Lately I've been thinking about the role emotional arousal level plays in shooting performance.
Anyone that has ever competed in a shooting game remembers the quivery knees they experienced in their first match. I did my best to quash that sensation when I was shooting.
The first discipline I was really serious about was smallbore rifle in High School. I was too busy working on the physical side of the game to even think about the mental side of the game. I was a pretty small kid, and a late bloomer, so just holding the gun up was enough of a challenge.
After college, I started shooting bullseye pistol. I was blessed to live less than a mile from the club I competed at, and to have the ability to shoot a National Match Course 3 to 4 times a week, and 900 or 1800 at least monthly. Springfield, MA was truly bullseye heaven. Shooting as much as I was (5 to 6 cases of rimfire a year for 3 years!) the stress of shooting a match became non-existent. In fact, when I was competing, I trusted my skill level to the point where I just went on autopilot. It seemed to work because my scores were rapidly approaching master level.
When I moved to South Carolina a few things happened. First, my bullseye guns were stolen. Second, there was only one match a month that I could get to regularly. This meant that I shifted my attention to IDPA and IPSC. I had already shot enough IDPA in Springfield, that I didn't have any sort of rush or wobbly knees at the beginning of the match, but something else happened: I plateaued. Hard. The more hours I put in on the range, training the more consistently average my shooting became. I didn't have any stages where I crashed and burned, but I also stopped shooting stages where my performance was brilliant. I was just a high C, low B shooter, and I wasn't progressing at all. It was frustrating, and I pretty much just burned out.
This autumn, I went to Gunsite to take the 250 class. I can't say I am a significantly better shooter than I was before I went. My reloads may be a bit faster, and I eliminated some issues in my shooting that were tactically wrong (e.g. I am a notorious speed re-holsterer).
There is one thing I noticed. In the shoot off at the end of the class, I was excited. I was excited to the point where I was experiencing tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and had an instructor actually remind me to breathe. I was also shooting incredibly well. I was hammering split poppers three or four times before they hit the ground.
Now I am concerned that by quashing my emotional response to shooting matches, and making it just a mechanical function, I severely limited my peak performance levels.