Clay target athletes of all skill levels will usually agree that mastering the mental game is much harder than mastering the physical aspects of breaking targets. Most sports require us to train our bodies, and we do that through exercise routines and meal plans designed to push our bodies to extend past our normal limits. The same can be done with our mind, and to do that effectively, athletes should understand how the mind works—consciously and subconsciously.

Our conscious mind is that part of our brain that directs specific and deliberate action. Things like pointing, squeezing, grabbing, and swinging are conscious acts that are thought about in our head before executing. We use our conscious mind to complete the basic functions of mounting the shotgun, calling for the target, and completing the shot.

The subconscious mind is the part of the brain that allows us to complete actions and movements without thinking about them. Things like breathing, blinking, or smiling at a funny joke are subconscious acts that our brain does automatically without direct thought. Conscious acts are seldom repeated and therefore only called upon as needed, however we can train our brains to take repetitive conscious actions and turn them into subconscious actions. Let’s take a look at what we can do to increase our subconscious mindset with a couple easy training tips.

The best way to make a conscious action into a subconscious action is through repetition. Early in my career I noticed I had a terrible habit of jerking the shotgun when I squeezed the trigger. I wasn’t letting the trigger do the work and over-compensated by pulling the shotgun away from my cheek. To correct this behavior, I bought a set of snap caps and, with an unloaded shotgun, practiced squeezing the trigger to the break point. I did this 40-50 times a night until the action of properly pulling the trigger became automatic. I no longer had to think about squeezing the trigger correctly as it had become a subconscious behavior, and by removing this conscious distraction I could more completely focus on the target.

Training your body to make conscious shooting actions into subconscious instincts is a surefire way to increase your scores. Shooting actions like trigger discipline, stance, and proper gun mount are all great behaviors to make your body do automatically. All too often I see athletes change their stance each round or mount the shotgun in a different position on their shoulder almost every shot. Practice the action you want to train your body to become automatic at least 25 times a day. Over time you will see that these behaviors require less and less conscious thought as your mind “remembers” what your body needs to do. Put in the time to convert as many of your conscious movements to subconscious actions, and soon you will be breaking targets on a consistent basis without even thinking about it.

What are you thinking about on the line? If you find yourself spending too much time focusing on anything but the target, you might want to try training your body to move repetitive shooting actions into your subconscious.

With an unloaded shotgun using snap caps, practice squeezing the trigger to the break point. Your goal is to be able to smoothly pull the trigger without any movement of your barrel.
Grab a broomstick to hold, and practice getting into your stance for each post. Your goal is to have your feet consistently position themselves correctly without you looking at them.
With an unloaded shotgun, practice your gun mount movement. Your goal is to be able to mount and remount your shotgun into the same position on your shoulder each time.
Moving a repetitive action into your subconscious takes time and practice. Don’t give up after just a couple days. If you practice enough your brain and body will remember so you can focus on your goal—breaking targets.