Focus on the Target When Performing to Reduce Fear!

(A young girl from New Mexico has a realization!)

One problem we all have is trusting a new stroke (or new anything) when there is pressure, when it "counts!" Why is it that, even when we're getting pretty good with a new stroke or behavior, we revert to our old habits in games and screw things up?


Golfers have this problem all the time, the difference between golf swings or putting strokes they can make on the driving range or practice green and the swings or putts that happen on the course when each shot counts. The latter is usually disastrous, with tension, fear, doubt, or all of the above interfering with the result.


A young girl from New Mexico I coached awhile back just wrote me with her discoveries in this area. The question is what can you do to perform your best in competition, in what she calls "in public." Here are her words:

"Hey Tom! I think I have a clue that may help me to better my shooting in public. When I was reading some things on your website, something really clicked. There was a question that a boy had that had the same weakness as myself. Your guess was lack of concentration on the goal.

"I started to notice that when I am being very self aware of how I am shooting, I miss. Now that I have gotten the method down, I just need to focus mostly on the goal, and not worry about much else. Does this sound familiar? Thank you."

-- Kelly B., Springer, NM


Yes, Kelly, you had a really profound discovery! Thoughts about HOW you're performing in the middle of a competitive action usually lead to fear (of the future) and doubts (about your abilities), those two worthy adversaries we all have in our lives. Thinking is not in the same dimension as physical action. If you're thinking, it's usually about some future outcome that you're interested in or about some failure from the past. Often these thoughts are about what did happen, what could happen, what might happen, etc., and they're usually negative (I could miss the basket, I could airball it, I DID screw it up, I could look foolish, I could fail!).

However, if you can minimize the thinking and return more and more to the "present moment," to the action that's happening, and be more with feel than with thoughts, you will perform better. That's been my experience. It's tough to do when the doubts and fears get really intense, but with practice you can get better and better at this process, like you are doing.


One wonderful focus is on the target. You could focus on other things, like feeling the ball in your fingers as you shoot, or noticing when in the jump you start your Release, etc., and that focus will help put you in the present and performance will improve. Focus on the target is another place to put your attention while you perform, and it's probably the most effective because it increases awareness of where you're going!


Play with this and notice if you can just see the basket clearly with little or no emotion or attachment (how am I doing?) as you shoot. Just see it! You'll find your mind gets calmer and your "connection" with the target goes up. Trust will also go up because trust occurs in the present, not in any future or past. If you're truly aware of where you're going, there's a natural sense of trust that occurs, especially when you have a stroke that works, a stroke you can count on, which is what Kelly is developing. Try shooting this way and your experience will teach you how to do it.


In practice pay attention (awareness) to HOW you do things, what's happening with your body, where you're getting your power from, your wrist and hand, height, spin, etc., but in games, when it counts, shift your attention to the TARGET, to where you want the ball to go. When it counts, keep it very simple and learn to trust your body to do what it knows to do. It won't always do what you want, but with practice and more and more trust, you'll surprise yourself with how well you can perform under pressure.

Thanks, Kelly, for a wonderful subject for other kids to study and learn!

Tom Nordland is a shooting expert and coach from California via Minnesota. His videos, coaching and writings are inspiring a Renaissance (a rebirth, a revival) in shooting around the world as players and coaches are taught the things that really matter in shooting. A great shooter as a youth, Tom was given a gift of seeing shooting like few have ever seen it. He sees the “essence” of great shooting and how to get there. The good news is that it’s very simple. The few great shooters of today and yesterday mastered simple things, not complicated motions. Improved shooting is now possible for everybody in the game, and mastery is available to those who sincerely dedicate themselves to it. Visit Tom’s website ( to read of his background and his articles and newsletters, and to view the remarkable endorsements and amazing testimonials for this approach to shooting.