The Internal Coach

I tried a slight modification to the approach I recently wrote about. Specifically, although I still try to release all thoughts and self-talk during a shot, after I’ve released the shot and lowered the gun, that’s when I do something different.

I let the coach talk to me then.

This “coach” is entirely inside my head. Basically he silently watches me shoot and then, as may be indicated, he makes a suggestion or two, but then moves quietly back to observe again for the next shot.

To tell you how I found this internal coach, I have to go back to the beginning.

When I first started shooting Bullseye, I received a lot of one-on-one (live) coaching. Coach Pat was ex-Marine, ex-shooting coach, and an all around interesting individual. He was the consummate coach and would change his coaching technique as he came to know me better, as my technique improved, or didn’t, and as would fit his demeanor for the day.

He would say, “My rate is twenty bucks until one of us gets tired or pissed off.”

And Coach Pat was very effective. When grooming an internal coach, the same changes in strategy Coach Pat would use might also be effective.

For example, on my first lesson with Coach Pat, we spent what I thought was a surprising amount of time just learning how to stand. My internal coach doesn’t spend that much time when I move to the line now but, nonetheless, he talks me through getting my stance set so my Natural Point of Aim (NPA) falls dead-on the bullseye.

And preparing for a string, my internal coach might remind me, for example, that “This is Timed Fire. You will have a lot of time for each shot. Take your time and settle each one in.”

But once I start to raise the gun, the coach goes silent.

Or rather, I start letting those thoughts go. Thereafter, when words come to mind, I just let them go without repeating or thinking about what they say. After a few seconds, there will be silence. I let the silence settle over me as I start watching the sights (well, the red dot actually) and just keep doing that until the shot goes.

After the shot has gone, I continue the silence until I recover the sight picture and then start to put the gun down.

I then announce where the shot went.

“Eight o’clock, seven ring,” for example.

The internal coach now moves up beside me and is free to speak.

“Do you know what happened on that one?” he might ask.

“Yeah,” I would tell him, “I heard myself say, ‘Ooh, that looks good, shoot now!’ and so I jerked the shot.”

Nodding his head, the coach might say, “Focus solely on the dot this time. If any thought of the trigger enters your mind, abort the shot and put the gun down, and then try again. Focus on the dot. Focus on the dot.”

Coach will step back then as I quiet my mind and do the next shot.

Some comments are in order about this mental coaching technique.

  1. First, in selecting a live coach, you will want someone who both knows about shooting and who is also a good people-person. If you’re going to use an internal coach, the same requirements apply. Obviously, you will want to be as educated as possible about shooting so you give yourself good advice. That’s why the “internal coach” won’t work for beginners: they don’t know what to do yet. The needed education can be acquired, in large part, through books and I won’t go into which one(s) I prefer here. My approach was to read a lot and take a little from each source.

But you won’t find much on coaching in books. For that, you’ll need to get some first-hand experience, and preferably from more than one individual because the coach/coached relationship is a very personal thing. Your personalities have to mesh to a certain degree or it just won’t work.

So, how do you find a good coach? Well, you don’t actually. What you do is try different people and eventually you luck into a good coach. You can start with the shooter to your right or left the next time you go shooting. Obviously you want someone who seems to shoot fairly well, but the funny thing is that a good coach needs to know how to help others shoot well, not necessarily themselves. So if they shoot “Ok” (or better), that person could be the right coach for you.

Between targets, lean over and ask them, “Excuse me but could you watch me shoot a couple of shots and see if you see me doing anything wrong? I’d really appreciate any suggestions you might make.”

Do that several times and, somewhere in all those shooters you’ll find a good coach. Much of your internal coach will be modelled on that person’s behavior.

So, you will also want your internal coach to be a people-person. That means he (or she) has to like you, to want to see you succeed, and to have an endless supply of patience. You may have to groom your internal coach if he doesn’t initially have all of these qualities. But luckily, and unlike real people, your internal coach can become whatever you want him to be. You’ll just have to guide him from time to time. For example, it’s Okay to tell your internal coach, “I know you’re frustrated with me. I am too, so please cut me some slack. We’re in this together, after all.” And he is, and he will.

  1. Achieving that mental silence as you release a shot sounds easy but, in practice, may be difficult to do. Some days I just naturally seem to drop right in whereas on others, it’s like there’s a meeting in the conference room and everyone is clammoring for my attention at the same time. Some times it’s all I can do to get a few seconds of peace. But once achieved, the next few moments of peace are a little easier to find and they last a little longer.

I took a class in Buddhist Meditation once many years ago and then practiced it for a little while. I’ve fallen away from it as a regular practice now but sometimes when hiking in the desert or a wooded forest, I’ll find that same, word-less peace. And some say that silent prayer, just listening instead of “talking”, just being quiet and letting all thoughts go in a time of prayer feels like a similar state. Practicing these other methods of mind-quieting will help you repeat it at will. (Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, refers to a state of “Mindfullness” that is what may be needed for shooting. Your mind is quiet but alert and attentive. He is one of my favorite authors and his books are widely available.)

  1. Aborting a shot is something I need to do much more often. Thoughts of the trigger, of wanting the shot to go because I see the dot grow still and sitting dead-on the X, of beginning to grow tired of waiting for the shot to go – all of these are signs that the shot should be abandoned. I should put the gun down and start over.

But that’s so much easier said than done.

I think I still need the coaches help on this one. What I need to do is tell him, after the shot and after I’ve put the gun down, about what *I* did on a non-verbal level and then listen to his advice. I’m sure he’s going to say that I should just stop and put the gun down when that happens, but I still need to hear that from my internal coach to reinforce what I will then start doing during the silence of the shot when he is watching me again, in silence, to see how I do. And when I do put the gun down and start over, the only thing I may hear from him is a smile. He knows I’m following his advice.

  1. There will be times when the internal coach may give you some good-natured ribbing. Indeed, even a good live coach may do that, and although you may find it annoying, the coach may intuitively know this is exactly what you need at that moment.

The best example I can think of is something that happened with Coach Pat one day. (This was the real Coach Pat, not my internalized version of him.)

I was jerking my shots one day as he watched me shoot and the harder I tried not to jerk, the worse it got. After watching me do this for two strings, Coach Pat told me to shoot another but then he moved up and stood with his face right next to my ear and each time I jerked a shot he said “Jerk!” real loud.

Damn, I got mad, and madder, both at my jerking and at him!

Bang! “Jerk!”

Bang!! “Jerk!!”

Bang!!! “Jerk!!!

And then suddenly, it was like I went up and over the top of a hill. My tension crested, and then broke. I started laughing. All the tension was gone as I shook my head at how incredibly ridiculous everything seemed.

Coach Pat laughed too. He knew he’d broken the tension that was making the jerk worse and worse with each shot.

He said, “Okay, let’s see some good releases now. Remember, level and smooth, level and smooth,” and he stepped back and smiled as I shot three tens in a row.


Your internal coach may have that same wisdom. It’s a people-skill for sure but you’ve probably been in this life long enough to develop some of that same wisdom, too. If you’re internal coach is doing something you don’t understand, trust him. Could be he’s pretty smart.

Over time, shooters may benefit from a lot of coaching at first, possibly even through the release of each shot, but then progressing to letting you shoot in silence with positive suggestions and earned compliments after, and even to the point where the coach doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, he just holds up a target with a single hole dead center in the X and then motions you to the line. Some of the top Bullseye shooters say that’s what it’s like for them. They “show” what they want to their unconscious and then let it figure out how to get there. Although it’s not clear who is the coach and who is the shooter in that situation, there are definately two creatures involved. One is setting the goal, the other is shooting the gun.

Thanks, Coach.

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