Shooting&Tactics: The Mental Game


I would be interested to hear the thoughts of some of our SMEs regarding the mental side of shooting and tactics. What mental barriers exist that prevent people from performing at peak levels? What training methodology can be used to mitigate those barriers?

In baseball I have always observed that there are some players that skate on athletic ability but that there are others that simply know how to play the game correctly. Often the "ball players" consistently outperform the "athletes". I all sports I have observed that some athletes simply seem to know how to be winners in a way that is to some degree independent from pure physical ability(Gretzky comes to mind). Do you think that these concepts translate into other areas?In what way? Is that a learned or innate quality? If learned how does one develop it?

This is an area that I have taken great interest in after overcoming some of my own barriers. I started attending commercial (outside of LE) training in 2008. At the time I was the best shooter I knew(because I didn't know any great shooters). I found that in classes I would often perform at a high level in the anonymity of a whole line of shooters but that I when I had to perform in a competitive setting or just in front of everyone I would fall apart. My problem was that I was outcome focused not process focused. I've the difference explained that home run hitters don't think about hitting home runs they think about swinging the bat correctly. This concept is essentially the entire focus of the book "With Winning in Mind" written by an Olympic shooter. How does this translate to the tactical realm?


I should add that all of the above are just rambling that I hoped would generate discussion. I may not even know what questions to ask in this arena so feel free to speak to anything you feel is relevant.


Blue Line Sheepdog
Not sure how besides putting the shooter in thinking scenarios/problems. Even outside of shooting.

@Pat ROGERS says it about his Shoothouse classes with @Chappy and it being a "thinking problem."

I know in attending @DARC1 LECTC 1, I learned quickly that the thinking part is way harder than the actual shooting part.

Regularly putting yourself into thinking stuff - debates over tactics for example, has helped me. Paul Howe's books are a must read. Especially his Leadership book.
Having a grasp on the shooting bit definitely frees you up to problem solve and process. If you got things out of Lannys book, check out the talent code by Daniel Coyle. More of a "how skill is made" book, it is a solid read.

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Tore Haugli

Staff member
Developing the ability to perform in a tactical setting, takes a building block approach. Mine is a military perspective.

You first need to learn and hone fundamentals. This spans everything from shooting, first aid, individual skills such as movement techniques, observation techniques, calling out targets, proper use of cover and concealment, hand signs, combatives and so forth.

The next step is to put these skills to work in a team environment, starting with a buddy pair then working up to fire team, squad and the platoon. You start with basic movement/patrolling, formations, spacing communication, orders etc. Then you start working on battle drills and SUT, spanning everything from dry runs, to sims, to blanks to live fire.

The next step is applying these skills while exposed to demanding conditions, such as harsh weather, lack of sleep, lack of food, physical exertion - all over time.

And then you need repetition - varied scenarios, varied settings, varied terrain. This helps you understand HOW to apply the principles of the battle drills your unit uses to the situation and terrain you find yourself in. It breeds the understanding of how the flow of information from the bottom up helps develop situational awareness, which again influences decision making on the ground.

A common theme throughout all of this is physical fitness - the better your physical shape, the more mental capacity you get. The more stress you can handle, and you are effected less by other stressors such as lack of sleep or food.

A few other important factors are realism in training, setting standards and enforcing them, motivation.

All of the above will help build confidence and competence, which in turn leads to expected performance in combat. Knowing that you can do the job you are set to do, and knowing that you can handle all that training can throw at you is a huge part in being successful.

There are no guarantees, of course, but this is what we did (and do), and it works. There are no short cuts. It takes time and dedication.

Tore Haugli

Staff member
To add to my previous post:

During basic training we always start with a pool of trainees that is larger then the TOE. That means we can be more critical of who gets through to the next level of training.

While physical performance and ability to learn and develop skills are important in this phase, we also pay close attention to their mental and behavioral abilities:

-Who takes the initiative
-Who takes charge
-Who deals with uncertainty or lack of information well
-Who steps up and motivates his teammates when the going gets rough
-Who volunteers for responsibilities

And so forth

Personal traits plays a huge role in selection, and selection is key to getting the people you can mold properly.
The baseball analogy really helps here, in my opinion. Anyone who appreciates the mental game that baseball is, loves it because they know the manager is keenly aware of his odds putting a left handed hitter up against a right handed pitcher with runners in scoring position. Additionally, he understands what the likelihood of the opposing lead-off hitter attempting to turn a double into a single late in the game with no outs. The best players and managers don't just master their equipment and fitness, but they master the strategy of the game, as well as the history, dynamics, and potential it carries.
To this end, as students of gun fighting, we can best serve ourselves by not understanding just our equipment, or our fitness, but KNOWING the intricacies of mortal combat. We can't just prepare for an active shooter with firearms proficiency and tactics classes, but we have to study WHO an active shooter is, and WHY he is that way. We have to understand hatred and mob mentality if we hope to best perform during a riot. We need to study our opponents and what might be driving them AT THE TIME OF OUR CONFRONTATION.
I would much rather have a solid mental approach to combat with mediocre shooting/tactical skills than to be great at the gunning part, and be deficient upstairs.