The Brain Cap is core to Mr. Hopking’s coaching practice. It illustrates the differences in your brain-wave activity between “thinking” and “focusing.” The more you think, the less you focus. The more you focus, the better you shoot.
Henry Hopking wearing the “Brain Cap” demonstrates his brain-wave activity charted in real-time on the laptop computer, as Shotgun Life Publisher Irwin Greenstein watches.
"We want to show you what it looks like to switch focus off and on and what focus feels like,” explained Mr. Hopking in his British accent, as I watched the Brain Cap measure my own brain waves on his iPhone. “It’s not a detailed analysis, but it’s good enough for our purpose. We want you to focus on-demand. You only need to focus for three seconds on the shot. For 100 rounds of sporting clays, you should be focused on the targets for 2½ minutes total."
Through focus, he continues, you can neurologically perfect your pre-shot clays routine, improve your confidence and prepare your eyes to receive the target. After a few minutes I was convinced. Thanks to Mr. Hopking’s app, I can feel and see the difference as I turned focus off and on.
“Focus requires a lot of intensity,” Mr. Hopking told me. “With sporting clays you have to be ready to react. Our objective is to give you that structure. I’m looking at the brainwave side of it, to get your mental hardware working correctly. I think of myself as a brain electrician.”
From left: Henry Hopking, Will Fennel and Elizabeth Lanier-Fennell with mascot, Bear.
The morning is clear and fresh, complementing our vista of rolling woodlands far to the horizon. We’ve gathered on the back porch of the Blue Branch Farm rustic cabin – site of the recent instructional venture between Mr. Hopking and Will Fennell, as well as Mr. Fennell’s new wife, Elizabeth Lanier-Fennell who is founder of the GRITS women’s shotgunning group and a NSCA Level III instructor. Located in Sharon, South Carolina, Blue Branch Farm had served as the hunting retreat for Mr. Fennell and his father. The bulldozers had left a few days before our arrival, clearing trees for construction of a private clays-shooting training center that will become Mr. Hopking’s American base of operations for “Get the Mental Edge.”
In fact, under the auspices of The Brain Training Company, he has been visiting the United States since 2003 – providing on-site support for his clients at major clays-shooting tournaments and also conducting individual clinics for his brainwave conditioning system. As of June 2015, his clays-shooting clients have won 2 Olympic Gold Medals, 8 World Championship titles, 9 European Championship titles and 19 National/Open titles. He’s coached more than 20 members of Team USA.
On the back porch of the Blue Branch Farm cabin, Henry Hopking explains target focus.
The goals of “Get the Mental Edge” are to help shooters improve concentration, learn total focus, control nerves in competition, develop a powerful pre-shot mental routine and shoot consistently at their best.
He has received rave reviews for his training system from pillars of the British press such as The Guardian, The Financial Times, BBC, The Times and The Independent.
Now with Mr. Fennell formally involved, the duo has teamed up for a comprehensive clays-shooting instructional clinic where The Brain Training Company centers on the gray matter between your ears while Mr. Fennell addresses body mechanics. They call it the “Joint Training Day.” You’ll pay $950.00 per person, with a two-person minimum, enabling clients to flip and rotate instructors during morning and afternoon sessions.
“The objective of the Joint Training Day is to give you a foundation of control, a training program to follow and understand the proper sequence from pre-shot routine through the shot itself,” said Mr. Hopking.
Mr. Fennell emphasized that Joint Training Day is not for every clays enthusiast. “We do a lot of phone screening to make sure people will really benefit from it. We determine if someone really wants to be coached.”
Mr. Fennell is certainly a believer in “Get the Mental Edge.” He began working with Mr. Hopking in 2005 while instructing in the U.K. At that point, Mr. Fennell had been competing in FITASC and sporting clays for 10 years. Mr. Fennell has medaled in many championships, both internationally and regionally, and made Team USA 14 times. He served as the 2016 Sporting Team Captain for the World English Sporting Championship. As a clays instructor, he has helped students for the past 20 years. His corporate sponsors include Krieghoff, Fiocchi, Briley, MEC Traps, RE Ranger, ESP Hearing Protection, LongRange Trap Controls, Lucas Oil Outdoor Products and EZ-Go Carts.
Mr. Hopking started shooting pigeons with his father as a young boy, and he’s nurtured an abiding interest in mind studies for decades. He has won titles in various mind sports, among them a Silver Medal in the World Championships for Creative Thinking and a Bronze Medal in the Speed Reading World Championships. He graduated from Cambridge Business College in 1995 with a degree in European Business and Finance, and subsequently moved to a successful career as an institutional banker in London where he eventually led the client relationship team at HSBC Investment Bank. The job created high stress levels for himself and his colleagues to the extent that productivity suffered.
His early interest in psychology (he picked up his first book about the subject at age 12) inspired him to find a solution, but at the same time “the analyst in me liked that you can measure brain waves. Psychology isn’t tangible. Seeing the brainwave activity validates what I’m asking my clients to do. They can see on the screen the effect it has.”
Will Fennell helps Shotgun Life Publisher Irwin Greenstein with his shooting form.
Mr. Hopking laid the groundwork for his brain-training practice while still in his twenties. He took a six-month sabbatical from investment banking to research neuro-feedback during the 1990s. “At the time, brain-wave feedback was being used with brain-damaged individuals,” he said. “I realized that no one was using that brain-wave research with high-performance individuals, so I thought I’d apply it to investment bankers to make them more relaxed and productive.”
After several years with positive results in banking, he spun off his own consultancy. He secured contracts with other corporate verticals and diversified into golf coaching. A friend introduced him to the FITASC community and Mr. Hopkings applied his brain-wave approach to the shooting sports. Word spread as his competitive shooters improved. He also moved The Brain Training Company into sporting-clays coaching.
Henry Hopking monitors Irwin Greenstein’s brain waves through his iPhone during the clay-target shooting session of the brain-training program.
Mr. Hopkings and his clients serendipitously benefited from a concurrent increased exploration in neuro-feedback and the miniaturization of integrated-circuit technology – resulting in his Brain Cap. Now, Mr. Hopking can practice “Get the Mental Edge” anywhere in the world using only a high-tech ball cap and an iPhone.
The gist of his consulting personalizes pre-shot routines that drop you into a relaxed state, which increases the flow of your focus to apex when you trigger the shot.
“Some people need to focus and others need to relax their thoughts,” Mr. Hopking explained. “I want to create a strong mental focus for a relaxed attentive state of control, of relaxed breathing, visualization, loading your subconscious with what you want to happen in a repeatable sequence of time; then building intensity until you call for the target when you should be at your peak level of focus, working to improve clarity of the target. It’s a curve of rising intensity. Mental focus supports visual focus. There is no thinking because if you’re thinking you’re creating doubt. If you’re correctly going through your pre-shot routine it quiets the chimp of doubt.”
Practicing targets on the Fennell Shooting School clays shooting field. From left: Elizabeth Lanier, Henry Hopking, Will Fennell and Irwin Greenstein.
Both Mr. Fennell and Mr. Hopking believe that a strong mental game contributes to a strong technical game. When it comes to the physical stage, we jump into Mr. Fennell’s golf cart for a three-minute ride to his clays shooting field. The grassy expanse is equipped with 10 trap machines including two adjustable towers. All the machines are remotely controlled for horizontal and vertical angles, providing an infinite variety of target presentations.
Mr. Fennell’s patient approach pays off as I start to synthesize the brain-wave management from the morning session with his technical coaching. I’m more deliberate about a pre-shot routine and Mr. Fennell has helped with foot position, swing and mount. When the session ended, I felt that I’ve walked away from the Joint Training Day a better clays shooter.
Most of us have heard about the mental tips of the games that emphasize focus, visualization, self-talk and instinct. “Get the Mental Edge” takes the traditional cerebral guidance into quantifiable science – providing of course that you accept brainwave control.
“It’s an intense day,” said Mr. Hopking.
Are you up to it? Mr. Hopking will return to Blue Branch Farm September 11-26, 2017 for the next Joint Training Day. To schedule an appointment visit http://www.willfennell.com.