Lessons While Shooting: How to Take Aim in Life and Sport
Last week I shot a shotgun for the first time in my life. Upon showing up to the shooting range, I was struck by how much the sporting clay course reminded me of a golf course. It was set up with different stations and there was even a clubhouse with golf carts parked out front. I was even handed a golf-like scorecard to chart how many targets I hit at each station.
Having done shooting video games, I assured myself I would naturally start knocking down clays. I was in for a rude awakening and a good dose of humility.
Separate "Hard" From "Impossible"
Shooting at something doesn’t seem like it would be that hard. See target, aim at target, pull trigger. How hard can it be? Answer: pretty darn hard.
At the first station, it quickly became apparent that shot-gunning clays was not going to be easy. Hitting just one clay seemed hard enough. Two in the air at the same time seemed impossible. Still, I did manage to hit several clays and have fun in the process. As I humbly struggled to shoot, I was reminded of life lessons I have learned in sport and fitness over the years.
At one stressful point in my life, I sought out the advice of a close friend who had been a sergeant in the Marines. He shared with me an analogy of what he learned when it comes to shooting. There’s a saying the Marines use that states, “Never anticipate the bullet.” The point being to not focus on outcome, but to be wholly present.
This piece of wisdom was spot on in terms of me trusting my gut to make an important life decision. Expanding on the bullet metaphor, my friend explained how the Marines breakdown shooting into steps. How you learn to shoot can also apply to how you throw a punch, kick, or baseball.
"Tension is your enemy when it comes to sport and fitness, and it is why your biggest opponent will ultimately be you. Whether you’re shooting a shotgun or swinging a kettlebell, first learn to breathe, then learn to relax."
Here’s how the Marines learn to shoot and how it can apply to your workout, sport, or next task in life. They call it BRASS. That is breathe, relax, aim, squeeze, and shoot.
LEARN MORE: What the Marines Can Teach Us About Discipline
Every physical movement originates with breath. Breathing is our literal life source, but is also the critical element to control our physicality. Whether the actual act of shooting is a sport or skill is debatable, but like any sport, shooting comes down to the intersection of the physical juxtaposed with the mental.
Finding that balance of being mentally present and physically relaxed is a function of breath. In any sport, breathing comes first. When you can control your breath, you can control your body and better your outcomes in fitness, sport, and life.
RELATED: The Lost Art of Breathing
Having taught in boxing and the martial arts for years, I can tell you the hardest concept to teach (and grasp) in fitness and sport is that of relaxation. The more violent, intense, and higher the stakes, the seemingly more difficult it is to relax.
"When multiple objects come from different directions, the task of aiming gets more difficult, as football players well know. The key is to empty your thoughts and to see only the target and nothing else."
But that is exactly what the best performers do. Think of the professional surfer in a violent twenty-foot swell, a boxer in a championship fight, or an Olympic downhill skier. They appear graceful, elegant, and effortless in what are potentially life-and-death situations.
Tension is your enemy when it comes to sport and fitness, and it is why your biggest opponent will ultimately be you. Whether you’re shooting a shotgun or swinging a kettlebell, first learn to breathe, then learn to relax.
RELATED: Learning to Rest
Ask Shaquille O’Neal how hard hitting a free throw can be. Ask any golfer how difficult hitting a little white ball towards a hole can be. Ask a major league baseball player how tough it is to hit a 97mph fastball.
"There’s a saying the Marines use that states, 'Never anticipate the bullet.' The point being to not focus on outcome, but to be wholly present."
For some of us, shooting a free throw seems pretty easy, while hitting even a 50mph fastball seems challenging to many. Either way, aiming is a difficult task. It’s because our mind plays tricks on us. Magicians know the human eye is not quick enough to grasp many magic tricks. Similarly, hitting fastballs, shooting clays, and dodging punches can be almost impossible tasks for our eyes to pick up.
Aim comes down to quieting your mind and following your target from its point of initiation. Easier said than done. When I shot the shotgun last week, my coach told me to “squirt” at the target as I was following at it and then pull the trigger at the crest of the movement. Determining eye dominance is also something that can help you to aim. You can start with shutting one eye at a time while observing a given target. You’ll see the disparity between your eyes.
When multiple objects come from different directions, the task of aiming gets more difficult, as football players well know. The key is to empty your thoughts and to see only the target and nothing else. Athletes call this state the zone.
Squeezing is the moment you start your motion. Squeezing the trigger on a shotgun is the equivalent of starting your backswing in golf or your throwing motion in other sports. This is the moment of truth where you must begin correctly in order to end correctly.
The challenge is not to think ahead to that outcome. If you “anticipate the bullet,” your shot will miss its mark. This means being confident and relaxed. Achieving this is accomplished through one thing above all else - repetition. Every movement has a set up. That is a checklist and practice of getting your feet right, your hands ready, and body relaxed. So learn that checklist and practice it.
"Every physical movement originates with breath. Breathing is our literal life source, but is also the critical element to control our physicality."
My shotgun coach told me there are no naturals when it comes to shooting. He said, “It takes practice and repetition for your mind to connect with you body.”
The shot is the culmination of all of your preparatory work. Taking a “shot” might be going for that big job interview. Taking a shot might be the literal act of throwing, lifting, or punching in sport or fitness. Whatever the case may be, the aspect of shooting comes down to instinct, feel, and the willingness to shoot.
Hall of Fame basketball player Oscar Robertson said, “If you’re a basketball player, you’ve got to shoot.” Really, if you’re a participant in life, you’ve got to take shots sometimes. And that ability to shoot comes down to learning and practicing how to breath, relax, aim, squeeze, and take that shot.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.