Own Your Performance

October 23, 2023

The scene was a local competition, and I was talking with two very good shooters. Both had the experience and skill to compete at the top level locally but weren’t quite there. Our conversation told me why.

One couldn’t explain why he had struggled. “I just didn’t quite have it this weekend,” he moaned. “I’m not locking on. I’m doing something wrong visually, and I’m not getting the same feel that I had two weeks ago. I’m just not sure what it is.”

The second shooter had a new gun with fixed chokes, and had missed a couple of close targets. “I’m not sure what I should do,” he said. “Maybe open up my chokes?”

They were asking the wrong questions. As I walked away, I thought, The reason why they’re not shooting to the level they’re capable of is because they’re trying to explain why they didn’t do well this weekend. And the real reason is not because of their equipment or their vision. They simply didn’t get the job done.

Sometimes, you’re simply going to miss. Sometimes, you’re going to fall short of your expectations. And sometimes, you must accept that failure and work harder in practice, work harder in competition, and stop looking for reasons why you fell short. There’s only one real answer as to why you didn’t meet your expectations: You didn’t get it done.

I’ve told myself hundreds of times that I fell short because I simply wasn’t good enough that weekend. I’m the one pulling the trigger, so I must figure out in practice how I can do better in competition.

When you don’t perform to your expectations, don’t make excuses. Figure out what you need to do and how you’re going to do it. Taking ownership is the first step towards real improvement.

What’s the right personality for a shooter? You’ll see all kinds. Some people give up in the face of adversity. They’re afraid to fail, and by giving up, they give themselves an excuse for poor results—they weren’t really trying that hard.

Some people want to succeed so badly that their intensity hurts them. They start tightening up, putting a death grip on the gun, and trying to focus so hard that they can’t see straight. The intensity is great, but the physical manifestation? That’s a problem.

Then there are the happy-go-lucky folks who just don’t have a killer instinct. They don’t want to shoot poorly, but they also don’t have the overriding drive to be successful. That might not be so bad overall, but it can also hold you back.

Champions often are a combination of the last two. They want to succeed so badly that they’ll make almost any sacrifice to win, but they also can let go of a poor performance after a certain amount of time—even between stations. If anything, poor performances compel them to work harder. That’s a rare combination.

I believe some personality traits are innate, but there’s no doubt that you can build on your strengths to offset your weaknesses. What’s important is recognizing those weaknesses and making a plan to address them. To reach the highest level, you must have a personality that you will not accept failure, but you also must have the ability to not worry about things that you cannot control.

Not so long ago, a student told me proudly that he had shot a 97 in a fun shoot. That’s good shooting even on an easy course, but this shooter can do better. I asked what had happened on the targets he missed.

His response was, “Well, I missed three easy ones. They dropped out from under me, and I shot over them.” I said, “No, the birds didn’t drop out from under you. You didn’t stay under them. The birds didn’t do anything to make you miss. You did.”

This is a different way of thinking for most shooters. I always hear excuses as to why a shooter missed, and they’re just that, excuses. Don’t shift blame—it’s on you.

This article is adapted from Anthony I. Matarese Jr.’s new book Straight Shooting: A World Champion’s Guide to Shotgunning.” It is available through his website


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