Monday, June 19, 2017

Practicing vs. Training

Whether preparing for a tournament or just working to improve your scores, it’s important to understand the difference between practicing versus training.  For most people practice means going out to their local sporting clay course and shooting a round.  While any practice is helpful, if you want to improve your game, it’s important to supplement practicing with training.  Practicing is just what it sounds like - you shoot a practice round. Training is where you work on a specific technique or target with sufficient repetition that creates habits.  Think of it this way, where does a PGA tour professional spend the most time, playing practice rounds or hitting balls on the driving range?

Practice has served me well early on in my shooting career, though it wasn’t until I understood how to train that my game began to make serious improvements.  Training begins with observation during either a practice round or competition.  Personally, I keep a shot log in which I record targets I struggled with during competitions.  I try to draw out the target, noting things such as target type, distance, speed etc.  I try to keep it to the 2 or 3 targets that gave me the most trouble or the ones I dread the most.  Next I take my log to my home club, Quail Run in Colorado.  I will go specifically to the type of target presentations noted in my log and work exclusively on them with my coach, Jon Kruger, or my father.  The more detail you can record in your shot log, the better your coach can assist you in improving your game.  Training requires determining if my technique is sound, understanding the corrections I need to make, and then it’s about repetition after repetition.

I won’t lie, shooting your least favorite target over and over again isn’t what I or most people would call fun, but training isn’t meant to be fun. It’s designed to help improve your skill, and improving your skill leads to winning, and winning is always fun.  Usually I will focus on 3 or 4 different variations of the target that is giving me trouble.  I remember a time last year where the high incoming floating teal target that peaks and hangs out there between 40-60 yards, which seems to be on every FITASC course, was destroying my scores.  One look at this type of target in the show pairs left me saying, “Oh No.” Instantly my thoughts went negative with images of misses flashing through my mind.  The most frustrating thing was once you have a target you don’t like; each course seems to have this very target every peg or every other station.   Upon arriving home, my father and I went straight to Quail Run and asked the owner Jerry if he could set up this presentation for me to practice on.  For the next 200 rounds I only shot this target.  Starting from 40 yards and moving out to 75 yards.  I probably missed 75% of the first 100 targets, leaving me more than a little frustrated.  We tried several different techniques until we began to find some consistency.  Somewhere around my 150th shot I was finding success. 

Over the next 100 rounds, with some breaks thrown in along the way, I worked on my consistency.  Consistency is achieved when you no longer consciously think about lead or even pulling the trigger. When the picture in your mind is correct, everything happens automatically.  Sort of like driving a car, all the steps happen automatically. To make my point, think about your drive to the range. How many times did you touch the brake?  It’s not an answer you can determine because braking was something you did subconsciously due to repetition of driving.  To be the best, this is how you need to shoot. Repetition drives consistent movements and when the picture is right, your subconscious does the rest.  I’m proud to say during those “next 100” rounds, I broke 80-90% of them, not bad considering that just a few hours earlier, I missed 75% of the same target.  Along the way my attitude towards these targets changed from the “Oh No” thought I had when seeing the show pair to an “I got this” and my scores were the major benefactor.

In summary, if improvement in your skill and results is what you truly desire, ask yourself how much do you practice versus train?  Get a shot log to record the targets that challenge you while they are fresh in your mind.  Don’t just shoot them until you can hit them but keep pushing until you are hitting them with great consistency. Along the way you may find a new favorite target develops from one you used to dread.

Dalton Kirchhoefer

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Can Only Find What You Are Looking For

This month Blog post is written by sponsored shooter, Dalton Kirchhoefer.
Dalton and his dad, Tony practicing at his home club, Quail Run Sports.

You Can Only Find What You Are Looking For

My father has always told me, “You can only find what you are looking for in life, as well as competition”. I’m not sure I grasp the entire meaning but the light is beginning to shine a little brighter at the beginning of the shooting season. Regardless of the shooter’s skill, overcoming the feeling you have after missing a target you know you can hit or one you have hit 25 out of 25 in practice, is probably the greatest challenge a competitor faces during competition. The most important target in a tournament is the one following a miss. Will you be able to wipe the image of the miss from your mind, replacing it with a good picture of you smashing the next target? Or will you choose to play backwards rather than forward and carry the miss with you to the next station? Personally, my greatest challenge is mastering the skill of playing forward rather than playing backwards. If you can’t wipe the memory of the miss from your mind and replace it with a smashed target, you end up looking and waiting for the miss to come and just as my dad preaches “You always find what you are looking for”.

I’m starting to learn that the mental side of shooting is as important, if not more important, than the mechanics. Without good shooting mechanics, consistency is hard to find; without a strong mental, game consistency is impossible to find. Just as shooters have a pre-shot routine, you need to have a pre-shot mental routine. Personally, when I am shooting my best, I am staring down the targets using my hand as a guide and envisioning dusting the target well before I ever step into the stand. The frustrating part is how quickly the mental routine disappears when I’m not shooting my best. I know I am not alone in this and every shooter, from the beginner to the Hall of Famer, has struggled similarly. While struggling with this very concept during a recent competition, a question came to mind….How often do I practice the mental side of my game during practice? The short answer is, not very much. The challenge with practice is, if you miss, there is always another target waiting to change the outcome. During competitions, you don’t get a do-over. If you haven’t mastered something in practice you will never be able to master it in competition. With this in mind, one of my goals this year is going to be focusing on improving the mental side of my game. I will work to incorporate it in practice and develop a mental pre-shot routine that is every bit as consistent as my physical pre-shot routine. Most importantly, maybe taking a little of my dad’s advice, which isn’t always easy for a teenager; making sure I am looking for the right things as I am beginning to understand that “I can only find what I am looking for”.
Dalton Kirchhoefer

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Cycles of Shooting

Shooting is about cycles and there are a variety of cycles; the cycle of practice, the cycle of competition, the cycle of the score and the cycle of trust. All of these cycles are interconnected, but there’s no doubt the cycle we’re all interested in is the cycle to raise the score.

What does it take to raise your score? Most would say practice, practice and more practice, but there’s more to it than just practice alone. Competition shooting is all-encompassing. It’s an encompassment of your physical ability, mental mastery, emotional control and trust in your equipment.
When you step up to the line, trust is the key and that trust is two-fold. The first is trust in yourself, in your ability to make the shot and execute it exactly the same way every time. Practice builds that self-trust. The second part is trusting your equipment; trust in your gun and your ammunition. Trusting your gun to move the way you want it to, to complete the entire cycle of executing the shot from when you first see the target down the barrel, to pulling the trigger, to the shot firing and finally seeing the target break. That’s trust in your gun. Then there’s trust in your ammunition. Trusting in its performance to have the same velocity and the same pattern you’ve trained yourself to shoot with. That’s where reloading comes in. Reloading is part of the cycle of shooting.

I’ve written about this topic before. It’s when I first learned to reload that I found out about the cycles of competition shooting. I would reload spent hulls, then go out to the range the next day, drop them in my gun, pull the trigger, watch the target break, keep the empty hull, reload it again that evening and start the cycle all over again. Reloading those hulls brings all the cycles together. How so? Shooting at the practice range is not the only form of good practice. When I would reload, I was also thinking about my game and my performance. Reloading brings you into the entire shooting process. Now, I’m not advocating some deep, Zen-like philosophy. We all know that mental toughness is 90% of the competition game and ultimately, learning to control your mental game will raise your score.
I know your objections. Reloading is not practice, it’s not breaking targets. It’s not, but neither is goal setting, mental imagery or working out to build stamina. However, each one of those is part of the cycle of competition shooting.

Reloading builds trust. Trust in your ammunition and confidence in your performance. You know your ammunition will perform because you built the load. You may ask, don’t you get that from factory ammo? You’re supposed to and most of the time you do, but buying boxes of ammunition from the local sporting goods store doesn’t build trust or force you to work on your mental game.

I’m an avid proponent of using reloads for practice. Factory ammunition is for actual competition, not for practice when you’re working on your game and concentrating on one of the many cycles that are part of the game. All through my competitive career I reloaded, even after I had an ammunition sponsor. Why? Because reloading is part of a cycle and as each cycle is intertwined with each other, I found the cycles got stronger as long as they remained connected. You can’t do one cycle and not the other. Besides, do you really want to add shopping to your cycles?
Shari LeGate

Monday, April 25, 2016

Be In Control

A few weeks ago during a coaching session, one of the shooters missed a target. I asked him, as I always do, to tell me about the miss: what happened, where the barrel was in relation to the target, etc. It’s not that I didn’t know, but I’m a firm believer that the shooter needs to know. You can’t fix what, you as the shooter, can’t see. If the coach continually tells you where you are on a missed target, the shooter doesn’t learn how to read their own shots. So, I asked this young man where his gun was when he took the shot and he replied, “Not on the target.” I looked at him for a minute and asked, “Then why’d you pull the trigger?”

He got a sheepish grin, shrugged his shoulders and gave the go-to answer, “I don’t know.” So, why do we pull the trigger when we know we’re not seeing the right sight picture? More often than not, we pull the trigger because we’re supposed to. We’ve trained ourselves to pull the trigger within a certain amount of time after we call for the target. Sometimes it’s because we think we’re running out of time and the target is getting too far away. In this case, it was 16-yard Trap and the choke in the gun was a Modified. Trust me, there was a lot more time to get on target.

One of the most significant things I’ve learned over my shooting career is eight very important words: Trigger Control is more important than Sight Control. It became a mantra in my shooting career. There are a lot of moving parts needing to come to together when shooting a target. They all happen very quickly and subconsciously. We don’t actively separate each element we need to execute. It just comes together and we do it without thinking. That’s muscle memory.

In shotgun shooting, no matter which discipline, you have to see the target clearly in order to hit it. Basic concept…you can’t hit what you can’t see. Having the correct target - barrel relationship is what breaks the target. In other words, pointing the barrel in the right place before pulling the trigger is trigger control.

Trigger control is difficult to master because when all of the moving elements of executing a shot are subconsciously taking place, we need to override one of those elements and make it a conscious effort – pulling the trigger. It’s easy to say, but difficult to do. Difficult because we’re countermanding muscle memory, but it’s without a doubt the most important element.

We spend a lot of time on the shooting range training our muscles to perform without thinking, including pulling the trigger. When everything is flowing smoothly and we’re effortlessly staying on target, there’s no reason to think about trigger control. However, for those times when it’s not coming together or the winds up or your timing is little off, that’s when trigger control is your best friend.   

Training to not ‘pull the trigger’ goes against everything we’ve learned about shotgun shooting, but it is trigger control that separates a competitor from a champion. Training trigger control is a challenge, but it can be done. Step out on any clay target range, call for the target and then purposely don’t shoot it. Take it out a bit, past the ‘normal time’ you would pull the trigger, then shoot it.

I know, some folks are already saying, that you’re training bad habits by carrying the target. That is not the case. You’re not training to carry a target a long time; you’re training to see the right sight picture and training to pull the trigger on your terms, not the target or the gun’s terms. You’re training yourself to be in control.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It’s Not an Option.

The shooting season is over and while some of us are thanking our lucky stars we got through the season without hurting ourselves, others are shooting so well, they are wishing it would go on for several more months. Either way, the next few months are as important as when we are in the middle of the competition season. Actually, they are more important.

So often, we don’t use this time off to our best benefit. Some of us pack away the gun, take a clean break and don’t even think about shooting. Others take no break at all, shooting local matches and use the rest of the time on the practice field.

Life is about balance and so is shooting. The best time to balance out your shooting journey is during the off season, when your mind is clear. Shooters will use this time to reflect on the past season, thinking about certain shots and working hard to learn from the mistakes they made. Over the next few months, you’re thinking about what went wrong and how to fix it. That’s really not the most productive way to spend the off season, dwelling on all the things that went wrong.

The mind is a powerful tool. A tool we don’t always use in the right way. Shooters tell me how they use the off season to learn from their mistakes and build off of those mistakes for the upcoming year. I always wondered – how you can build off of mistakes? Wouldn’t it be easier to build off successes?  One of my old coaches told me, “Don’t work on what went wrong. Work on what went right. Energy used on what went wrong is nothing but wasted energy.”

The off season IS the perfect time to recap and prepare for the upcoming season. Begin by building off what you did right. When reviewing matches shot, look at the ones you performed well at and determine why. ‘Everything just clicked’ might be the first answer you come up with, but it’s not the only answer. Dig a little deeper and find out why. Were you feeling particularly confident that day, and if so why? Were you seeing the target more clearly that day than any other day, and why is that? I can’t give you the answers to those questions, but I can ask you to dig down and find those answers yourself.

At the MEC booth at the Grand American, a lot of shooters came in and told me about their rounds and inevitably they start out by telling me what they did wrong. Start out by telling me, and yourself, what you did right. Focus on what you did correctly and build off that. Take what you did right on that one station and use it on the next station and the next.

Trying to build anything from a mistake or failure will only result in more mistakes and failures. Building something from a success can only result in more successes. So, during this off season, as you reflect on the previous shooting year, build from only the successes. It’s a choice you make on how you want to look at your season and remember, failure is not an option.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fighting the Mid-Season Slump

Having just returned from the Grand American Trap Shoot, I talked with many shooters, both young and old, who told the same story and asked the same question. “I was shooting great at the start of the season and now I can’t hit a thing. What am I doing wrong?” The dreadful mid-season slump, we’ve all experienced it and when we do, we get the same advice, ‘just shoot your way out of it.’

Well, there’s some truth to that, but it’s how you approach shooting your way out of it that makes all the difference. The fundamentals of golf are similar to those of shooting and I play and watch a lot of golf. Not surprisingly, even pro golfers suffer from mid-season slumps, but what caught my attention was how they deal with it. 

To put it simply, they go back to the basics. Tiger Woods is a perfect example. His struggles on the golf course these days are well known, but he’s working his way out of it. How? He went back to his basics. He pulled footage of his swing when he was at the top of his game and did a comparison of then and now. To the average person, it looks the same, but not to Tiger or his coach. To him, it wasn’t even close to the same swing.  He and his coach went out to the driving range and he’s working on bringing back that swing. He is going back to the basics; going back to what made him a champion.

That’s what we shooters should do, go back to our basics. However, there’s a little more to it. First off, it’s easier said than done because we think we are doing so, but a minor little obstacle gets in the way that we’re not even conscious of. It’s called Muscle Memory.

It took a few months to get into this slump and remain in it. Over those months, we made slight changes to how we do things. Changes we don’t even notice. Whether it’s a small cant in the gun, how we make the initial move to the target or how we finish the execution of the overall shot. We did it over and over again and it’s become so ingrained in our muscle memory, it’s now habit and we don’t even realize it. It could be one thing or several.

It’s easy for the pro golfers. They have old footage from matches they can turn to and professional coaches they pay a lot of money for to watch them practice and analyze their swings. We don’t have that luxury. So, what do we do?

First, forgive yourself for shooting badly. Put aside all those bad scores and awful shots you keep remembering and give yourself permission to take the time to fix it.

Then, put down the gun and think back to the days when everything was in sync and making the shot came easily. Think about how good that felt and how you executed the shot, from start to finish. Not just pulling the trigger, but from the time you stepped on the station until you stepped off.  Go out on the practice range and most importantly, take your time and think about what you’re doing. Don’t just shoot shot after shot, throwing ammo downrange. Think about the basic fundamentals that got you to this level and make sure each shot is executed with those fundamentals. The first couple of practice rounds will take time, because you’re carefully thinking about what you’re doing.  You have to implement new muscle memory and that takes concentration and consistency. But it will happen.

Remember, you can’t pull yourself out of a slump by just shooting your way out of it. It takes patience, going back to basics, and belief in yourself and your ability to beat the slump and finish the season strong.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Getting ready for the Season Opener

By Shari LeGate

A comment was made the other day that shooters weren’t really athletes. Not in the sense of a track athlete or baseball or football athlete. I would argue that point, saying those who make those types of statements have never stood on a trap line in the heat of summer for a few hours hitting target after target. That’s a true athlete. 

Shooters are athletes in every sense of the word. Preparation for competition may not be like a football player lifting heavy weights or a jogger running 25 miles a day training for a marathon, but shooters still train, even during the off season. 

Preparing for the shooting season doesn’t mean just throwing ammo down range and shooting as many targets as you can. Granted, you have to practice the execution of shooting at a real target, but there are non-shooting activities you can do to prepare for the upcoming season, and those can help improve your overall shooting even more. 
Review your shooter diary: The off season is a perfect time to look back at your scores. Find patterns in your performance and use those patterns to work on areas that are weak. That doesn’t mean if you miss the same type of target a few times during one match, it’s a pattern. That could just mean you were a bit off that day. If you check your performance over the entire season and that same missed target keeps showing up, however, then you’ve got something to work with. Set up a training routine to change that behavior. Work and execute that change for about a month, so it becomes part of your muscle memory and when you step on the line, you’re confident about hitting the target. 

If you don’t keep a shooter diary or journal with your scores, mental training routines and other information….start. Keeping track of past performances is the best way to improve future performances. 

Exercise the eyes: You can’t hit what you can’t see. When you have time off, you need to keep working your eyes. The eye is a muscle and it needs to be exercised. Like other muscles, the eye muscle will get lazy if it doesn’t work out. Go to a shooting range and watch targets, even if you’re not shooting. Just by looking at targets as much as possible, you’re training and exercising your eyes, preparing them for the next few months of staring hard at targets. 

Do regular eye exercises. Focus on something close and then move your eye out focusing on something about 35 yards out. You’re getting your eyes used to the movement of looking close in at the barrel when you first bring up your gun and then moving the eye out to find the target. Muscle memory begins to set in and you’ll find it takes less time to acquire and focus on the target. 

We all put our guns down when the season ends, and then a few months before the new season begins we start preparing and set up a practice schedule. Keep in mind that even if you haven’t been physically shooting at a target, you can still work on your game before that first match, just by doing a few simple things. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.