I Can’t – Yet!

Ashley Sport Pistol

How often do we hear an athlete say “I can’t!” when presented with a new challenge? How often do we say that about ourselves? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we think we cannot, we are correct. If we think we can, or are open to the possibility, we just might surprise ourselves!

The athlete depicted above is competing in the USA Shooting National Championships in the 25 meter pistol (sport pistol) event. At that point, she had been shooting target pistols less than one year, and her competition experience up to this competition was only about six air pistol competitions and only one previous sport pistol competition.

Could she win the event this year? Not likely.

Could she get through a training day and two competition days without being disqualified for too many frame hits? Good question.

That was one of her pre-match concerns. Instead of saying “I can’t!” she opened her mind to the possibility that she would be able to focus on each shot, make it as good as she could, and get through the three days in good shape.

And she did.

Can she win the event next time? Not likely.

Should she give up on ever being able to win the event, or should she get busy? Many athletes have lofty goals. Instead of saying “I can’t!” they say “I can’t – Yet”! and get to work. Then things happen!

“I Can’t” is giving up on yourself.
“I Can’t – Yet” is encouraging yourself.

Feel Center!

 

I’ve Got It!

Preparation 1 - Matt Emmons - USA Shooting Winter Airgun 2004 - Photo copyright 2004 Dr. Dan Durben

Preparation 1 – Matt Emmons – USA Shooting Winter Airgun 2004 – Photo copyright 2004 Dr. Dan Durben

Preparation 2 - Jason Parker - USA Shooting Winter Air Gun 2004 - Photo copyright 2004 Dr. Dan Durben

Preparation 2 – Jason Parker – USA Shooting Winter Air Gun 2004 – Photo copyright 2004 Dr. Dan Durben

Often, an athlete will work at something and then, upon finally accomplishing the first successful attempt, say to themselves or others “I’ve got it!”

Have you ever struggled a bit and then started to get a string of good shots? When that happened, did you say to yourself “I’ve got it!” only to then lose it?

When our ego takes control, we lose control. When our ego tells us “I’ve got it!” then we subtly let up and lose that fine edge that was giving us the good shot process performance and then the good result. Any time you catch yourself saying “I’ve got it!” you need to immediately stop and regroup.

Every shot is new and the athlete must start over from scratch to achieve a great performance.

The very best athletes in the world do not believe “I’ve got it!” Instead, they have confidence in their training and routines, and believe they have trained themselves so well that they can perform consistently at a very high level, but only if they continue to put in hard work, both in training and in the competition – and on each individual shot process performance. You don’t believe that? Let’s take a look at a couple of photographs kindly given to me years ago by Dr. Dan Durben and find out why he took and shared those photographs.

Take a look at the first picture. What do you see? Who is the athlete and what is he doing? Matt Emmons is sitting quietly in the middle of the range. Notice that all the others are running around setting up or looking for their equipment. Matt is sitting quietly and preparing himself.

Take a look at the second picture. What do you see? Who is the athlete and what is he doing?  Jason Parker is starting to set up his position, balance, natural point of aim, and is settling in with holding and dry firing… before the preparation period has even begun. All the others are still getting their gear organized. After all “Prep hasn’t started yet.”

Are all those other athletes so much better that they can just jump right in? If Matt and Jason are so good, why are they working harder than anyone else and acting like they don’t have it all figured out? After all, aren’t they two of the best?

Let’s spin that around: Because these two athletes know that no athlete ever has it all figured out, and because they know that each shot is all new from the beginning, they work harder and longer than most others. That includes more and proper preparation.

Is it any coincidence that just 4 months earlier, out of all the athletes striving to fill the spots, Matt and Jason were the two members of the US Olympic Team for the men’s air rifle event? Probably not.

“Feel Center!”

Give up? — NEVER!!!

Jodie Briggs  sport pistolDSCF0390 s

Don’t let their petite stature, good looks, or blond hair fool you. These two ladies are forces to be reckoned with! Both are smart, sweet, hard working, accomplished, national champions, and… tough as nails. They will gladly exchange a friendly greeting with you before the match, and chat with you after the match, but during the match you had better bring your “A” game, because they are out to win. Period.

Despite their vast dissimilarities, and their very different journeys, these two amazing young women have a great number of things in common. As but one tiny example, they have worked hard – very hard – and  they have faced great adversity, both on and off the firing line, and succeeded.

One of the most important similarities they share is that, despite the incredible obstacles placed in their paths, both found ways to work past the obstacles, thrive, and win. Either one of them could have given up and folks would have understood. Not these two. Despite the pain, heartbreak, and frustrations they faced, neither was willing to allow herself to be diverted from her goals. Neither was willing to give in to the temptation to “ease the pain” and just walk away and give up. They never gave up on themselves and they never gave up on their dreams and goals.

Their mode of operation is very simple: NEVER GIVE UP!

“Come on, JP, get real. Stuff happens.” It most certainly does. That is no excuse to give up on yourself. Just ask these two young women.

One of these two athletes suffered a devastating loss of points early in the first match of a two day match – in her very first trip to the US Olympic Training Center. This was for the National Junior Olympic Championship. She could have given up. Many would have. Instead, she remained calm (we saw a lot of tears that morning, but not from her), trusted herself and her training in order to sort out the issues, and made the proper analysis and corrections all by herself. She shot so well for the rest of that match and all the next day that she made the final and finished 6th (and winning a shoot-off) in air pistol.

As an aside, although I was right there on the range, she knew what to do (being well trained and a hard worker) and knew that I trusted her completely and so she handled it perfectly all by herself. She knew I was there and would have come off the line to speak with me if she felt it was needed, and knew that I had every confidence in her. I cannot expect an athlete to trust herself if she doesn’t feel that I also trust her.

Just 72 hours before, upon entering the shooting center for the very first time in her life and watching the women’s smallbore final, she was so nervous she wanted to just run and get sick. But she didn’t run and instead she faced her fears head on, stuck with the plan, and executed.

The morning of the first match, she was so nervous that she backed up against my shoulder, sort of like a baby bird being sheltered under her parent’s wing, and I could literally feel her shoulder vibrating from the nerves. But she had coined a phrase “Somebody just say ‘Start!'” which reminded her that once the match started, she quickly went to work, calmed herself, and she thrived under pressure.

This story is  just one of the smaller (yes, smaller!) obstacles she faced in her shooting career. She would go on to make the final in both guns at subsequent JO competitions, be a collegiate All-American, and collegiate women’s air pistol national champion.

This same athlete helped me write article #35 “Intangibles” in my “On The Firing Line” series, since she is the student who participated in the conversation we had with the professional sports executive in that article. After the conversation was over, she said to me, “JP, he was talking about all the same things you always talk about!” It should be no surprise that, like the sought after pro athletes, she, too, possesses all of the so-called intangibles discussed in the article.

She and I are pictured above, the day before her first JO competitions.

Imagine being on top of your game, including being collegiate national champion in women’s air pistol (as a true freshman) and being on a junior World Championships team.

Then imagine having your game destroyed over the course of a year and ultimately performing very poorly at a major competition. Think about that for a moment. Feel it. Imagine the hurt and pain. Ready to quit?

The other athlete discussed in this blog entry is not a quitter either. She provides what may be one of the ultimate never-give-up stories in our sport.

The evening after that devastating performance, she called me. (We had worked closely together all through her high school years and first year of college, so we knew each other quite well.) Would I work with her again? Of course I would. What did she want? Perform well at the upcoming USA Shooting Nationals (USASNC). Because she focused on academics first, by plan and prior agreement, we only had about two months between the end of her semester and the competition. No hurry!

We spent those two months rebuilding her game – specifically, rebuilding her confidence in and belief in herself. She is among the very small group of “hardest working athletes” I have known and focused on her goal. (I knew the sharp pain of that last competition was inside her, but she never let it affect her work.)

Knowing that I could not be there for her competition, and seeing how well she was shooting, we sat down at the end of our last session and had a talk about what might happen and how she could approach it in her mind. During that conversation I scared her so badly – twice – that I could see her visibly react. Funny thing is, that talk was exactly the final piece she needed to pull off her amazing feat.

What happened at the USASNC? You won’t believe it. People who saw it were blown away. (After the last finals shot, the crowd converged on her as if she were a huge music star and my cell phone lit up.) If I told you she shot a 5 in the final and didn’t give up, would you believe me? Oh, it’s even better than that!

How about an 8, then a 5, then another 8 all right in a row in the middle of the final? Yup! And, as a junior, she still won the Open gold medal in women’s air pistol. She had gone into the final with such a large lead that only after the second 8 did she drop from first to second. (Scores were retained for the final in those days.) Then she shot very well to the end – instead of giving up – and retook first for the gold.

She is pictured above, shooting sport pistol at a PTO I was running a couple of years later.

For the full story and more details, including what we talked about that last day, see the “Rebuild my Confidence” section of article #25 “Believe” in my “On The Firing Line” series. While you are there, read the entire article for perspective on the impact of confidence from a future Olympic champion and see the “Believe In Me” section of the article for another very dramatic story about not giving up and about believing in oneself.

The latter story also illustrates, through the first hand words of the athlete, the power of a coach’s beliefs on an athlete. Coaches, we need to be aware of that at all times!

When you give up, you are saying to yourself “I cannot.” That is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many a match that could have been won was lost with that thought. When you give up, it hurts. You hurt yourself most of all.

When you say I can or I will, you just might surprise yourself and everyone else. It is really fun to watch when an athlete does that!

It is NEVER over until the range officer says “Stop, Unload.”

“I can! I will!”