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