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  • Inspiration from errors

    Here's a couple of examples of how errors helped to drive improvements in process. I didn't set out to evolve my process - I was just trying to stop making the same stupid mistakes!

  • Example 1: Grip

    According to my coash, I used to grip the gun too tightly with my left hand. I was absolutely insistent that this wasn't the case. Then my coach showed me a video of me shooting. The knuckles on my left hand were white due to my tight grip! OK, so he was right and I was wrong!

    So to make a point, I ended up just balancing, rather than gripping, the gun with my left hand. It looked a bit weird, but it fixed the problem. I even shot a few competitions like this in the early days and had some success. So much so that I noticed a couple of other shooters adopting my grip (or lack of it!).

  • Example 2: Gunholds

    And here's a second example. When you are shooting a clay target, the starting point for the gun is called the "gun hold". It needs to be far enough out from the trap house to allow you to see the target so that you can lock onto it. If you are too close to the trap house, the target will "get the jump" on you and you will end up chasing to catch it up. Once you have worked out the right gun hold, it needs to be consistent every time. However, the distance from the trap house will vary from station to station as the angles change. You need to remember the different gun holds on each of the different stations. So it may not be quite as easy as it sounds!

    When I started out, I would often get the gun hold wrong and this made hitting the target difficult. After a miss, my coach would often ask "So where do you think the gun hold is on this station?". I would confidently point to a spot out on the range. This was then followed by "So if that is the correct gun hold, why didn't you start the gun there?". Duh! Sloppy performance on my behalf. Then I had a brainwave (a very small one!) - why not point my finger at the gun hold BEFORE I take the shot rather than AFTERWARDS? This would then force me clearly identify the gun hold, making sure I absolutely know where it is and then point the gun at it. It removed the "sloppiness" instantly from my process. I still use this technique to this day, particularly when I am under pressure in competition. I frequently get asked about it. e.g. "What's all the finger pointing about?"

    OK, it might look a bit weird, but it works for me.

  • Process is fundamental to developing a strong, consistent performance. It is going to help you develop and fine-tune your technique, but it is also going to help you cope under pressure. When the pressure is on, you'll be able to fall back and concentrate on your process ignoring the situation around you.

    So what do we actually mean by "Process"? When I talk about process it is the sequence of actions that lead up to an event - whether that is taking a rugby goal kick, playing a forehand top spin tennis shot or shooting a clay target. These actions include your body position, including your hands, feet and head, where you are looking, how you move as well as the timing of the movements. If we want to be consistent in our performance, we are going to need to be able to repeat this process accurately every time.

    If we only know "roughly" how we do things, we are going to struggle to get it right every time and then we will really struggle when it comes to fine tuning a "rough" process. It is like baking a cake and only "roughly" measuring the ingredients - sometimes it might be great, but other times it might be a disaster. It is all about developing consistency. You also need to consider how you are going to perform under pressure. Sometimes, just relying on instinct to get things right can be a risky approach. Just "knowing" where to start or how to hold the club might work in training, but when the pressure is on and self doubt kicks in, it is always better to know exactly how to do it.

  • Developing your process

    Your process is something that will be specific to you and specific to your sport. When you start out, your process will be largely defined by the person coaching you. Some sports are a little more prescriptive than others, but beginners should expect that the initial process is largely defined for them. However, the sign of a good coach is when they identify what works for a particular athlete and helps them fine tune that process.

    A good coach will help the athlete understand WHY things are done in a particular way and help them get the best out of it. They will also help the athlete to experiment and find out what works and what doesn't work for them. This is an important process because later on, when we come to fine tune the process, we need to be able to understand why things go wrong. An important part of training is understanding our technique and identifying why things go wrong. If we don't develop an understanding of our failures, we are going to struggle to improve our process. In fact, failure can be a major source of inspiration when developing your process (see the side panel). OK, let's get back to process.

    In my case, I am a skeet shooter and I have a defined process for shooting each of the targets on the 7 stands. In skeet, the targets and their trajectory should be the same (or very similar) between ranges and between grounds. The layout of a skeet range is specified in the rule book. Yes, there will also be some variety due to background and weather conditions, but largely the targets are the same. This means to win, you need to be consistent, very consistent. One or two targets is the difference between a champion and an also ran.

    Here's Dave Alred coaching a young rugby player on how to kick a goal. Just listen to his coaching and the talk about process. Dave's book The pressure principle is well worth reading.

  • Error prevention techniques

    If you have a frequently occurring error, is there something that you can build into your process to prevent this error from occurring? A sort of compensating technique.

    The examples in the sidebar to the right illustrate how I have built in elements to my process to help me avoid repeated errors. Clearly, this is going to be very personal, but you should be able to adapt this technique to all sorts of sports and all sorts of errors. As your level of skill improves, you should expect to these techniques to evolve with you as the errors that you are trying to avoid change. No one's technique is 100% perfect (100% of the time), so there is always room for improvement.

    So this is another illustration about why we can learn more from our failures than from our successes. Remember this is a key tenet of the Growth mindset. If I successfully hit 100% of all my targets, it does my ego the world of good, but I might not learn much in the process. If I miss Low 5 a couple of times, this will cause me to stop and analysis (after the comp) what went wrong and what do I need to do to fix it. Hence, the saying "You either win or your learn"!

  • Don't be surprised if your process is unique

    We are all different - our vision, reaction times, physical strength and flexibility all vary. So a process that works for you might not work for someone else. We shouldn't be surprised when our process is unique to us. In addition, you might also find that as your performance and technique improves that you will need to evolve your process accordingly. So again, don't be surprised if your process evolves over time.

    In fact, we should be constantly looking to tweak and improve our process - these marginal gains, particularly at the elite level, can often be the difference between winning and losing. The key to achieving these marginal gains is a deep understanding of our process and accurate feedback on our current performance.

    Just as a side issue, remember what works for you might not for someone else. This is really important to bear in mind when someone asks for help. What works for me, might not work for you. So when trying to help someone else, explain WHY you do WHAT you do. This is more likely to me of use to someone else rather than just start here and do what I do (in other words, put as much emphasis on the WHY as the WHAT).

  • Build in visualisation

    Our brains do not always distinguish clearly between real events and imagined events. I know it sounds strange, but there is considerable research that demonstrates the positive effect that visualisation can have on our performance. We can harness some of this power through a variety of different techniques. The imagery script described in the section of Process Aids is a good example, but we can also build visualisation into our process too.

    Target breaking / have a plan

    Pre-plate routine

    How this relates to self image

Further information


There are a number of websites online that can provide more detailed information. I have included a list for you to use as a starting point.


You'll find an extensive list of books included on the Further Info pages. They are all readily available on Amazon.


There are some great TED talks available that cover many of the areas discussed on this website. I have included links to many of them on the Futher Info pages.