Psychological Pointer

3 SOS Exits
What to Do When Pressure Is Too High

Živa Dvoršak

Apr 3, 2022

Did you ever feel a rush of adrenalin during an important competition and didn’t know what to do? In this Practical Pointer, team Aiming Art gives you three SOS exits to use when you notice that the pressure is getting too high.

Shooting is the only Olympic sport where the starting rush of adrenalin can’t be channelled into powerful movement but must be transformed into a calm state of body and mind. On the outside, shooters may look calm, but there can be real drama going on on the inside. The first and foremost advice we can give you is to focus on the things you can control. Start caring about your shot process. Do this both at a competition and during practice – don’t just automatically shoot to be done with it, but involve your mind by actively following the whole shot routine.

Did You Know that Adrenalin Sharpens Our Senses?

When the adrenaline kicks in, we see better, hear better, feel better. This is why we find that the rifle is shaking more: we see clearly. We think we trigger differently because we feel the touch of our finger on the trigger better. Yes, all this feels different than during practice, but it only goes the wrong way when we are intimidated by it. Through experience, I have learned that, when we feel pressure, the first few seconds are crucial. It is in that moment that our reaction must be correct. Recognise pressure as something positive, something that helps you narrow down your focus. Direct your mind to what you want to see happen (i.e. the execution of a good shot process) instead of what feels uncomfortable because of the adrenalin rush (i.e. your rifle shaking).

Easier Said than Done?

When you hear that “MATCH FIRING … START”, it’s true that directing your mind can feel impossible. I’m still fascinated by how many different scenarios and reactions we let happen when the adrenalin starts flowing through our bodies. I have been researching this topic for years, looking for ways to use the pressure to my advantage, but I still often fail to turn the starting seconds of recognising pressure into a means of increasing attention. However, not everything is lost at that point yet. We can still calm our bodies and minds with various interventions, something team Aiming Art likes to call SOS exits. 

A girl leaning on her air rifle lost in thought

Exit No.1: Focus on Breathing Deeply

Focus on the abdomen and intentionally slow down your breathing. After a few breaths, start adding short pauses at the end of inhaling and exhaling. Your goal is to establish an even cycle with equally long inhales, exhales, and pauses in between. You can read more about this breathing technique in one of our previous Practical Pointers.

Exit No.2: Tense and Relax

When we feel pressure, we start to tense our muscles without even noticing it. Try to focus on a specific muscle group, tense it even more, then relax it. Not only will this reduce the tension in your muscles, but it will also leave you with a nice feeling of relaxation. Try it right now. Bring your shoulders up to your ears and then slowly release them. Or when in a shooting position, hold your rifle or pistol grip firmly, tense your whole arm really hard and then slowly let it go. 

Exit No.3: Happy Place

Imagine a place, an activity, even a smell, a feeling, something that always and completely calms you down. This can be anything from lying on a beach, seeing a beautiful view from the top of the mountain, enjoying the feeling of having nothing to do, smelling a homemade meal, feeling absolute happiness when cuddling your pet. But be careful: don’t drift away! Visualise this image and feeling only for a short time and as a good example of how it actually feels when you are relaxed. Quickly jump into that memory, absorb the feeling, then immediately come back to performing your shot routine.

A happy girl hugging three dogs

With SOS exits, we divert our thoughts away from things that increase our anxiety by doing/visualising something we always have complete control of. However, we have to prepare and practice the exits in advance to maximise their benefits! It will be of no help to start searching through your memories in complete panic during a competition or thinking about the order of those inhales, exhales, and breathing pauses that you read about somewhere. Try it in practice, write down your Happy Place(s) in your Shooting Notes, and go through them before your match starts. This must all be part of your routines! And one more thing: no matter which SOS exit you use, visualise your shot process and a feeling of having complete control over it before you take the next shot. 

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