The picture that you want is the picture that you cannot see. You can see it, but you didn't capture it on film because the mirror must be in the up position out of the way while the light is making the image on film. You must learn to trust your subconscious. You must let go. Trust yourself and your trigger finger. Fixating on the shot and the equipment actually keeps you from achieving perfect pictures. With a SLR you actually don't get to see the picture you are creating. The mirror is up blocking your eye's view for a split second. It is what you don't see that is most important for quality photography.
Training, knowledge, skill, confidence, and "letting go" are requirements of excellent photography.
Any action photography requires a sort of sixth sense because you must anticipate that fraction of a second that it takes the camera to go through it's functions. You have to figure out where the subject will be and what will be going on at the split second that the mirror is up and the image is actually being made.
In sports photography you must remember to continuously move the camera to track your subject even when the mirror is up. I shoot color sports action for the National Football League, and over the years I noticed that my mind races similar to a car accident. The action seems to slow down as my mind races and my adrenaline kicks in. I can actually wait for the right moment where a player's hand will be with the ball so that the photo I create will be perfect. The player's torso will be just right with arms, hands, and ball in perfect composition in my view finder at the time my finger fires the shutter release button. I give my trigger finger full control of when to fire. This is the Zen part. I never use that motor drive in my camera like a machine gun firing bursts without looking. I use the motor drive only to advance the film to the next frame. I have trained my reflexes to be so fast and accurate that I can actually pick and choose my action images and not rely on luck in between shutter bursts. At four frames per second or even eight frames per second, you can't imagine all the activity that goes on in that view finder. In remote camera firings that I have done on assignments for many top sports magazines, I noticed the ball would only be in one of the frames of a burst. You would think that at the speed of frames per second, the shutter would capture the ball in every shot. Not so. The action happens extremely fast, and I'm faster. To compete, you must learn to be faster also.
Expert marksmanship training in the U.S. Marine Corps, plus focus and quickness practice for five years in Judo and ten years in Karate help me keep my reflex instincts honed to a level sharp enough to keep up with, and even ahead of the action. I still practice preseason for the NFL football season.
I sit in front of my house with my camera and long lens in my lap. When a car drives by, I pick up the camera with lens and quickly focus on the car's bumper before it gets directly in front of me.
Remember professional athletes are training everyday. Their reflexes are acute and extremely fast. The photographer's reflexes must be more acute and quicker if you plan to take the picture where the athletes are going to be and not where they were. With the narrowest depth of field because your shutter speed is set so high for action, your focus must be razor sharp and dead on even with other photographers bumping you on the sidelines while you shoot.
I have tested every auto focus camera and lens made that claimed to track moving objects. In the past, none came close to what the manufacturer claimed. This year I tested and purchased the new Nikon N905 and I am pleased with it's performance. Previously, my reflexes were much faster than the auto focus servo motors and I had to constantly not rely on them. I had to "nudge" the servo motor to keep up with the sharp focus on my subject. The Nikon N905's performance keeps up with the sharp focus of every subject so far. It does this by continuously tracking the subject while the shutter is firing.
It took years for me to fully understand photography and how it all worked. It is really more physics than art. Learning to use the camera was like learning to drive a car. First I studied. Then I concentrated on all the knobs and technical aspects. Depth of field came hard for me. I really didn't understand it for a long time. That concept took me about six months of study and work to really understand it well enough to explain it to someone else thoroughly. Really... the smaller the hole in the aperture diaphragm blades gives the greater depth of field in front of and behind the point of focus. Then who wrote the large number (f 32) on the lens? It made no sense at all to me. Finally, one day my mentor friend said to me, "look, the larger the number on the lens (eg. f 32), means the more in focus you will have." Well, it was like someone hitting me on the side of my head with a baseball bat. Everything suddenly became clear. I could then understand the physics properties of light passing through glass. I could figure out the entire system. At first, I just believed. Sort of like believing in magic, but I had to understand it to be a great photographer. For some reason I could not understand this concept by reading about it and from my research.
Just like learning to drive a car, I first concentrated on all the controls and I was nervous. I was fixated with the equipment; how it worked and how to calibrate it, and how to make it all work together. When I started in photography, the light meter was not in the camera. There was no automatic anything on cameras or lenses. After about two years of constant schooling, the camera and lens became a natural extension of my eye and brain. It is almost like a part of my head and body now. I am one with my camera. I don't think when I take photographs. I let my subconscious mind have total control when I am creating pictures. I "let go," which was very hard to do at first, and difficult to learn to do, but I realized I had to get to that level to be a great photographer. I practiced and practiced. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. If you are sloppy when you practice, you will probably be sloppy when the real time comes. I mentally put myself in the frame of mind that every moment with my camera is an assignment. There is no practice. Everything is for real. Stop worrying about making a mistake and shoot. The more you shoot, the more your instincts will be imprinted into your brain and into every cell of your body. I want my photography to be more instinctual rather than work. Just be and let the pictures happen. Then capture on Kodak film that instant in time that is.
Shakespeare said it succinctly, "To be or not to be." You are! Stop trying to be. The word "try" implies that you are not there yet. Trust yourself and trust your natural instincts. That is the Zen of photography. Just be.