After three weeks away from shooting (not by choice, I assure you!), I spent the whole of this last weekend shooting. Saturday I drove to Nuthampstead Shooting Ground for my fourth coaching session, and Sunday I was chauffeured back there by my wonderful husband for my first 100 registered in Olympic Skeet.
Going into training on Saturday morning, I was expecting it to go poorly; having not been able to train in between, and having spent a fortnight working with no proper break, I was concerned that tiredness and expended concentration during the drive would affect me. I dropped the first high bird on stand one, then proceeded to drop the pair – although the sunshine was much brighter than I thought, and I realised after the first bird, when my eyes started watering, that I needed to change to my darker lenses, which I did before shooting stand two.
I must admit that I was disappointed with my performance that day. I thought I had made a lot of progress between the first three sessions and then this weekend I feel as though I took a huge step backwards. My coaches disagreed, telling me that it was fine and I didn’t need to be worried, that I hadn’t shot badly at all. But me being the perfectionist I am, I still scolded myself. Admittedly, it hadn’t been my fault that I hadn’t had the opportunity to get out and shoot for the last three weeks, but I still beat myself up about the whole situation. I was pleased, though, that another woman I had met on the Talent Identification Day I attended had been moved from Talent Hub to Regional Shotgun School, so we had a catch up in the sun!
Sunday morning, I woke up fresh, ready to shoot the registered. I went with absolutely no expectations, knowing that there would be people there who have been shooting OSK for years. I put no pressure on myself, no target score; the moment I turned up I knew that was for the best, as a GBR team shooter was in my squad, as was one of my coaches.
I was on peg 5; if I had a choice I would prefer peg 1, as I don’t like watching other people shoot before me, purely because I get it into my head that if they have all done a clean sweep on the stand, the expectation is that I will too, and that if I don’t, I embarrass myself. I stepped onto stand one on my first round, heart pounding in my chest like it used to when I shot bigger sporting competitions such as the Essex Masters. Part of my routine is to take a deep breath and exhale before calling for the bird, but this time my heart was thumping so quickly and heavily that it didn’t work. I had no choice but to call ‘pull’, knowing I wasn’t ready, but also knowing that the 30 seconds I had to call after stepping onto the stand were ticking by. I missed the single high and the low bird on the pair.
By stand four, my heart rate had returned to its normal state, and I managed to pull a 13 out of the round. I wasn’t too displeased, given that it was the first round and I was still quite nervous. Onwards and upwards, I told myself. I wish it had worked out like that. I posted my lowest score of the day in round two, and it didn’t get much better in the following two rounds, even though I was told that the only person who cared what my score was, was me. I grew more and more despondent.
After I finished stand eight I was approached by one of my coaches. She proceeded to tell me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, that it takes a long time to get good at something like this – that it’s an Olympic discipline because it is difficult. I don’t know why, but a slight tear dripped from each of my eyes as she spoke; not because I was annoyed or so upset and embarrassed with failing so miserably, but because – as she said – I, like other shooters, put so much passion, so much energy, so much heart into my sport that I was gutted I hadn’t performed better. After all, it was the same layout, the same ground, even the same weather conditions as the day before, when I had hit each of the stands.
I was furious with myself for not doing myself and others proud, but she assured me that I had done great and I just had to stick with it. She gave me a hug before I left, and another man from my squad, who I had chatted to a couple of times between rounds, came and stood with me for a few moments, telling me that I had done well for my first time and that half the battle had been staying after my disastrous second round – that others would have just walked away and not bothered shooting the next fifty.
The support of everyone that day gave me a lot of hope. Anita North replied to me on Twitter earlier today, having only met me for the first time yesterday, saying that I had done better than I gave myself credit for, and agreeing with my tweet that the experience was valuable no matter what the score. Whilst I am still disappointed, I am reminded of how much work I still have to do, and am glad that I have such a great network of people – family, friends, shooting colleagues and coaches – to help me get to where I want to be.