The Goal

The Goal

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The importance of "talent" in fullbore

There is a question which has been bothering me for a while; how important is raw talent in rifle shooting? To put it another way, are rifle shooters born or are they made?

Certainly in other sports, such as sprinting and distance running, 'talent' is indisputably a major factor. In running distances from 5,000 metres up to the marathon the most critical capabilities are: to be able to develop a high VO2max, that being the degree to which an individual is able to take up and utilise oxygen from the air to produce energy in the muscles; have a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres; and to have slender, tapered arms and legs*. These are traits which to a very large degree are driven by genetics, a.k.a. Talent. In the case of vO2max, there is good scientific evidence to support the degree to which it will improve given a stimulus**. If you don't have the right combination of genes you are not going to be challenging Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres any time soon ever. To put this in context, the USA with a population of 250m has in its entire history produced precisely 10 men capable of running 26.2 miles in under 2 hours and 10 minutes. The Kalenjin tribe of Kenya and surrounding countries, who number about 4.9m people all told, produced 32 individuals who did it in the month of October 2011 alone.

Returning to shooting, I'm pretty sure that if I asked random British shooters to name the greatest TR shooters of our era then the likes of DCL, PMP, DCC and GCDB would come up pretty regularly. (If you're not from the UK, the please feel free to substitute NT, MG, SG or KR from the US, AH from the RSA, JC from Aussie, MC or RG from NZ etc... etc...) Many of these shooters showed a great deal of promise from a relatively early age, which tends to suggest that some form of talent may be important.

By way of contrast, in fullbore rifle shooting it is clearly noticeable that the products of certain schools such as Gresham's, Uppingham and some dump in Surrey that shall remain nameless, as well as former members of specific ATC and ACF units, tend to predominate when it comes to major competition wins and GB representation. This is most easily explained by skilled and enthusiastic cadet SSIs, officers and shooting instructors inspiring young cadets to take up shooting, and then training them to do the right thing the right way.

Uppingham Veterans RC Team. All World Champions trained by the great SJP.

I would conjecture that unlike, say, running which can be reduced to a relatively small number of variables, there seem to be many traits which would make you a good rifle shooter each of which would contribute in a relatively minor way, so it is correspondingly less likely that any one person would have a sufficient preponderance of all of those traits to have an overwhelming advantage. To illustrate this point, when people hear that I shoot they tend to ask if I have particularly steady hands or paricularly good eyesight. I don't think I have either of these: the jacket and sling do the work for me, and I am both shortsighted and astigmatic. When considering quality of eyesight, a certain winner of HM Queen's Prize has the idiosyncratic nickname "Blind Pew".

Harvey "Blind" Pew GM
I can certainly think of a number of additional arguments and counter-arguments in this debate, and a definitive answer is not going to be forthcoming; however if I were to have to venture an opinion, then I would probably state my beliefs thus: A degree of talent probably does help in shooting but not so much that a sufficiently determined individual cannot achieve great things through hard work alone.

* Yes, really. It's to do with the ability to move them quickly owing to lower mass per unit length and the efficiency with which they dissipate heat.

** Bouchard C, Sarzynski MA, Rice TK, Kraus WE, Church TS, et al. (2011) Genomic predictors of the maximal O2 uptake response to standardized exercise training programs. J Appl Physiol 110: 1160–1170; and Skinner JS, Jaskolski A, Jaskolska A, Krasnoff J, Gagnon J, et al. (2001) HERITAGE Family Study. Age, sex, race, initial fitness, and response to training: the HERITAGE Family Study. J Appl Physiol 90: 1770–1776

Friday, 12 February 2016

Welcome to Trentham

The title of the post comes from the phrase that I probably heard repeated the most during my week down at the Kiwi Nationals in Upper Hutt at the start of January. The wind during the week ranged from benign through moderately difficult to utterly fearsome. Whenever I came off the firing point with a shellshocked look, having been freshly mullered by the ever-shifting, swirling airflow out it came, 'Welcome to Trentham!'

From the sublime... (I won this 500x shoot)
Possibly the only thing worse than starting a shoot with a hit scoring 1 to count is starting and finishing with bullseyes only to get a succession of four consecutive outers alternating either side of the aiming mark only just shy of the magpie line somewhere in between. I managed both of these during the week! Suffice it to say that as I didn't pick up any misses, I would have been in for a shout at the late, great John Lord Swansea's Corporation Insurance. By way of contrast, the only thing that made it bearable was the fact the everyone else got theirs at some point too (my score of 32ish was "surpassed" by one Kiwi multiple Commonwealth Games medallist.) the ridiculous. I wasn't the only one who got creamed.
All in all, I actually shot reasonably well with the exception of one 600x shoot in tricky winds where a couple of loose shots turned what would have been a creditable (given the conditions) 48 or 49 into a rather lacklustre 46. I also made some good decisions, including one 900x shoot where I got up after my third to count - before I made a total Horlicks of the whole thing - and completely reset my position, getting a significantly higher score than I suspect I would have done otherwise. There are some positives to take away from my week down there, but it's clear that not putting in the hours that I have done over the past few years prevented me from making more of an impact. Once I've got my upcoming ultramarathon - The Hillary Trail Run - out of the way, I'll get back to the SCATT and the visualisation. Aerobic fitness really is not a problem at the moment.