Oct 6, 2018 | By: Daniel Schindler, Paragon Master Sporting Clays Instructor; Wingshooting Instructor; Mental Coach
First, let’s dispel the myth right up front. Worldwide, in every endeavor, be it music, arts, sports or business, skills are built, not inherited. In my experienced opinion, we all are born with the potential to excel at something. At 5 foot 1 inch tall, maybe you won’t excel in the NBA. But in our sport, age, height, weight, and gender are irrelevant to building sporting clays, skeet and trap skills. Every day, teachers like myself stand behind students and genuinely marvel at what is happening in front of them. And I do mean every day. There are legions of instructors and coaches who will attest to this. It is commonplace and the students behind the trigger are just like you.
What this means to you is this. Your success in sporting clays is a whole lot less about some mythical inborn talent and a whole lot more about inspiration and perspiration in the shooting box.
This piece is dedicated to getting you where you want to be in sporting clays, skeet or trap. I promise you, not one of the great shooters out here woke up on Thursday morning, decided he wanted to take up sporting clays, skeet or trap and won the Nationals on Saturday. Don’t laugh. Some honestly believe that the very top shooters (musicians, singers, chess players, financial analysts, tennis players) were born with their superior skills. On the contrary. The only thing that’s superior is their incredible bulldog motivation and tenacious commitment to developing world-class skills.
Maybe you don’t really care to build world-class skills? That’s OK, but we’re all bound by certain requirements if we wish to advance the skills we have. So I’m asking you to believe first that you are—right now, today—far more capable than you may presently think you are. And there’s literally tons and tons of evidence in the field to back that statement up. Secondly, I’m also asking you to understand that training is required to build those skills if you honestly wish to explore your potential.
Let’s separate two terms that many folks tend to use interchangeably—practice and training.
When it comes to the process of incrementally building small, individual skills, I prefer the term training over practice. My mind always held the term practice to mean repeating a skill already learned. Practice would be more about the repetition of a task to build all-important familiarity. A familiarity we want to have close by in the competition box under pressure—whereas training is a session devoted to building the individual blocks of a skill, the one-step-at-a-time process of assembling a skill.
Since practice would be more about the repetition of an existing skill, let’s move forward under the heading of training.
There are a couple of rules, or guidelines if you will, that make your training sessions productive and successful. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, change is the foundation upon which advancement is built. A willingness to make those changes facilitates the whole process and makes it much easier.
It’s one thing to make a commitment to change, versus actually making that change in our shooting. By that, I mean folks in general first want to understand why a change is required. It’s our nature to want to understand first. But wanting to understand first is a detour, going around rather than to the true understanding. By wanting to understand first, we filter the recommendation coming to us. We run it through our colander of bias and personal opinions, see if we like it or not, agree with it or not. After doing so, the piece of information given to us is now distorted, diluted into something more palatable but also less useful.
The point is this. It is less important that we understand and much more important that we simply trust and do. The aha moment comes after the doing, not before. Those who insist on understanding first, stand in their own way of enlightenment. Skill advancement then takes longer and in all ways costs more.
I’d like to say one more thing here before moving on. And— with a belated apology to those teachers—I will admit straight up here, I’m as guilty as anyone of having done this. When we walk onto the course with a teacher beside us, we believe what we are about to do is all about shooting. It isn’t. It’s about shifting our attention to opening our mind and accepting. It’s all about concentrating, focusing intently on that 1 small task our teacher puts in front of us. Trusting that our teacher knows something we don’t. If not, why are we standing here? And that the understanding, the aha moment, will come later. Which it always does. How soon will depend on how much trust we place in that teacher.
The next part of the training regimen is something I am passionate about. So much so, it is a cornerstone in the philosophy of my teaching.
I’m reminded of the incalculable number of times I’ve watched this occur. With the intent to train today, the shooter is on the course facing a target presentation of some difficulty for him. Two other shooters with the same training intentions stand beside him. Stepping into the box, a series of shots results in 0000000000. Adjustment after adjustment is made to no avail. 00000. As frustration nears a peak, a shot finally yields an X. With a great sigh of relief, our shooter quickly exits the box, the inference being, I don’t want to miss again. This exit is an opportunity lost.
The best term I can come up with here is struggling. No doubt, struggling can be painful. Considering the number of 0’s in the box right now, every fiber of our being says we want this to be over with, as in now. So is it a surprise that when the X does come, with a sigh of relief, the door opens and gives us the opportunity to exit the box? Who wouldn’t be relieved? But that exit, while it may understandably feel good, will foreclose on any progress here. There is a better way to approach this.
For those of us who do train with skill advancement objectives, this applies.
Let’s skip the Neurologist’s lecture on why this is so necessary, but agree that science can unconditionally prove that intense concentration during periods of stress in the box is the fastest way to build that incremental skill. It is precisely when things are not working in the shooting box that you are closest to moving the skill you now have to the next level. Intense repetition of the task, each attempt focused on improving on the last attempt, fires the circuits in the brain needed to create, reinforce and store that correct shot. I cannot say this strongly enough, nor can I encourage you enough to stay where you are and work through the difficulty.
Weightlifters and bodybuilders know that you have to break a muscle down in order to build it up. A form of struggling? 000000 is our very best opportunity to learn what is holding us back on this presentation. Where else can we go to figure out what is missing in this shot? Right here, right now, through study and careful examination of each successive shot, we can find the shortcoming, the missing piece. It is literally the next rung on the ladder. Stop and step down— or climb.
Struggling through repetition is a signal. It means we’re closing in on the truth. We’re on the edge of understanding what will soon reveal itself and explain it all. The aha moment. The conclusion, the new skill we add to our shooting toolbox for the next time we face this target. Putting that revelation in our pocket, of course, will depend on whether or not we persevere through the struggle to its conclusion.
Struggling often gets a bad rap in our culture—and shouldn’t. It’s the very fiber of advancement. Literally. Struggling through disappointment, frustration, discouragement and unsuccessful events are the defining moments for all who reach the higher skill levels. For those who prefer not to go down this path, skill advancement will be difficult if not impossible.
Compromise your composure in the box and the performance will suffer. I’m always puzzled by the shooter who openly criticizes himself for missing targets—that he has no idea how to break. Until that skill level is achieved, where is the surprise, and the justification for the anger? Not to be confused with frustration, however, which is an acceptable emotion that can be used as a tool. Used poorly, leading to anger, the performance will likely crash. Used wisely with a bit of prudent discipline, frustration can be a motivator, an incentive to push through to the desired outcome and understanding. Training on the edge. It’s all a matter of perspective.
We’ve laid out some of the ground rules, and put a framework around our training session. It’s time to put it all in action.
I can think of no better example and place to start than Tiger Woods who rebuilt his swing not once, but 3 times. In his own words, this one particular adjustment was frustratingly difficult to do. The new muscle movements were opposite to those already in place.
Tiger took that adjustment to the driving range and commenced training. He proceeded to hit the first 34 consecutive balls incorrectly. He could feel it—knowing it wasn’t right. But he also detected a small change. He was close. Each swing was ever so slightly better. He was training on the edge. Instead of feeling each ball hit incorrectly, Tiger focused fiercely on the tiniest gain in each swing. Literally, now, his brain circuits were all firing, the repetition reinforcing what he was doing correctly. Training on the edge.
The 35th ball was struck perfectly. And Tiger knew it. The struggling paid off. Tiger’s no stranger to frustration either. He knows where the ladder is and the only way up. Ball 36 took him back to old habits. As did 37, 38, 39, all the way to # 70, another perfectly synchronized shot.
Two perfectly executed shots out of 70 isn't the point. The point is, it will take fewer and fewer shots to find the next one and the next. While most of us in this situation would likely take weeks to master a similar feat, Tiger does it in hours and a few days. How? By training on the edge. Knowing precisely what adjustment has to be made— focusing intently on that adjustment— and hammering the up and down repetition until it all falls in place. Training on the edge are drills that give you a very real sense of almost making the correct swing and shot. Almost—but not quite. With each shot, you know it’s getting progressively better. It’s all about knowing and accepting what takes place before the success that makes it happen. And this isn’t just progress, this is accelerated progress.
Dan Schindler is one of only 60 worldwide members of the Guild of Shooting Instructors (UK) and is one of the most highly respected Sporting Clays and Wingshooting Instructors in the US. Dan is an NSCA Level III Instructor (since 1995) and founded the Paragon School of Sporting with one goal in mind. Whether it be for the advanced competitor or providing the basics to the entry-level shooter, Paragon provides the simplest, most practical and most effective Instruction, Coaching and Mental Training for the Sporting Clays & Wingshooting enthusiast. Dan Schindler helps shooters alleviate a lot of their frustration by taking the mystery out of breaking targets, calling their own misses and make their own corrections. Lessons are fun, enlightening and our clients learn to shoot better in minutes!
Take Your Best Shot (Book I) is all about the fundamentals, a requirement for good shooting.
To The Target (Book II) Builds on the steps outlined in Book I. Emphasises Gun Management skills when the trap fires, creating a consistent, reliable, trustworthy swing.
Beyond the Target (Book III) is for shooters of all levels, filled with valuable information, clay target truths. Entertaining and a culmination of 3 decades of Dan' life's work as a teacher, competitor, published writer and much more.