Monday, December 12, 2016

Again With Mindset

Speaking of mindset.  As we draw closer to the end of the year many of us set goals for the New Year and find ways of breaking those goals.  If you do nothing else for the year, I would encourage you to adopt a growth mindset.  What is a growth mindset?  The link below explains the idea much further, however in short it the idea that what the talent and brains you were born with does not limit what you can do.  Practice and study can make all the difference to whether you are smarter, stronger, better, faster etc.

I would apply this idea to how you begin your year of shooting.  Commit yourself to practicing your fundamentals, practicing your marksmanship and practicing mindset.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mindset: Play to Win

When I was in high school I played soccer for two years.  During practice the coaches would tell us to give a 110% effort, to practice like we would play at the next game.  Going through the motions was not an option.  I took this advice to heart, so when I practiced, I gave it my all.  Then when I faced my opponent, I knew what I was made of.  Injuries, concussions and grass in my teeth were the metric of whether I sufficiently battled the other team for the winning goal.  Fast forward 20 years and I find myself teaching the same concept to new shooters.  Practice like you will play.  Unlike my former soccer schedule, we may never face our gun fighting opponent on the field.

There are so many memes and slogans online to help get us into the mindset of winning the fight. However after much discussion with a good friend of mine, who is a retired Sherriff Deputy, teaching someone resolve can be a difficult task.  Resolve when used as a verb, it is to settle or find a solution to a problem, dispute or contentious matter, to decide firmly on a course of action.  As a noun, resolve is the firm determination to do something.  Synonyms include a decision, resolution or commitment.  Keeping this in mind, you need all of the defined characteristics to win a fight.  One approach is to train for specific scenarios or those situations which would occur most often.  Another approach is to develop the determination to respond to every scenario or situation which could occur.  These two approaches differ in that one conditions your actions and the other conditions your thought process.

Resolve is more than simply knowing what to do when.  Resolve is a state of mental preparedness to take definitive action.  You must be dedicated to learning, training and practicing the skills needed to be flexible within your defensive strategy.  How does a shooter prepare her mind for the fight?  Practice like you play and play to win.

Decision, resolution and commitment are words that describe a steadfast choice. Having the resolve to win is a choice.  A choice that I believe needs to be made early in the game.  At first, this kind of thinking may seem difficult to focus on or seem easy to attain.  All I have to do is decide to act, right. In reality, it is a change to your internal monologue.  Whatever you normally think about during the day, you must make subtle adjustments to your thoughts and view your surroundings with caution.  Simply it can be called situational awareness, but I prefer the description as a change to your overall mindset.  I am aware of what is going on around me.  I am ready and able to handle myself in that situation.  It is difficult to maintain a heightened level of awareness for great length of time, particularly in your own home, which is considered a sanctuary from the outside world.  However you must make a conscious effort to remain alert to your environment, whatever it is.

Keep in mind the five levels of awareness -

Unaware – These are times when you are asleep, watching TV, occupied with a specific task and daydreaming.

Aware – You are conscious of your surroundings, cognizant of those around you, have mentally identified potential threats and where they may emanate from.

Alert – A specific potential threat or threats have been identified; this is a heightened state of awareness.

Alarm – Whatever action was planned in the alert level is now implemented.  Again, taking action does not necessarily mean using force.

How do I develop my resolve?

1.       Decide to prevail.

2.       Maintain an appropriate level of awareness.

3.       Create your self defense plan.

4.       Train for the skills needed in an emergency.

5.       If possible, participate in force on force training.

6.       Practice for your “game day”.

7.       Practice for your “game day”.

Understand that while you may have developed your resolve, both psychological and physical responses can be a battle to overcome in your practice.  Training for stress is crucial to prevail in an encounter.  Your goal is to acclimate yourself to performing well under stress.  This can be done through timing yourself while you shoot, raising your heartrate through exercise prior to shooting or entering a competitive match.

When I played soccer, I was a part of a team.  I was part of a team that had already made the decision before we stepped onto the field that we would win.  We wouldn’t give up, we would keep trying to score goals, and we would do what it took to get those goals.  Preparing for game day meant we already decided we would win.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Shooting Tradition

Last summer, the oil company my husband works for asked if I would host a shotgun clinic for new shooters at the annual family picnic.  A number of people made the decision to learn how to shoot clays and fired a shotgun for the first time.  I stayed for as long as there was someone who wanted to learn which ended up being hours!  The ages ranged from children that came to learn with their parents to people on the verge of retirement.  There was one young boy that kept getting back in line to shoot over and over.  To my surprise, many of the new shooters were young girls.  What I also didn’t expect was how well the younger kids did and that they were striking the clays on their first shots.  At the end of the clinic everyone was hitting clays.  One of the spectators watching the clinic commented that she didn’t expect the younger girls to be able to hit the clays as shooting isn’t something she’d expect a girl to be able to do.  Her comments made me think about stereotypes of female shooters, but more specifically, younger girls who are learning shoot.

During the mid-19th century, one female shooter stood above the rest.  Annie Oakley’s shooting skills were often underestimated by her male counterparts.  She is an American icon known for her impressive shooting abilities as a sharpshooter and exhibition shooter.   Fast forward to the 21st century, Kim Rhode is a triple Olympic Champion and in 2012 she tied the world record for hitting 99 out of 100 clays in the international skeet event at the London Olympics.  She is a daughter, wife, mother and shooter.  Oakley and Rhode both excel at the shooting sports.  These two women are separated by over a hundred years and are connected not solely by their gender, but their accomplishments as shooters.  Annie Oakley was recorded hunting at age 9 and sold her game to local hotels and markets to earn money to support her family. Kim Rhode began competing in skeet at age 10, participated in her first African safari hunt at age 12 and won her first gold medal at age 17. At that time, she became the youngest female gold medalist in Olympic shooting.  As you just read and hopefully realized, both Oakley and Rhode started at a young age.

The next generation of female shooters is interested in a wide range of hobbies, excel at a variety of skills, seek many different educational goals, and come from different political persuasions.  For example, Katelyn Francis is a 16 year old competitive shooter for STI Firearms.  Her mother noted in regards to an award Katelyn received on November 11, 2014, “A lot of people comment on Katie's page about how she should be just a normal teenage girl. Well, she is a normal, polite teenage girl. When her dad started to teach her about guns and shooting, I was not on board but he promised me that shooting and the gun community would teach her responsibility and manners.”

Shyanne Roberts, a 10 year old competitive shooter and second amendment advocate, includes in her interests, aside from shooting, hanging out with friends, music, and soccer.  In early 2014, Shyanne testified at a New Jersey legislative committee regarding gun control.  Only 9 years old at the time, she reminded politicians that the proposed magazine ban would punish her and other athletes instead of the criminals the politicians claimed they were targeting.   

Learning how to shoot teaches you the same life lessons as any sport: you must train and practice to increase your skills.  Shooting sports build character and teach you responsibility, sportsmanship, dedication, and perseverance.  These attributes help young minds develop discipline which in turn prepares them to face the hurdles of life.  Shooting has been passed down from father to daughter, mother to son and many other family combinations when you throw grandparents and uncles in the mix.  It gives children a reason to be outdoors, appreciate nature and develop valuable life skills.  Additionally, learning more about firearms provides the opportunity to discover American history, the Bill of Rights and how firearms have changed the course of human history.

In 2011, Lindsay McCrum released a pictorial attempt to describe the modern female shooter in the book “Chicks with Guns”.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation described it like this, “They reside in all regions of the country, come from all levels of society, and participate seriously in diverse shooting activities. From policewomen to hunters, ranchers to competition shooters, the collection of portraits in ‘Chicks with Guns’ defies stereotypes often associated with aspects of the popular culture of both guns and women.” 

As a shooting instructor, the women I have taught include mothers, nurses, college students, and athletes.  In fact, I am often surprised at the variety of backgrounds that they bring with them.  These women also have one common concern, teaching their children about shooting and firearm safety.  Luckily, there are many programs that teach firearm safety to children as early as eight years old and some, like the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, teach safety to children as young as four years old. Moms are especially eager to teach their daughters about safety, but there is more to this hobby than simply safety.   What I realized last summer, introducing the next generation of shooters to one of several shooting sports was more than just sharing safety and respect for firearms.  We are sharing our love of an American tradition.
The Shooting

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fire Drills

Remember back when we were kids in school?  Once a year there would be a fire drill, when we were led outside to the playground, check to be sure everyone was accounted for and then file back into class.  I don’t know of many school aged children who took it seriously.  It was a break in the monotony of our math lessons and a chance to see our friends in another classroom.  These fire drills are meant to practice the school’s emergency plan in the event of a fire at school. What if the drill included the smell of smoke or the sound of emergency vehicles?  Would we have taken the situation more seriously?

Practice time shooting at the range is no different.  To get the most out of our time and ammo, we should challenge our effort as if we were role-playing our emergency plan.  We don’t want to simply go through the motions lazily like when we were kids walking in line for those fire drills. Once we have mastered the fundamentals and our shots are consistent, increasing the level of complexity or adding a source of stress to our practice is the next step.  Stress adds realism to your shooting experience.  When controlled carefully, a small amount of pressure while shooting can benefit you exponentially when a real emergency occurs.

For a new shooter, just thinking about the fundamentals you need to perform is enough to add a sufficient amount of pressure.  Competition between friends for a higher score or the loud bang of a rifle in the shooting stall next to you can take you off your target.  In fact, changing the location of the range or even the firearm used produces a high level of anxiety with a new shooter.  Learning to work within those parameters is a great place to start.  With more experience, one would not be as easily affected by these circumstances.

Let’s take it one step further.  Last month I became certified as an Instructor to teach the NRA course Personal Protection in the Home.  One of the training exercises was to first shoot a group of six shots “leisurely” hitting the center of the target.  There was no time constraint, no rush, just shoot at your own pace.  We marked our grouping and were instructed to shoot two shots as fast as we could, successfully placing them in the same area as our previous ones.  Our instructor timed us and called out our missed shots, driving us to go faster and faster.

Even this small amount of pressure, which I was not accustomed to, revealed several things.  Increased heart rate, a tendency to jerk the trigger and rushing to make the shot indicated my level of anxiety.  The addition of a harmless timer and the mild embarrassment of missed shots being exposed for all to hear were more than enough to degrade everyone’s performance – especially mine.  However, each successful pair solidified my confidence and experience under these conditions.   I knew what to expect and every effort came more natural than the last.  After the first few drills I began to relax and the startled feeling from the clock didn’t affect me as it did on my first few attempts.

Working through malfunctions and reloads at top speed will certainly improve your response time until you are no longer thinking about shooting, but simply shooting.  Recording your speed on these tasks will give you a baseline and show your progress.  Any demonstration of skill requires some amount of pressure in order for us to improve.  Our end goal should be to establish the muscle memory and mental stamina to offset the body’s natural reactions in an emergency.    Think back at your school’s fire drill, the goal was to get you out of the building safely, quickly and, most of all, calmly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Step two: After the basics

Sometimes when I ask the ladies, “what are your shooting goals?” they say “I want to shoot better.” I usually follow up with “what do you mean by better?” And they give me a look that means, “duh better”.  This has prompted me to outline a few options for those who want to shoot “better”.

Fundamentals, Target Shooting and Recreational Fun

There are a few examples of beginner shooting goals right there in the heading.  Work on your fundamentals, so they are the BEST they can be.  You can perform these without thinking and your shots are on target every time.  If you were a robot instead of a breathing human being, your fundamentals would be a precise program written for perfection.

Target shooting and hitting bullseyes perfectly every time.  Read: you are always in the 10 ring.  You are so accurate that you hit the same hole every time.  It looks like you have shot only one round, but really you have shot 50.  Try this achievement at every distance available to you at your local range.

Shooting for recreational fun.  I don’t mean going to range and gossiping with your girlfriends while holding a firearm.  What I mean is shooting fun targets, take bets as to who can do it the best, no pressure situations.  Try some trick shooting, like splitting a playing card in two or a poker target and see who can shoot the best hand.  And enter a local shooting competition for fun.  Local ranges may host a bullseye contest to benefit a charity or win a prize.  It’s not about winning, although that is nice, consider it a part of your overall experience as a shooter.

Shooting Sports, Competitive Shooting and Join a Team

I’ll be upfront with you; I don’t have a lot of experience with shooting sports.  I have an idea of what they are about and what is involved, but not a first-hand account.  Shooting sports and competitive shooting events are like all other sporting events, but shooting is the game.  There are local clubs that host these events and they have a set course you must shoot and you are scored based on your time.  Your time is calculated by the reading on the timer and then offset by the scoring mechanism in place.  For example, if you missed the target they might add 2 seconds to your time and if you shot a perfect target, they might take away 2 seconds from your time.  Better hits equals a better time.

And like many other sports there are teams you can join, where your scores are compiled as a team.  Then you are ranked and placed like a track team or swimming team.  Look up local ranges (both indoor and outdoor) in your area to see what the offer.  Many times these events are low cost, hosted monthly and have a moderate ammunition requirement.

Defensive Shooting and Further Training

Working on your skills can lead to other opportunities in training.  Once you have a good understanding and execution of the fundamentals and your shots are going where you expect them and want them to go, you might be ready to seek out more advanced training.  You can always learn more and get a different perspective by training with other people.  In this skill, more is better.

Become and instructor

Becoming an instructor is one of the most rewarding options (in my opinion).  I enjoy teaching others, no matter what the skill is, and I have a long history of teaching a wide range of topics.  There is always a practical test of your skills you must perform to qualify, but after completing our first topic, it should be no problem.  When I became a firearms instructor, I became a better shooter.  I understood what needed to be shared from my experiences and how my experiences applied to each individual.

Choosing the teaching pathway also opens you up to share your knowledge base with others.  In the firearms world, there are always people who learn on their own, but when you gain the skills needed to teach someone, you will learn what you need to do to improve other shooter’s skills.  In the end you can help everyone become  a better shooter.