The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Revolution or Evolution?

I recently remarked that if I want to progress to higher levels of performance in shooting, I'm going to need to shock the system and find new ways of training. I've been thinking about this for a while, and it has occurred to me that what I need is a revolutionary increase in performance, which can only come from a revolutionary change in technique, approach, training or equipment.

I used to think that improvements in my performance would come gradually over time though practice and lead on a smooth slope to the eventual nirvana of Grand Aggregate wins and Commonwealth Medals. I have since revised that view and now believe that performance improvement comes through a combination of revolutionary change, evolutionary improvements and stagnation, which are all driven by limiting factors and their elimination*.


Let us consider the example of our Tyro rifle shot. (S)he has picked up the sport, maybe attended an NRA Open Day and has been taught some of the fundamental principles of marksmanship. (S)he doesn't really train as such and so achieves only modest level of performance; although starting from a low base, some evolutionary improvement is possible. His or her kit is fundamentally sound (although the jacket might need a bit of attention) but technique is poor and this limits any improvement to level of accuracy implied by the standard of technique.

One day, the shooter gets picked for their club team and shoots in the match. They do OK, even if their long range groups are a bit ropy. During the tea after the match, our novice is pulled aside by one of the club coaches** who tells them that they cant a little and they look like they're holding the rifle on the target, rather than letting it rest naturally. The coach has a target booked the next morning, invites her along and gives her some pointers. Rapid progress is made as a result of changes in technique, but soon other limiting factors come into play and equilibrium is reached until the next change which drives a significant performance improvement.

Fast forward a few years. Our tyro has progressed through a series of revolutionary changes in performance driven by revolutionary changes in technique, approach, training or equipment; and (s)he has now earned his or her first GB cap. The issue now is that significant improvements in performance are becoming harder to gain: (S)he has addressed all of the obvious flaws in technique and maintains good form and equipment. Continuing to train effectively in ways that have worked before is no longer enough to ensure improvement.

The lessons from my story are clear. To make revolutionary improvements, we need to make revolutionary changes. As we improve, what has driven performance gains in the past is no longer enough to drive future gains.

* For the Biology nerds among you, this is akin to the distinction between Charles Darwin's classical theory of (gradual) evolution and the more modern idea of punctuated evolution.

** I am referring to a "coach" in the fullbore sense of someone who reads the wind during a team match; however in this case, they are also acting as a "coach" in the more general sense.

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