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Getting past the match jitters

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I've been shooting for about a year now since I bought my first gun, a Sig P239 (9MM). I shoot on average once a week, 100-150 rounds, at a local range. I shoot on the move, around barricades, etc, in friendly competition with my wife and a friend. If I say so myself, I'm really happy with my performance. My first attempt at any competition was a "steel match" in December, then again in March, with the P239. Just a few weeks ago I bought a Sig P226 E2 and used it in an IDPA classifier right away (Marksman in SSP), and shot it again this week in a local IDPA match. The first steel match I was happy with the results, considering the jitters. Now after the fourth time out, I'm still suffering. I am nowhere near as accurate as I am on my own.

I've had immense fun each time, but sure would like to look down the sights and not see them shaking from nerves. Any tips or hints or how to overcome this? It's a very friendly group at the range so it's no them, it's all me. I keep reading about "first match jitters" but what about second, third, fourth matches!!!? Hopefully it's not a serious mental issue :-) but it's oh so frustrating when I know I shoot better.

So, encouraging words, tips?

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Like anything else, the more you do something the less it bothers you. Example, as a police officer I used to be incredibly nervous when responding to calls of 'shots fired,' 'man with a gun' 'large fight in the street,' etc... After responding to 100's of these calls now, I am no longer nervous or apprehensive. There is still a presence of fear in the back of my mind which is completely normal, but the nervousness has been replaced with awareness, focus, and concentration. This happened slowly from having done it so many times and being comfortably in a high stress situation like that. I could go on and on but I hope you see my comparison. After going to more and more matches, you will feel so comfortable from having "been there, done that" that the excessive nervousness will dissipate. It comes with time and experience, plain and simple. Good luck.

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Heck, I've been doing this a while and I still get amped up for most matches. Hopefully that never goes away. Everyone is different, but if I'm too relaxed, I don't shoot as well. If I'm driving to the match, my guts are in a knot and I think "why do I do this to myself", I'm almost certain to have a good match. Some of the best stages I've shot have been the first one of a bit match, with a squad I didn't know and I felt like I was nearly shaking. Just know that it doesn't have to hurt your performance one little bit. The good thing, is if you didn't care, you wouldn't get nervous! After a while you'll realize that as nervous as you are before the start, once the buzzer goes off, you're totally calm and simply executing your plan. It makes it easier to deal with the nerves knowing they'll go away at the buzzer. After a little while longer you'll probably find that after a stage or two you aren't even nervous any longer. Yeah, you'll feel your blood pressure go up a notch when it's almost your turn to shoot, but it won't be as much of a change....it does get better. R,

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chirpy   

I have been shooting USPSA and IDPA for a lot of years (25+ for USPSA and since the beginning for IDPA). Like GMan said..."Hopefully Never". You will learn to cope as time goes by. For now, concentrate on being safe and watching the front sight. Take a couple deep breaths before you "Load and Make Ready" to help calm the nerves. FWIW, Ken Hackathorn, who helped start USPSA and IDPA (and is also a very experienced/qualified shooter and trainer and etc.) still has to deal with MN's and admits it and says he hopes he never gets over it!

Richard

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boz1911   

Embrace the nervousness as being normal and just let things happen. You'll only shoot as well as you have prepared. Usually when I'm "in the hole" I'll put my ears on and get away to take a few deep breaths. When I'm on deck I do my last walkthrough. I also don't dilly dally when it's time to shoot, which seems to keep my mind focused on the COF, which seems to eliminate some of the nerves.

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Thanks for the words of encouragement. I guess it's not so much the jitters but the lousy shooting that bugs me. My performance in the matches has been nowhere near what I know I am capable of doing. I expect some degradation due to nerves but I'm frustrated with myself so far. Like I said, it's fun, but during that 1 hr 20min drive home from the matches I start wondering if it's worth it!

I guess there's next time!

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I guess it's not so much the jitters but the lousy shooting that bugs me.

To quote Bobby McFarrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

It's a game, it's supposed to be fun. No one's life hangs in the balance. You won't lose your home if you don't shoot well. Relax and enjoy yourself and stop worrying. Take on as a goal to shoot a little bit better each match.

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rvb   

I shoot on average once a week, 100-150 rounds, at a local range. ... If I say so myself, I'm really happy with my performance.

...

but it's oh so frustrating when I know I shoot better.

...

I guess it's not so much the jitters but the lousy shooting that bugs me. My performance in the matches has been nowhere near what I know I am capable of doing.

I agree with what others have said, but here's some more...

Be careful of self-expectations. You seldom will ever shoot as well at a match as you will in practice. In a match we wait several minutes to an hour between shooting. In practice you get "grooved in" and warmed up. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse the anxiety will be. Try going to your next match w/o an expectation of your performance or placement, and just shoot!

When it's approaching your turn to shoot, don't focus on your nervousness. Recognize it. Take a "big picture" view of your environment (don't tunnel-vision in on your upcoming stage). Re-assure your self that you are not doing anything you haven't done before and that you have nothing to fear. Control your breathing. Good deep breaths in, slow exhales. Close your eyes and visualize yourself executing perfectly. Recognize the consequences for a poor performance (for most of us, there are no significant consequences... wife won't leave you, dog won't bite you, you can still pay the mortgage).

Some nervousness is good. It shows you care. It gets the blood pumping.

They never go away. Sometimes they are very mild and I don't even notice. Sometimes, for some un-known reason, they get so bad I shake and think I wanna puke.

Once the buzzer goes off, occupy your mind with the shooting at hand. Then there won't be room in there to focus on the jitters.

-rvb

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Flyin40   

This sounds alot like the Uspsa Classifier Syndrome. Shooting an A at a match is no different than at practice. You still need to do the same thing. It took me a long time to really understand that. Once I was able to get rid of expectations and just shoot the gun it became alot easier.

Flyin

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mjts   

It will get better; you'll become less nervous and be better focused over time. Shooting in the larger matches (state and regional) and shooting as many local matches as you can afford to may also help. At least for me, the severe jitters that I had as I stepped into the shooting box have been replaced by anticipation and focus. Having a consistent pre-shot routine also seems to help me with anxiety (check magazines, visualization of the COF, dry grip at the line, unloaded sight picture and dry fire at the "load and make ready" command, ect).

Mike

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sfinney   

but it's oh so frustrating when I know I shoot better.

Nerves is usually about a couple factors..... not feeling prepared, or "expectations". The more you shoot, the more comfortable you should get, but rather than # of matches shot, think of "hours of practice" put in. It takes time off the clock to improve.If you practice all the different skill sets required in a match, til they are second nature, then for each stage you can look at each individual required shot and say "I can do that." Suddenly you start feeling more comfortable.

And more importantly, stop expecting a certain level of performance. Shoot as best as your current skill level allows. Stop judging (or feeling judged) and just shoot, have fun.

Edited by sfinney

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j1b   

As has been said - it isn't about getting rid of the nerves, it's about dealing with them.

I get nervous at all matches. Big, small, medium - and all in between. And like others, I've been doing this a good while.

Figuring out how to perform under nerves is definitely key.

I hope I never stop getting nervous - every match they would be missed

J

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CatsEye   

Everyone gets nervous to some extent before shooting so that part in natural. Being shakey could come from muscle tension and not just nerves. In practice your relaxed. At the match your tense. It can greatly affect how you shoot.

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My experience in other sports keeps me hoping that just like those other sports, after enough practice and enough game time, and enough time watching how the really good guys do it, it will magically come together for me. It hasn't happened so far, but I keep hoping.

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This sounds alot like the Uspsa Classifier Syndrome. Shooting an A at a match is no different than at practice. You still need to do the same thing. It took me a long time to really understand that. Once I was able to get rid of expectations and just shoot the gun it became alot easier.

Flyin

"able to get rid of expectations and just shoot the gun it became a lot easier" <----this is the part that I still have a problem with. I don't get any jitters shooting any local matchs any more but as soon as their is a trophy, classifier or I shoot with my buddy who beats me 8 out 10 times then I push a little to hard.

Edited by werewolf45auto

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Don't forget to breathe! The fastest way to change the way you feel is to change your breath. If you attend the pattern when you're nervous, it's probably shallow and from the diaphragm. Let your shoulders down and slow and deepen your breathing pattern, it will calm you down and clear your mind.

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bubbadoc   

Repetition.... repeat as necessary.... you will be able to find a happy place with it

It takes time to control the nerves for what ever you do. Practice dry firing and concentrate on your breathing during it.. that may help. COncentrate on the course of fire and breathing before you start and not on yourself.

Also, think about your diet before a match. Be careful about caffeine and make sure you eat before the match (the right amount not overindulge) to keep the blood sugar in balance.

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One thing I've learned from some great shooters is to get into a routine, not only at a match, but in practice.

When you go to "practice" at the range, do everything like you are at a match. Have a plan, have expectations, know your goals, have a "saying" you say before you shoot........I say, "grip, slack, thumb, sight, squeeze, slack, squeeze, attack the next target". When I say that, my mind and body snap into a certain posture. I've taught my brain to react to that string of words........almost like hypnosis.

If you say that in practice all the time, you will say it in a match, and your mind will get into the same mode everytime.

You are feeling different during a match because you are not practicing the way you will compete. In the military, they "train like they fight", which means they try to make everything as close to combat as they can. Granted, there are a lot of variables in combat that you can't reproduce, but it's the mentality of it that's important.

When you go to the range to practice with your buddy and wife, you need to decide if it's just for fun, or is it "real" practice. It's ok to go to the range and just sling lead, but if you really want to improve and be able to focus the adrenaline, then you have to develop a thorough practice plan, stick to it, record results, and hold yourself to a standard.

It won't stop the jitters, it will just let you accept them.

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The current shot is the only one that matters. Matches require you to score well against others, which puts pressure on you to be fast and do your best to still get good hits.

Problem is that almost all newer guys are doing everything at a match at a alightly-panicked speed. You are going FASTER than you practice, and it shows in the form of jitters and crappy hits.

Over time you'll learn to go for broke in practice, and back off just slightly in any match you shoot.

Give yourself a couple more months to truly be acclimated to match-shooting. But know that even the GMs have an accelerated heartbeat listening for that buzzer. The day this doesn't excite you, youve burned out on it.

And wiggle your toes in the start box. I can't be tense and do that at the same time. I think someone here on BE posted that tip.

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Figured I'm chime in again. Thanks for all the tips. I am definitely looking forward to next match (next week perhaps.) I've been making taking some practice sessions by myself, and the timer. I've found some things to work on just from that. I'm going to spend the summer just working on settling down in competition. And I'll try wiggling my toes!

Now to figure out how to fund this addiction!

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benos   

Don't forget to breathe! The fastest way to change the way you feel is to change your breath. If you attend the pattern when you're nervous, it's probably shallow and from the diaphragm. Let your shoulders down and slow and deepen your breathing pattern, it will calm you down and clear your mind.

Excellent advice.

be

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CatsEye   

And wiggle your toes in the start box. I can't be tense and do that at the same time. I think someone here on BE posted that tip.

It may be silly, but I use my tongue as a gage. If I'm tense so is my tongue. If it's pressed tightly against the top of my mouth I'm not relaxed. :P

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Memphis hit it right on the nose. As well as dealing with your nervousness, at matches, many of us try to shoot faster than we are actually able. The worst match I ever shot, I got squadded with a bunch of Masters and GMs. Hearing their pace made me try to speed up and I had misses all over the place. Part of being able to shoot is knowing about where your limit is and not overstepping that by too much.

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