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Shooters play own mind games

August 17, 2004 19:42 IST
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Who needs a shrink to shoot straight? At the Olympics, it's all about playing your own mind games.

At the Athens shooting range, forget the motivational skills of the sports psychologist, the self-controlled individualist reigns supreme.

The shooters prefer to control their own pressure points.

"We are all our own psychologists on the Australian team. We feed off each other and pick up the best bits," said Australian Suzanne Balogh, after winning the women's trap shooting.

"The really important thing was to fight, focus, have some aggression and go for it. I kept saying those things to myself and trying to keep the nerves under control," Balogh said.

After the event she was buzzing with adrenalin -- in sharp contrast to the ice-cool competitor of a short time earlier who had calmly battled shifting winds on the mountain-top range.

"Being in the zone" ranks as one of the most over-used phrases in sport but it does neatly encapsulate that perfect moment when focus is total, an absolute necessity in shooting.

After dominating his rivals to land the 10-metre air rifle and break the world record, Chinese teenager Zhu Qinan gave an intriguing glimpse into the mind of a self-driven perfectionist.

Angry about doing badly in practice, he had sat down to have a serious talk with himself:

"Before today's match I summed it up for myself. How do I cope with each difficulty was what I kept asking," he said.

His compatriot Li Jie put it even more starkly: "In our routine training we are required to keep our nerves completely under control. We have absolutely no other choice."


A discipline requiring so much mental performance, it may look like a perfect market for the swelling ranks of the sports psychologists. But out on the practice range, American trap shooter Bret Erickson said paying for advice was not common:

"They are not many out there who are of any use to us," he said as he grappled with swirling winds.

"This is all about controlling your brain. It is a complicated machine but it can only do one thing at a time."

Reflecting, he added: "Ah Yes. This all-mysterious zone thing. If I could bottle it I would be a millionaire."

Competition at this level is so tight that Glen Eller, Erickson's compatriot and fellow trap shooter, argued:

"We all point the gun the same. It is the mental side that counts. In our team we all help each other out there."

But he believes shooting should be almost instinctive: "You have to have adrenalin out there. You don't want to be a zombie. But if you start thinking you are in the zone, you are lost.

"You will not be."

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