The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Where have all the coaches gone?

My friend and Aussie rifle shooter Tony Sultana recently posted an astonishingly accurate comment and piece of advice on Facebook the other day, which I reproduce below with his permission.

"I am still astonished for a better word that the vast majority (read nearly 100%) of dedicated rifle competitors that do not have coaches, I assume this is due to the fact that most shooters are an individualistic mob, and the word team has a rather loose term when it comes to competing in team events, we tend to pull together a fixed number of highly successful individuals and then call them a team, it doesn't work that way folks.

 A stand out from the crowd are the British T
eams, and any teams that have the majority of members that are military or ex military as are trained and know how and do operate in a team environment, their results reflect this the majority of times, this is an insight one how as shooters we predominantly think from my observations.

 So do yourself a favour go find a coach or mentor that can add value to what your are trying to achieve, remember if you want the same outcome you just keep doing what you're doing and it is guaranteed.

 This is not about teams, but how we tend to work, how long has it been now 1, 5, 10, 15 years since you have seen an improvement?

 Do yourself a favour. here are some start points to move forward.

• Ballistics and equipment ,Bryan Litz great books and articles
• Setting up a rifle (I can hear it now) I know how to do this, guess what you don't, David Tubb has a video that explains how to set up a rifle, invaluable advice.
• Psychology, process, training and practice, Lanny Bassham absolute gold mine of information.

 So find someone to help you.

This is probably one of the most insightful pieces of commentary I have read on the state of coaching* in fullbore rifle shooting. For me it captures both the problem and the solution.

Why don't we have coaches now?
I can only really speak for the UK, but there's something of a coaching gap between juniors and the international levels of the sport. Most people start of as shooters in the cadets, where they get taught the basics by cadet officers who are often keen amateur shots themselves, or they come from shooting families and get taught by their parents, uncles or aunts. Once they leave school and start university there's something of a void. Although partially filled by University clubs, very often the standard of coaching is variable at best and occasionally people just get taught to do the wrong thing. Once the education system is a thing of the past, there's not a lot in the way of organised coaching and I'm not even sure how much of an appetite there is for it. As Tony says, many people seem to want to just bang rounds down the range wishfully thinking it will make them better shots.

By way of example, various members of an association of which I was (and continue to be) a full member had voiced complaints that the small number of senior international shooters who were members never passed on any of their skills to other members. I volunteered to run a training skills weekend, which included a review of technique, training, psychology etc... Attendance was miserable, not least by those who had originally made the complaint. I had tried something similar with another association and had much the same result. People would turn out for matches (selection was more or less guaranteed if you could hold any kind of group) but not for any form of training.

I have bad news, and then again I have good news...
The bad news is that I don't really see this changing a great deal, unfortunately. While some of the clubs are making an effort, a lot of others aren't (and indeed in some cases have rules which preclude useful sessions like running SCATT training sessions in their clubhouses.)

The good news is that all is not lost for those who do get the value of having some independent advice. Many (but not all) senior TR shooters are perfectly willing to be approached for advice, but there are so many things you can do for yourself also:
  1. As Tony suggests, get educated! There's a huge amount of information available for nothing on t'internet from the likes of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and other resources.
  2. Try and find yourself a mentor or coach who you can run problems by; however please note that willingness to give an opinion is not always correlated with knowledge and skill!
  3. Finally, consider setting up a training group with a small number of like-minded individuals: share the cost of a SCATT, reloading equipment etc... I've seen this done in the UK which some success.
  4. For UK shooters, if you're of the right standard or even close to it, apply for the next GB U25 or GB touring team. Increasingly, team training sessions are focussed on just that - training - and not on selection or doing lots of shooting.
Good luck.

* Coaching in the sense of mentoring athletes to improve their performance, rather than the shooting sense of someone who reads the wind in a team match.


  1. Come and shoot CSR, lots of advice and quality coaching available.

  2. Heh . As a coach of some years I concur with yours and Tony's comments. One of the really really big problems is shooting is a lifetime sport. Consider swimming, gymnastics, athletics or any sport where you are worn out by the time you are 30 years old. There is then a vast pool (pun noted) of immediate past performing athletes who are young and keen. But shooting? Not on your Nelly. "I'm going to keep shooting until I make the team when those other old bastards finally die!"
    My wish is that there are a pool of shooters out there who would be prepared to give up shooting and take up coaching.
    Gaz is right that it is an individual sport. But I am very very aware that among some of those who are good international shooters the thought of sharing the inner most thoughts to a coach is seen as being a bit of a woose.
    The recent experience of the NZ Palma team should exercise the brain in some small way. The team underwent some personal training and coaching during their training camps that saw an improvement that was quite extraordinary. One could see those who gained the benefit the most were those who got into the game. One could also see the not quite improvement amongst those who missed the training or ignored it. But overall the team shot significantly better than in previous events. I hope the shooters who want to be in the NZ team adopt a personal coach or get a small squad together and use the groups knowledge - and most importantly - any and all coaches they can find for advice.
    One interesting problem that NZ has is the "All Black Coach" syndrome. That is, there was a perceived need that only - and I mean only - a NZ Rugby coach could be a coach only if he had played for NZ previously. Thank christ Ted broke the mold. It is the same in shooting I am afraid. The perception that a Ballinger Belt winner will automatically be a good coach. Frankly, its bullshit and we are not giving a chance to those who would make good coaches even though they are not seen to have achieved elite status within the sport.

  3. There is a gap from competent T to O shooter & the County to GB team member. One only accesses this more advanced training by being trialled in county team shoots or displaying talent & being selected. Then it all happens. But even then its still peer to peer coaching, just the peers are credible & generally do know what they are talking about. However there is a thing in TR that says 'if you haven't been on tour your not a credible coach' that I think inst true (its more a result of affordability) & is a weakness to TR. The limitation of all this is being accepted & known, hence why networking in TR is so important. A few clubs do bridge this but they are the exception.

    This evolved system misses a lot of talent & especially loses shooters in the vulnerable (grad/career, house, baby) years. Ask University clubs or post cadets their view on this & you will find a high degree of drop out of both proven talent & prospect & that is particularly acute away from the Bisley sphere of influence.

    The NRAs coaching after Safety is Bisley centric (rules/law) or mechanistic (how to read a vernier or what a wind flag is signalling) it is widening the member base but am not sure is generating new TR shooters vs recreational? If TR is to flourish (some might even say survive) it needs to engage with prospects & widen its talent pool. That makes the base of the pyramid of talent larger, its proven in many other sports & it works but do we do that?

    We also need a deliberate pathway from basic shooting clubs & NRA Training / Club to proficient TR clubs & county teams to direct interested & prospective up the pyramid at the moment that's ad hoc.

    There is no NRA or TR discipline agenda to collate this it only happens when an individual with time, funding & motivation pops up, then ebbs away when they move on retire etc.

  4. Gaz's tips for sources are good. I also have found German Salazar's Rifleman's journal articles helpful ( I mean for beginner like me). Our best club shots are quiet retiring people, of few words.