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Mental Marksmanship: Train the Mind, and the Rest Will Follow

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I really enjoyed this interview with Linda Miller and Keith Cunningham. Together, they wrote Secrets of Mental Marksmanship, How to Fire Perfect Shots. In full disclosure, they sent me a copy of their book well ahead of the interview so I could review it and ask questions.

Linda was a member of Canada’s National Shooting team and won medals in the Mexico World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Cuba world cup, and later became the first woman to win the Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for full-bore shooting.

By 2002, she became the top-ranked female competitor in F-Class shooting, and in 2008 became the National Sniper and Precision rifle Champion.

Linda also volunteered as a director, manager, administrator, and consultant in the Canadian provincial and national shooting sports organizations, and currently designs courses for competitive and professional marksmen.

Keith served as a Canadian military officer with more than 25 years of experience including a combat tour in Vietnam, peacekeeping and counter-sniper operations in Cyprus, and many large scale military exercises throughout North America and Europe.

He is an internationally-certified shooting coach who has taught marksmanship courses at the Canadian Forces Infantry School and to many police services throughout Canada. 

Linda and Keith's book, Secrets of Mental Marksmanship, which I heavily relied on for this interview

He’s also a member of the Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame and the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association Sports Hall of Fame.

Together, these two hold many provincial and national titles and records, winning international championships throughout the world in sniper marksmanship, service rifle, and three-gun competition.

Key Notes and Takeaways

There was a lot to this interview, so it’s difficult to pick only a few key items. 

#1 Mental management starts at the beginning

A lot of us might think that we need to master the mechanics first, and then start working on the mental game. But Linda says that’s not the best way.

The purpose to incorporating it early is teaching the mind to follow a series of steps each and every time without distraction. It doesn’t need to be any more than a checklist of word cues reminding you of each step.

You’ve probably already seen this before with something like immediate action drills, which most everyone who has done weapons training knows as, “Tap-Rack-Bang.” That simple series of words keeps you focused on the task at hand.

While this will be slow at first while you train your subconscious mind to automatically perform these steps, the end result is that you become more focused and ready to perform at higher levels.

We used to teach the mental program as an advanced shooting skill. We now teach it from the very first series of dry fires we put our students through and it's because if the mind isn't in control, we have a great deal of trouble making the body do what we want it to do.

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#2 The difference between training and practice

We must distinguish between training and practice. Training means learning a particular skill or task, while practice is the purposeful repetition of that activity with the goal of mastery.

During the discussion, Keith told the story of police officers who had clearly been trained on the proper reload technique, but fumbled through it terribly because they had not practiced it. This is from lack of practice.


Training is where you first are told about a skill, you might first try it on, see how it fits your own body and mindset. And practice is where once you've discovered something that that appears to be working you you do it over and over again. And without that repetition, you got nothing.

You just never get in enough gun fights to learn how to be in a gunfight- so you have to practice the skills.

Too many of learn how to do a lot of things, but don’t put in the repetitions to master them. It’s the same thing that Russ Miller alluded to in Episode 8. To get good, you have to put in the work and dry fire.

Every practice session you conduct needs to have a purpose or goal. It’s not about going to the range and making noise, but about working on something specific. Maybe it’s refining your mental program checklist, or maybe it’s a specific position, technique, or skill. Whatever it is, be intentional about it.

#3 Everything is data

I thought this was a huge point.  Everything you do accumulates data, and you have to choose whether or not you’re going to learn from it. 

As part of that, don’t focus too much on the things you did wrong. You’ll subtly teach yourself to repeat that behavior. Instead, focus on the things you did right in every experience. That’s not to say ignore what you did wrong, you should definitely look for any root causes of what you can fix. But it’s more productive to think about what went right, and replicate that.

If you can’t figure out what you’re doing right, or you don’t think you are, then find someone who is and talk to them about it.

Everything that happens at a training session, a competition, or in a gunfight is data. You just paid for it...if you don't learn from it, then you have truly walked away from and left stuff on the table.

In the end, this has to do with your self-image. In the grand scheme, your self-image and your performance are equal. If you don’t see yourself as someone who can do the thing you want to do, then you won’t accomplish it. 

Focus on the way you want to be, and the rest will fall in line for you. 

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.


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Sunshine Shooter

Great episode, just finished it this morning. I’m always interested in learning what people have to say in how the mind works and ways to leverage it to your advantage.

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