Mental marketing for the shooting sports and why it’s BS

By Jim Henderson


I know this one is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. I think it’s time to address some of the mental
management hooks and pitfalls that shooters come across on an average stroll down the
Sports Psychology isle. All you see is “Be in the Zone” and “Long, medium and short range Goal
setting for Dummies” and everything in between! This stroll can quickly become confusing and
very expensive. There are a few useful titles on these shelves, but we need to know what we’re
looking for. First lets talk about what to pass over without hesitation.
“Being in the zone“.
In my experience a lot of coaches use this phrase when they have run out of things to say to the
person they are working with. This phrase has brought many a dollar to a great many people. As
far as shooting goes, and I say that because I have no high level experience in any other sport,
it’s really just a less than honest way for the coach to say, “I have no idea why you’re not
grasping the concept I am attempting to convey to you, so it must be your fault”. This fault is
then laid upon the shooter because they aren’t reaching/tapping into this magical, mystical place
called the “Zone”. “Well how do I get there coach?” the shooter may ask. Ah there it is. The hook
is set and the mental management wizardry begins. Coach gets his favorite book out, written by
someone who may or may not have high level experience in the shooting sports, and starts
spewing all the things he’s read on the subject. Pie charts and graphs, some goal setting
exercises (don’t worry we’re gonna hit that one next), and maybe even some homework
assignment to get the shooter good and wrapped up in the very difficult and involved process of
But wait… why does it have to be so involved and difficult? Shooting is…well shooting is easy…
Correctly align the sights, and actuate the trigger without disturbing said sight alignment.
I mean let’s be honest, the above description is exactly the concept we use to test the accuracy
or our gun. We clamp it in a vise of some sort, align this setup with our target, and with the least
amount of disturbance to this set up, we actuate the trigger. Then we repeat this process until
we have the desired number of rounds down range for our test group.
Easy peesy.
So why then, is it always suggested the only way to do this very simple process is by reaching
some superior inner strength or mental state? Well because when you don’t reach this ‘zone’ on
demand it must mean you’re not doing it right. And by then they will have another book written
for you to buy.
Setting short, medium and long term goals.
All along I’ve been told “don’t think ahead, no future thinking, no past thinking, one shot at a
time…’ blah, blah, blah.
So if I’m not supposed to think about the future and all that jazz, then why am I being asked to
think about what I want to achieve in the future? Yes I have been guilty of doing this, even telling
other shooters it was a good idea.
It hit me when I was working with a fairly new shooter not too long ago. There really is only one
goal. The one and only goal when shooting, is to apply your proven successful shot process the
best you can on any given day. That’s it. All the other stuff you’re trying to add in to it as you
read this doesn’t matter. Most of it isn’t up to you anyway. Making the team or winning the

match, or shooting a score so you can move up to the next classification…if I’m not supposed to
think about all that stuff, why then would I write any of it down? Why would I paste it in my box
or my shooting diary and read it every day, or even worse every shot? We all know the old pink
elephant mind trick right? ‘Don’t think of a pink elephant”! As that simple example works for
elephants, it most certainly works for shooting.
Ok last one for today.
Winning is not up to you. Nope…stop it…you’re making excuses to stay within your mental
comfort zone.
Winning is not up to you. Period. You could shoot your very best personal best and still not win.
You could shoot an amazing string of fire and the scorer only sees nine hits, and you lose your
challenge. Or conversely, have you ever shot what you thought was a terrible score only to win
the day?
Winning is not up to you.
If you read that as a negative, I suggest your priorities are misaligned, for a few reasons. But I’ll
throw the biggest one out there. Thinking about winning is future thinking. Future thinking
distracts your mind from the here and now. If you can see into the future, I’d like next weeks
lottery numbers please. I’ll split it with you.
When you think about it, as far as shooting goes, and maybe in life as well, you can only control
what you do and not necessarily what you think. What pops into your head isn’t up to you either,
but your reaction to that thought is all you. This is why I believe positivity needs to be a daily
lifestyle, not just a tool you use to get out of trouble.
We’ll talk about the effects of a positive lifestyle next time.
These are the titles I would skip. Stick with titles that promote positivity, and MANAGEMENT of
your mental game, not some magic scrolls on how to ignore what isn’t within your power to
I look forward to hearing from you!


James Henderson is one of the most experienced and accomplished competitive pistol competitors in the sport- Here is a brief overview of Hendo’s shooting accomplishments:


2 time NRA Precision Pistol National Champion
9 time Pistol InterService Championships winner and match record holder
8 time President’s 100 winner and match record holder
4 time National Trophy Individual match winner and match record holder
2 time Only person to win Pres 100, NTI and be the high shooter for the NTT
         Other wise know as the Pistol Triple Crown
National team member 2012 to 2016
68 Individual and Team National records
Member 2670 club
25 time made President’s 100
Numerous state and regional championships