The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Making the most of your firing point

One of the funniest adverts I remember from my teenage years depicts the wily Brit outfoxing a party of holiday-making Germans by hurling his rolled-up beach towel from his hotel room balcony, which then skips across the swimming pool in a homage to Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb design* before landing on his chosen sun lounger, unrolling and then finally depositing his can of lager** in a bucket of ice.

The humor of the ad relies on the supposed German*** practice of laying one's beach towel in a spot to reserve it; however there's a lesson in it for Bisley-style rifle shooting outdoors, where there is more than one shooter per firing point.

Many of the firing points at Bisley (and at other ranges) are in a miserable condition because of years of neglect, and shooting on one such can ruin your weekend or your meeting. (I'm looking at you Stickledown firing point 37 at 900 yards.) Outside of the Imperial Meeting, where firing points are allocated as part of the squadding process, you have the opportunity to get to your target early and take a sneak peek at the firing point to pick your slot. When you reckon you've found which part of the target is best, get your gear lined up and be ready for the call from the range officer to move forward.

Now, some of you are thinking at this point "Steady on there chap! This all sounds a little unsportsmanlike and suspiciously competitive" and I do have a certain sympathy with that view. We're talking about rifle shooting, after all, and not soccer. On the other hand, you're probably paying something like 2 quid a bang in the UK or a couple of bucks a bang here in NZ when you include range fees, markers, ammunition, petrol and accommodation. It does not seem unreasonable to be able to shoot from a firing point without bloody great divots in it, and nothing is stopping your fellow competitors from being equally organised.

If you're stuck with an absolute shocker of a firing point because your target colleagues got there first or because of allocated squadding in the Imperial, you may wish to think rather carefully about the placement of your matt and equipment to make the most of what you've got. Very often moving forwards or backwards will allow you to avoid the worst of the lumps and bumps; however take care to ensure that your muzzle is in front of, and your elbows behind, the line of the pegs. If this doesn't work then a polite request to your compatriots may allow you to move over a bit to find a more amenable position. In extreme cases, it may be worth asking the range officer to move targets; very often they will be sympathetic to a polite request if your firing point more closely resembles the cratered surface of the moon than the hallowed turf of Wimbledon.

Your position is built from the ground up. Give yourself the best chance by finding a decent piece of firing point and setting yourself up consistently.

* Engineering geeks will note that the "bomb" should have backspin and not topspin, as depicted in the cut where the towel bounces across the swimming pool. 

** Ironically the word Lager derives from the German word Laager, meaning storage, because of the practice of storing immature beer at cold temperatures to condition. British lager is mostly piss. German, Czech, Belgian and some NZ lagers are wonderful.

***I hope my German friends, readers and members of the BDMP will forgive my crass humour.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Goal Setting Part 5 - Alternatives for Artists, The Talented and Jump Starters

Group work was a key part of studying for my MBA at Judge Business School in Cambridge. Teams were selected to provide groups with highly varied backgrounds, and tasks were often tailored so that there was either too little time or too many people in order to provoke a particular set of experiences while completing the work.  In one of the early projects I worked within a team which consisted of three other team members who also had a professional services* background, and a fourth who had much more of a liberal arts background. Our colleague found our highly structured approach inflexible, unreactive and almost impossible to work with not because she wasn't smart (she is) or hardworking (she was) but because she simply thought in a completely different way to the rest of us.

In a similar vein, my very highly-structured approach is simply not going to work for all of you, so what are the alternatives?

Rather like my friend above, some people just don't think and plan in the highly-structured way that people like me ("Analysts") do. You don't automatically break things down into classical hierarchies, causes and effects; rather your thinking proceeds along entirely different lines. I'd describe the way that your thinking proceeds if I could, but unfortunately I don't, because I can't think the way you do!

In your case, maybe consider the things you're less good at and write yourself a promise on a piece of paper where you'll see it every day. It will act as a visual cue to do some training and direct you to the part of your shooting that needs it most; however recognise that failing to analyse your performance adequately may result in you training on the wrong things. Our perceptions of our weaknesses can be quite wrong.

The Talented
Some people just seem to get shooting and don't apparently need to train to get the results. Do whatever you feel like, but be aware that you might get even better results if you did follow a structured training plan.

Jump Starters
Some of you will be entirely motivated to train and work hard on your shooting without any of this detailed planning malarkey. It's obvious to you what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you know what to do about it. Actually you've probably lost patience with me several times during this sequence of posts on goal-based planning and may not have made it to the end of the other posts.

You probably already train enough but may hide the amount of effort you put in to appear as one of "The Talented". You probably struggle with admitting that you're not good at anything (but know it to be the case in your heart) so remember to think about where it is that you really need to train and focus your efforts there.

Good luck to all rifle shooters in their training. Up in the Northern Hemisphere it's time to clean everything and pack your kit away and take maybe a month off before starting training again in preparation for the 2016 season. Down here you should have already been training over the winter months in preparation for the opening shoots of the season. Good shooting to you all!

* Accounting, IT and Management Consulting roughly speaking.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Goal Setting Part 4 - You've planned the work, now work the plan

Project management is based around five key questions*, the last of which is "How do you know you're making progress?" It can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer at times as it relies on objective measures of progress. In shooting it is reasonably straightforward to measure your performance; although it can take a long time to be sure (see my previous post on SCATT & statistics.) You work hard and with a bit of good luck** you will hit your outcome goals.

The problem here is that you may only have one outcome goal per year, or potentially even an outcome goal that will take several years to reach. How do you know you're making progress towards it?

This is where all that faff with process and performance goals comes into its own.

Keep a training diary
If you intend to be serious about your shooting in any meaningful way, keep a diary of what training you have planned versus what you have actually done. It doesn't necessarily need to be fancy, long or incredibly detailed; a simple list of dates, types, volumes of training and scores is perfectly adequate.
I keep mine in a spreadsheet which sits on the desktop of my laptop. I also keep my calendar of events in the same spreadsheet*** so I open it every day and am constantly reminded of the need to train. You might want to keep your plan and diary in a form that you will be forced to see every day; e.g. print it out and stick it on the fridge, or on the wall next to the bathroom mirror.

Analyse your performance
Approximately every month, go back and review what you actually did against the training you had planned. Look at the groups you're getting in livefire and SCATT, and the scores you're getting on paper. Answer as honestly as you can the question "are they improving rapidly enough to hit my outcome goal on time?****"

If you're not making the planned progress, you're over-training, under-training or doing the wrong kind of training. In running over-training is very common, but I suspect that under-training is going to be more common in shooters, given the general lack of serious attention training gets. I also suspect that doing the wrong kind of training, or mechanistically training without appropriate thought I suspect is also going to be relatively common.

At this point, I should probably note that in my experience improvement has come in fits and starts, with the larger gains driven by a positive change in my technique which I have then driven home with a large volume of repetition. Don't expect a linear progression towards your goal!

In pretty much all of the above circumstances, you're going to need to...

Modify the plan
In the short term, most modifications of planning will be tweaking what you're already doing: increasing the volume of some aspects of your training, reducing others. Some of the will need to be intuition-based but you should be able to run some experiments to see what works for you and enables you to maintain a high standard of performance, and/or drives improvement.

In the longer term, you're going to need to shock the system and introduce new elements to avoid getting stale. Doing the same exercises again and again is likely to get boring and will lead to stagnation in performance, so mix it up a little and try something different.

Good luck and enjoy your training!

* The five questions are: 1) Where are we going? 2) How will we get there? 3) Do we have enough money, time and other resources to get there? 4) What's going to get in our way? And 5) How do we know we're making progress?
** You don't have full control over your outcome goals, remember? But Arnold Palmer allegedly said that the more he practiced the luckier he got. You might want to think about that.
*** Yes, really. I have a very complex and busy life. Without my spreadsheet I would be lost.
**** All goals should be time-based, remember?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Holy Protea Match Batman!

Captain of the 2017 GB Rifle Team Tour to South Africa Nick Tremlett has just released his team selection and it is a doozy. The sheer strength in depth is astonishing and if anything, it is even stronger than this year's Palma Team with several notable members who were absent from Jane Messer's World Championship-winning team for personal or professional reasons.

Of course, this is no bad thing. The international team match down in Bloemfontein is the Protea Match, which is notoriously hard for outside teams to win (the last being Steve Thomas' 2008 GB Rifle Team if I remember correctly) given the ability of the home side to field the best shooters from widest possible selection and the fickle winds of the General de Wet range.

Some stats for the terminally-geeky:
  • Every single team member except the one new cap has been on a Palma Tour
  • All but two of the team have been a World Team Champion at least once, with some members of the team having racked up as many as 6 Palma Match Gold Medals
  • The new cap is a World Under 25 Team Champion
  • Four Palma Match-winning coaches have been selected
  • Three team members have won individual Palma or Target Rifle World Championships
The team can been seen on the NRA website here.

Addendum: I am delighted to see that the captain has also been farsighted enough to extend the idea of a training squad to non-touring individuals. I firmly believe that the GB Palma Team's training programme, which forms part of the team selection process, has been a keystone of the team's continued success; and something to which I owe no small debt for the improvement in my shooting over the past decade.