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

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts Garreth. I would venture to say that with the correct training scheme most guys could be turned into at least a-grade shooters, if not regional champs. But it takes mastery of a very wide range of skills (fundamentals, position, technique, reloading, wind reading, etc, etc) At this point I am not aware of any structured programme in NZ that addresses the full range of skills required. Best bet would probably be TR training camps. On the F-class side we are very much lacking in terms of any structured training or information sharing. And it shows when club or regional teams have no induction process (where new members are told how to prepare a rifle zero, what is expected of them during a team event, how the interaction between coach and shooter works, a standard set of verbal instructions etc....) We need more open training camps, and much much more team shooting...