback. 2018 Mar 1; 43(1):75-85

[xvi]Tommasi V, Prete G, di Fronso S, Schinaia L, Lucafò C, Tommasi L, Robazza C, Bertollo M. the Effect of trns on Performance: A Pilot Study with a Skilled Air-pistol Shooter. Biofeedback. 2015 Jun; 43(2):84-9.

[xvii]Lawson BD, Ranes BM, Thompson LB. Smooth moves: Shooting performance is related to efficiency of rifle movement. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting 2016 Sep (Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 1524-1528). Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

[xviii]Ibid xvi

[xix]Kamali AM, Nami M, Yahyavi SS, Saadi ZK, Mohammadi A. Transcranial direct current stimulation to assist experienced pistol shooters in gaining even-better performance scores. The Cerebellum. 2019 Feb 1; 18(1):119-27.

[xx]Ibid. xvi

[xxi]Ibid. ii

[xxii]Ibid. viii

[xxiii]Ibid. ii

[xxiv]Di Frons S, Robazza C, Edson Filho LB, Comani S, Bertollo M. Neural markers of performance states in an Olympic Athlete: an EEG case study in air-pistol shooting. Journal of sports science & medicine. 2016 Jun; 15(2):214.

[xxv]Ibid. iv

[xxvi]Ibid xviii

[xxvii]Bird EI. Psychophysiological processes during rifle shooting. International Journal of Sport Psychology. 1987.

[xxviii]Ibid xviii

[xxix]Ibid. iv

[xxx]Ibid. iii

[xxxi]Ibid. xviii

[xxxii]Ibid. xxii

[xxxiii]) Serban C, Tifrea C. The importance of using Suunto electronic system for monitoring training, in preparation of sportsmen practicing shooting, sample air rifle 10m men. In the International Scientific Conference eLearning and Software for Education 2017 (Vol. 3, p. 200). “Carol I" National Defence University

[xxxiv]Ibid xxix



[i]Mon D, Díaz A. Which one has more influence in female air pistol performance: experience or training. In Proceedings of Math Sport International 2017 Conference 2017 (p. 290).

[ii]Mullai S, Arumugam N, Pandian JD. Prevalence of irrational belief among elite shooters: A cross-sectional feasibility survey. Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018 Jan 1; 18(1):10.

[iii]Brisinda D, Sorbo AR, Fenici R. P2530Heart rate variability and psychophysiological evaluation of competitive athletes engaged in dynamic pistol shooting tournaments. European Heart Journal. 2017 Aug 1; 38(suppl-1).

[iv]Fronso SD, Robazza C, Bortoli L, Bertollo M. Performance optimization in sport: a psychophysiological approach. Motriz: Revista de Educação Física. 2017; 23(4).

Dr. Neda Nozari, Member of ISSF-Medical Committee