The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 22 August 2015

So you want to shoot for GB...

For many shooters, getting selected for a Great Britain touring team is one of their major goals and it can be a source of blistering heartache when that first team selection is elusive. I certainly spent years thinking about how to earn the blazer with the "Bill & Ben" badge and had a number of disappointments on the way, which occasionally even felt grossly unfair when other people who had not achieved as much as I felt I had were picked ahead of me. I think this is normal and is probably just the disappointment talking. As in dating, rejection comes as a part and parcel of the game; however unlike in dating not getting picked for a team is very, very rarely personal even though it can feel like it at the time.

I hope that it doesn't come across presumptuous or even arrogant, but I've had a think and come up with some pointers for budding tourists which I hope will take a little of the agony out of the process.

You've got to be in it to win it - Team Captains cannot pick you if you're not a member of the National Rifle Association or if you don't apply for their team. Join the NRA and read the journals, which announce the captains. They usually write a letter inviting applications. It's like applying for a job: write yourself a little shooting CV and a polite covering letter. Sometimes, they will circulate a standard form. If they do, fill it in and include it with the covering letter.

Introduce yourself - Selection is an easier process for everybody if you introduce yourself to the team captain before she or he makes the selection. Ask around to find out which club they are a member of and go and say hello. Have a chat with them. Be honest about why you're introducing yourself. Tell the captain about your achievements if they ask; it's OK to be proud of things you've had to work hard for, but don't be boastful. You also don't necessarily need to wait until you have actually sent off your application.

Shoot for your county and club - Team captains want to see evidence of the ability to shoot in team matches, as well as individual scores and groups, so see if you can get picked for your county. Some of the higher-ranked counties may be tough to get into, but they also tend to be the bigger counties, some of whom will also enter "B" teams for matches. Club shooting is often a bit easier to get into, as there are more matches and the more senior shooters will often have more shoots than they are able to do. Very often the club captain will know the captain of the team you're interested in.

Go on a club, NRA Channel Islands or GB U25 Tour - Just as captains like to see some match experience, prior touring experience is also a major plus. I was lucky enough to tour with the Athelings in 1994, and SC's 1997 NRA U25 tour to Jersey but it was RB's most excellent 2004 Channel Islands tour, which I think gave me a leg up towards my first GB tour to Canada in 2006. Quite apart from the strength of the opposition, Jersey has two beautiful ranges, great food and can be a relatively inexpensive place to shoot.

Focus on your shooting - Your individual competition and team match scores are public property and captains will look at them above pretty much anything else when they come to selecting their team. The vast majority of us who aren't enormously naturally talented have to work at this shooting malarkey. 'nuff said.

Do not despair, it isn't personal, stick at it - You are almost certainly going to get rejected for GB teams before you get picked for one, and this is likely to continue as your continue your career in shooting and try to get picked for the higher status tours*. When you don't get picked, you've got to shrug it off and try again. What other option do you have?

To round off my post, getting picked is only the start of your adventure. When you are selected for a Great Britain Rifle Team tour, you have been handed a huge opportunity. A tour is an opportunity to learn from more experienced shooters, to represent your country in a sport at which we have won six of the last seven World Championships, and to have a wonderful time. Train effectively, shoot well, work hard to make a positive contribution to the team and have a fantastic time. Make us proud!

Shoot for GB and you'll get to learn what this picture means. Idea ruthlessly stolen from World Champion, top bloke and all-round shooting legend ERTJ.

* Not all GB teams and tours are created equal. My opinion on the order of difficulty based on frequency and strength of opposition (listed from hard to coffin nails) is West Indies, Canada, New Zealand/Australia/South Africa/USA (all roughly equivalent), any tour which includes and Australia match, Palma tour. Then we come to the Kolapore Cup and an Australia Match held at Bisley, which score about 15 on the Mohs scale.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Palma 2015 - Big Match Shooting

Shooting big matches is the apotheosis of our sport and of the big matches the Palma is the greatest. Mastering the fear of failure, or that of success, to shoot well as an individual in a big competition is an achievement; however the self-control required to master that same fear and excitement in the Kolapore, the America Match or the Palma is something further. I remember shooting in my first Kolapore in 2011 where I could hold the rifle in perfect stillness but not on the centre of the target, or centred on the target, where it appeared to vibrate from magpie to magpie with furious purpose. I managed to overcome my weakness on that day, and many of those shooting in the Palma held at Camp Perry over the past few days have done so as well; most notably the head coach, coaches and shooters of the Great Britain Rifle Team, who won the 2015 Palma Match, were the only team ever to win all 6 ranges, took the record for the highest individual score, and were the first team ever to be captained by a woman.

I argue that GB has managed to do this by acting as a closely-coordinated team, each of the individuals in which knows what their task is and executes it as well as they can. Take the target-by-target scores (shown below.) The top four targets are the four GB Team targets, which tells a story all of its own...

The top four targets on the range are GB targets. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Bill "Obi Wan" Richards.
...however if you compare the difference in score between the top and bottom targets for each team, there's a convincing trend*: the higher-placed the team, the lower the difference between the top and bottom targets. My interpretation is that this strongly suggests that the coaches in the top teams are very closely coordinated by the main coach and share information effectively to limit the damage done to each target's score; the lower-scoring teams do this less effectively.

A scatterplot with trendline of each team's score versus the difference in target score between the highest and lowest scoring targets for that team.
It used to be said that GB shooters were outclassed as individuals, but shone as a team; however in the 2015 Championships, it is clear that this is not the case. If we compare the relative totals of the top 5 teams in the Palma Match and the sums of the team members' scores in the World Individual Long Range Championships, GBRT come out top.

TeamPalma Match Gun ScoreAggregate of Individual Gun Scores

To my mind, this suggests that GB and the USA teams well above the others in terms of both individual shooting; however GB's superior team performance won them the Palma despite the enormous strides the USA have made under Dennis Flaharty's leadership and Emil Praslick's dedication to their coaching performance. (Note that the USA had the most consistent performance among their four targets, even if not the highest scoring.)

On a final, personal note I sincerely wish I could have taken part as an individual. More so as a member of one of the official teams. I've had the privilege of being a part of two GB successes and hope for the opportunity to be involved in future efforts. There is nothing greater in fullbore rifle shooting to which one should aspire than to represent one's country in the Palma Match. Well done to all those competing in the 2015 World Long Range Championships, whether first or last.

* The R^2 value in the graph indicates only a 7% probability that this trend occurred by chance.
** Brandon Green appears to have one score missing, so his score was adjusted per his average for all distances.
***Colin Cole and George Edser appear to have scores missing, so their scores were adjusted per their average for all distances.
****My Kiwi friends will, no doubt, be disappointed not to have battered Aussie in the Palma as they did in last night's Beldisloe Cup but they can take pride in the fact that they beat them in the individual.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Tale of Shooting and Obsession

In his utterly compelling book Feet in the Clouds* the author and fellrunner Richard Askwith puts down in words the love of his sport and obsession with completing the 24 hour Bob Graham Round**. Driven beyond all reason and sane counsel to run approximately 66 miles up and down 42 peaks, with over 8100 metres of ascent and descent in the Lake District over some of the most rugged terrain in the UK, the books relates the utterly ludicrous lengths to which this otherwise unremarkable man went to achieve his goal.

In parallel with his multiple attempts at completing the challenge, the author relates an abridged history of the sport through which it is possible to chart the evolution of modern training techniques. Early exponents of the sport did not train and their knowledge of performance nutrition was somewhat flawed; however more recent athletes, such as the great Kenny Stewart, applied more scientific principles to their efforts.

Much like fellrunning, even as our sport is in decline the sophistication of training techniques has increased. Aside from time spent on the range shooting live rounds, the concept of training for shooting does not seem to have even existed before the 1980s; shooter training systems came on the scene in the early 1990s; similarly, the idea of even the highest level teams training together before competing is a recent concept.

Much like the author, unless you are supremely talented you are going to need to be somewhat obsessed with training to achieve your goals. Just as he "trained like an Olympian for six unbroken months, seven days a week, often twice a day" you're going to need to put some effort into your shooting if you want to achieve an unreasonable goal; and make no mistake here, wanting to win the Grand Aggregate or a Commonwealth Games medal is an unreasonable goal.

Much like some of the fellrunners described in the book, I'm trying to work out how to use the body of research in sports science and other tools to improve my performance in my sport.

* Subtitled A Tale of Fellrunning and Obsession, hence the title of this post. Available at It really is a compelling read, I promise you.

** The Bob Graham Round involves traversing 42 peaks in the Lake District within 24 hours, starting and finishing at Keswick's Moot Hall in the marketplace. Anyone who completes the round within the time limit under supervision is eligible to join the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club. People who have failed to complete the round include the late Olympic athlete Chris Brasher and renowned explorer Ranulph Fiennes Vid.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Training Cycle 4 - Rest & Recovery

Just as it's important to get plenty of rest when you're training or competing, it is very important to wind down the training at the end of the season and do something different.

Taking a break in your schedule is as much psychological as it is physical: it is an opportunity to let injuries heal (yes, you get them in shooting. Just look at the number of people who get physio / osteo after the Imperial Meeting) but also to reflect on the season just completed. It is also the time to start planning your outcome goals for next season, to assess the level of performance you're going to need to reach to achieve them and thereby work out just how much and what kind of training you're going to need to put in. Taking a break will give you closure on the season just past and help you build the motivation to train for the season to begin.

On a more personal level, I've shot two major meetings this year (Trentham and Bisley) and have shot well in both, which is a great relief after a very disappointing 2014 season. Sometimes I worry that I don't know what it is that enables me to shoot well, and the thought of losing my mojo and not being able to get it back can be terrifying. While I have not fired so many rounds as normal, nor have I trained as hard, it feels like it's time to take a bit of a break. I'm going to give my rifles a proper clean, leave the barrels oiled, lock them away in the safe and give the SCATT a rest for a month or two. That way I'll be able to come back to training later in the year, so I'm ready in 2016 to fire good shots and get the wind right.

In the meantime I've got the Queenstown Marathon to run in November. I've slacked off my running training a bit since Rotorua in May and it's time I started upping the mileage again if I want to break the 3:30 barrier. To achieve this, I'll need to build up to at least 45 miles per week (preferably 50) including at least half a dozen runs of 20 miles or more in the two months before the race. Early entry has also just opened for the 2016 Hilary Trail run and I'm seriously tempted to sign up for the 50 mile ultramarathon, but please nobody tell Katrina.

I'll put some posts up when I get around to doing my 2015 review and planning for the 2016 season, but in the meantime I've got a few thoughts to put up about windreading. I'm also massively excited about the 2015 Palma even if I'm not competing this time around. Can GB make it four in a row, or will Team USA do the business on home turf?