Inevitably, any discussion about the mental game gets into the concept of Self Talk. Put simply, Self Talk is all of the things you say to yourself. Sounds a little nuts, I know. Try this, though - for one 24 hour period, consciously monitor every thought that runs through your head. You'll probably find that you really do talk to yourself a lot - and if you've never done this exercise before, you'll probably find that a lot of the things you say to yourself aren't all that flattering. "That was stupid." "You look like a dork." and so on.

Now, pay attention to what you say to yourself with regards to your shooting. Your Self Talk reveals a lot about your self-image - what you truly believe you are capable of doing, and also has the ability to undermine your performance (or, if used to your advantage, support and build it up). This really comes out following a stage with some mistakes in it - what runs through your head, then? "You dumb jerk, you really suck." "You might as well give up now." "Things never go my way." "This match stinks." Maybe you said some really, complimentary stuff to yourself before the stage, too... "I can't hit those hardcover targets." "Swingers always eat my lunch." "Let's see how bad I suck on this stage."

Would your best friend ever say anything like that to you? If so, why are they your best friend??? We would all do well to take a lesson from two of the best shooters in the game on how we should be treating ourselves on and off the range - Max Michel, Jr. and Travis Tomasie.

Some background on M2 and TT is probably in order. Both of these guys shoot for the US Army Marksmanship Unit's Action Pistol Team. Both of these guys are highly accomplished shooters. Max currently holds the USPSA Open and SCSA Steel Challenge titles, and if I'm adding the numbers in his bio up correctly, he's won a total of 4 National titles in USPSA competition, and 2 Steel Challenge titles. Travis is no slouch, either, consistently in the running for national titles - and with reloads like this, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Due to that one YouTube video, Travis might actually be the most famous action pistol shooter alive (just Google it, and look at all the the people talking about the man's mad reload skillz!). Together, these guys are Double Impact Training. And, they're both super-nice guys, to boot ;)

Now that you know who we're talking about, how can these guys help us understand the skill of Self-Talk?

I first met these guys at the 2006 Double Tap Championship match. Somewhere mid-match, I was walking past them, and was intrigued by the conversation they were having. Ok, I admit, I eavesdropped... I have a fascination with the mental side of things, and the chatter between these guys just sucked me in. Unlike the majority of the banter you hear between shooters - ranging from complaining about a bad performance, to non-constructive criticism, to generally negative worry and self doubt - I heard something totally refreshing. I heard positive, supporting, constructive conversation. I heard the kind of talk good coaches give their players; the kind of talk teammates on successful teams share with one another. Sure, the AMU is a team, but excepting World Shoots, there are no teams in USPSA competition, per se. Everyone's performance is individual. I've since stumbled across several other conversations between these guys - to the point where I once went looking for them at the '07 Florida Open, hoping to catch some chatter to pick my spirits up!! You see, if what I was hearing was in my head, instead of between two other folks, it'd be perfect Self-Talk!

So, what was I hearing that caused such a pause? Let me paraphrase a conversation for you (note, this is the gist of it, not the specific conversation, but you'll get the idea....). "I think that was an OK run, but I made a couple of mistakes - hesitated in the first port, had to make up a shot later on....". "Maybe, but I don't think that hurt you any - you picked up a lot of time by being sharp in the middle, and you shot great points. I think you crushed the other guys with that one." I've overheard several conversations, now, that take on the same sort of pattern.

You see what's happening here? There's some criticism - but also some supporting, affirming feedback. That differs quite a bit from what you hear out of a lot of shooters on the range - and, I'll bet is quite a bit different from what you hear in your head at times, too, especially if you aren't already familiar with Self-Talk and its implications. In fact, if we had friends that talked to us like many of us talk to ourselves, we'd have some real jerks as friends. See the examples of negative Self-Talk above, and try to picture someone else saying that stuff to you. How hard would it be to resist punching them in the nose after that performance they're beating you down over?? Probably pretty hard!

Monitor your Self-Talk, and try to catch yourself being negative. When you do, ask yourself if a good friend might say that to you? If not, why are you saying it to yourself? Then turn it around into a positive. When you see that crazy target array at the next match, and start to say to yourself, "Aw, man, this sucks. I always hit no-shoots in this kind of stuff, and I'm slow. I'm going to stink this stage up.", STOP, laugh at yourself a little bit, and reformulate into "I'm going to own this stage, cause I already know what I need to do to hit those tight A-zones, and I know I can do it. I need to be extra focused around those no-shoots and make sure I'm calling my shots sharp. I'm good at that stuff, and its really going to shine here."

Be sure to say hi to Max and Travis next time you see them on the range - they're truly a pleasure to be around, and their energy is contagious. I'm not going to recommend trying to spy on their conversations... but you might pick up a snippet here or there, and I'm sure their infectious positive attitude will rub off on you. If you've never really gotten what positive Self-Talk really is, listen to Max and Travis talk to each other for just 5 minutes, and you'll know everything you need to know...

Oh, by the way... If you find Travis on the range sometime - and not while he's trying to prepare to shoot a stage! - ask him how the support from his teammates has changed his perspective on his ability to win at big matches, and the resulting confidence he's gained along the way. He's shared some neat things with me about his experience, and I won't deny you the chance to find out by trying to relate it myself ;)