The Goal

The Goal

Monday, 20 March 2017

Getting the message out there...

One of the things that the ultra trail running community does so well is showing the beauty and difficulty of their sport through social media. YouTube channels like The Ginger Runner and Billy Yang Films produce exciting and often inspiring videos about running and runners; sometimes about the elite of the sport but occasionally talking about midpackers like me.

By way of contrast, it's probably fair to say that shooting has a bit of an image problem; in the UK it's rare that we get any kind of positive coverage in mainstream media despite the Great Britain Rifle Team's numerous successes at World Championship and Commonwealth level. Fullbore is also not an Olympic sport and relationships with the ISSF disciplines can be strained and dismissive at times. The lack of public awareness of our sport is reinforced by an unsympathetic media and dubious briefings and policies released by police and civil service authorities; it can be a little difficult to be positive about the future of our sport.

Bearing this in mind, it is absolutely fantastic to see the recent series of videos being made by the GB rifle team and released on their Facebook page. Parag, Kelvin, Matty and everyone else are doing a great job of showing our sport in a positive light; and I look forward to seeing more footage from the tour in the coming weeks.

Friday, 10 March 2017

SCATT Games 2 - Don't Chase the Aim

During the 2016 Imperial Meeting I got chatting to my Australian friend AP in the bar of the Surrey RA at Bisley; he has shot fullbore internationally, won a few competitions here and there, and has shot 600 in ISSF 300mtr so he knows what he's about. We talked about family, my move to New Zealand, stuff; the kind of things that people talk about when they don't see each other for 51 weeks of the year but pick up right where they left off.

But in the course of our conversation, we got on to the subject of sight picture and in particular not getting too fussy about it. The key point was that if your position is reasonably good and you've arranged yourself so the natural point of aim coincides with the centre of the target, then there's no point trying to chase the perfect sight picture. If it feels comfortable and close to the middle, get the shot away.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel* it. Whack it.

This is a useful skill to have, especially on ranges like Trentham where the wind can change very rapidly indeed, as it allows the shooter to employ a broader range of tactics for dealing with the wind**; however this takes a great deal of confidence. A simple exercise he recommended to build more confidence in your ability to hold a tight group without worrying too much about your aim is to shoot SCATT without looking through your sights, but instead to look at the screen as you shoot.

So, how to do this...
  1. Get set up with your SCATT as normal and fire a calibration shot looking through the sights.
  2. Look at the screen rather than through the sights, arranging yourself so that the centre of your trace coincides with the centre of the target.
  3. Fire a sequence of shots using your normal technique but looking at the computer screen rather than through the sights.
  4. Repeat ad nauseam.
NB - It is really important that you arrange yourself so the rifle wants to naturally point in the middle (or very close to it.) Do not force the rifle to point in the middle, or you're likely to embed a bad habit which will carry over into your shooting.

Lie down. Hold still. Let the rifle point itself in the middle. Squeeze gently.
My experience of this...
I gave this a try a couple of times and it was interesting. I know I can point a rifle pretty accurately; off a consistent firing point and without putting the rifle down, my wobble is less than half a minute. There's knowing that, and then again there is knowing that.

The lesson I'm trying to imprint here is that I don't need to wait for the perfect sight picture and that I can get the shot off much more quickly than I think I can, with little or no degradation in quality of shot. This is not something that will happen overnight, but with general training and some repetition of the exercise, I hope to get the shots away more quickly and lose fewer points to wind as a result.

Hopefully, by doing this exercise you will see that your hold and shot release are well within the area of the bullseye and you can get shots away really very quickly. It makes it easier for the shooter to pick a single wind condition and shoot to it, for example, while still staying within time. A subject for a future article. In team matches, also, your wind coach will thank you for being able to get an accurate shot away quickly

* I had originally written "see it" but the whole point of this exercise is to escape the tyranny of the sight picture. Feel when the rifle is in the middle.

** A subject for another day. There's a lot more to the wind than reading it. Now if only I could learn that in the bone.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Periodisation of Training in Fullbore Rifle Shooters

In many sports, training is very carefully periodised - that is, broken down into different phases each with a different blend of training types - to fit in with the sport's events calendar. In shooting, I think that it's probably helpful, if not quite as important as it probably is for, say, elite marathon runners, who will probably race only twice a year and whose training will peak at well over 100 miles per week. Personally, I find periodisation to be important: my results are poor if I do not train or train too little, but if I train very hard for too long a period I feel like I get stale and don't have quite the same edge or desire to compete. I think that this is primarily a mental issue and not a physical one, unlike in many other sports.

Unfortunately, there is little hard empirical evidence I have seen relating to shooting to direct us, so we must rely on judgement and a few principles to be our guide when building an annual plan. I have tried to read around the subject a little bit and pull together something that works for me; although I would be hard-pressed to prove that it is better (or worse) than another approach. Please feel free to pick what you like and discard what you disagree with; or to share what works for you in the comments section.

Building the Plan - Macrocycle, Mesocycles and Microcycles 

Training plans are generally build around a sporting year* (or macrocycle) as most sports have a competitive season centred on series of specific events in the calendar. For most shooters, this is also true and is likely to be based around the dates for the National Championships in your country, together with any other major events such as the World Long Range Championships or Commonwealth Games. In each year, there will generally be three key phases, each of which may be broken down into shorter periods of training, known as mesocycles. At the lowest level of detail are microcycles which correspond to individual weeks in your competitive year.

A fullbore macrocycle - Typical dates for transition, preparation and competition phases

Preparation - General preparation should include building up cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance. Specific preparation for fullbore shooters would include equipment checking, a position rebuild and technical re-training. Typically in the UK, the preparation phase would start early in the new year** and last until April or May. The early part of the preparation phase can often be exploratory, with a lot of experimentation with new pieces equipment and tweaks to position or technique. Given the cost of livefire, I spend a lot more time doing SCATT or dryfiring to try lots of different combinations before I head to the range; however as the start of the competition phase approaches changes should become less frequent and more incremental in nature, and I would expect to do more training on the range. Similarly, emphasis should shift from general preparation to more specific competition training.

Preparation Phase - Early mesocycles focus on kit selection and dyfire, but specificity increases as the competition season approaches

Competition - During the main competitive season, which typically runs from May through to the end of September in the UK, the emphasis of training will shift to maintenance of proper technique and equipment throughout the season. I find that if I don't re-emphasise my technique with occasional SCATT or dryfiring sessions, it can sometimes drift and performance suffer slightly.

During the competitive season the focus is very much on delivering the goods at each match; however it's important to prioritise so if you need to use a competition as an extended form of training you're prepared for it. For fullbore shooters, the highest priority will usually be the national championships; however this is not always necessarily the case. If a Commonwealth Games or a GB Rifle Team tour is looming, you may need to be prepared to sacrifice your Queen's Prize or Grand Aggregate score for a higher cause***. It should be possible for you to maintain a high standard of performance throughout the competitive season if you have prepared effectively, but it may not possible to maintain absolutely the highest levels of performance; although some well known and highly-skilled shooters (also good friends) disagree with me on this point!

The easiest way to plan out the competition phase is to write down in date order, all of the matches and competitions you will be doing through the year. When I was still in the UK, a typical year would have looked something like:
  • April, Army Open Meeting
  • May, English XX Meeting
  • June, Intercounties Meeting
  • July, British Commonwealth Rifle Club Championships
  • July, Imperial Meeting
  • August, Welsh Championships
  • September, Surrey Open
  • September, Commonwealth Shooting Federation (European Division) Championships / LMRA Open
  • October, Ages Match
Typically, I would also have live-fire training weekends in between many of these competitions; however I would also often have a bit of a slowdown between the Imperial and the Welsh Open, but take a day off on the Friday before the Welsh Championships for a final bit of livefire training. This seemed to work well and allowed me to pick back up where I left off on Final Saturday. Other forms of training - SCATT, cardio, PT etc... - continue but generally at a lower intensity than during the preparation phase.

Competition Phase - Training should be very specific, but back off the volume and intensity shortly before the Imperial Meeting, or whichever competition you wish to peak at.

For those whose goals are longer-term, such as being selected for the Palma Team or Commonwealth Games things can be a bit more complicated because of selection weekends, which generally include trials in which you will want to shoot well. The same general principles apply; however these will tend to shift the relevant dates in the season. I didn't always shoot the Ages Match at the end of the year, but always looked forward to it when I did because it was a fun, relaxed shoot to wind up the seasons with. My PBs for Queen's II (150.27) and Queen's III (150.20) were shot over a particularly calm October weekend one year.

Transition -  The final, transition phase is focussed on taking time away from training and competing to rest and recover from the year's exertions. Without time away from sport, motivation to train and succeed can wither over time. Take a holiday. Lie in at the weekends. Drink some gin.

Don't forget that the next season is just around the corner, so it is also a time to think about the past seasons successes and lessons learned so you can plan your next year's campaign. Think about your kit choices in plenty of time, so you can enter your next preparation phase with the kit you think you'll be competing with in the following year.

Transition Phase - Take a break. Have a stiff G 'n' T.

On a final note, this approach has worked pretty well for me. Since moving to NZ I have not actually changed my training cycle that much because I have still shot in the Imperial Meeting every year since (and intend to in 2017) but I know that at some point I'm going to have to shift to an antipodean training cycle. I'm looking forward to a year of travelling around competitions in NZ at some point, but maybe not this year unfortunately.

* For Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes, there may also be a two or four year supercycle based around their major event.

** The start and end of the training macrocycle do not necessarily need to align with the start and end of the calendar yea.

*** I most definitely should have done this in 2014 when it became clear that my re-tailored jacket wasn't working in the run-up the the CWG. Instead of persevering in the Imperial at Bisley, I should have got on a plane to Switzerland so Martin Truttmann could've made me one of his finest jackets. The retrospectroscope is a powerful analytical tool.