14 September 2015

Happiness and Satisfaction

I have been thinking some recently on how we frame our wins and losses on the range, match or otherwise. Very often, we are dismissive of or disappointed in our results, but in a way I'm not sure is productive either for ourselves or for others.
"I had a terrible match; I only [won by a little, came in top 3/5/10]."
"I was all over the place today, couldn't do better than a [some size] group at [some distance]."
"I only came in behind [someone] because I was having gun trouble."
"I [won, came in top 3/5/10] only because I got lucky."
Most all of us have been guilty of saying something along these lines, myself included. But the more I hear them, regardless of who is speaking, the more they bother me. Here's a few reasons why:

  • They do not reflect ownership of your results. We are not only our best performances, but our worst. We are responsible for our bad days, our lack of equipment maintenance, our unpolished skills. And yet, we are also responsible for our blistering-fast draws, our perfect doubles, our "hero" runs. It wasn't luck or circumstance, good or bad; it was you. 
  • They do not respect your own improvement. Do you remember the first time you tried something on the range? In your first months or years, what was your worst match finish, biggest group size, slowest draw? What was your best? And today, how did you do? Probably better in some way or another. A little faster, a little tighter, a little more comfortable. I may not be happy in the middle of the pack now, but making it there used to be my fondest dream. By focusing on the failures, we forget how much we've won. And it wrecks our self-image. 
  • They do not respect the hard work of others. Our disappointment in what is likely an objectively good result is part of what makes it difficult for others to appreciate their own work and results. Someone may have shot the best match of their life - and ended up last place 'but not by that much!', and by saying that you've never shot so horribly in your entire life, and only came in second. What hope does that leave for someone trying to work their way up the ladder, and how does that celebrate what they've accomplished? (And why should you care? Because we're human. And because we contribute to our own ability to respect ourselves by building a culture where all wins are respected.)
There is value, of course, in reflecting on and even dissecting performance that does not meet your goals. We can't improve if we think we're already 'good enough'. And most of us are competitive by nature, so the fun is in the win or in a good-natured beat-down of our friends. So I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't talk about the negative, but we can consider how we frame what we've accomplished in a way that is more productive for ourselves and for those around us. You don't have to be satisfied to be happy with what you've done.

21 May 2015

A Very Quiet Bang

My friend, Tracy Hughes, issued a dry fire challenge this month to the members of the League City A Girl & A Gun Club chapter, where she is the facilitator (among the many hats she wears!). The challenge is simple: one full month of dry fire, six days a week. She's even provided a helpful graphic with each day's prescribed exercise. 

I'm really excited by Tracy's challenge because I know how well dry fire worked for me. Almost exactly two years ago, I celebrated breaking 50% on a USPSA classifier, meaning I shot it about half as well as the best person who's ever shot it. Earlier this month, I shot a classifier that's predicted to be within hundredths of a percentage point from 80%. How did I get here? I'm not a naturally talented shooter. I don't get to the range a whole lot to practice. But I do dry fire. 

Almost all of my significant gains can be directly traced to the dry fire routine that I started nearly 18 months ago with only one significant break this past winter when I actually didn't dry fire or shoot any guns at all. I've taken classes in the past, tried dry firing on and off, but this time was different. I'd just taken a class with Ben Stoeger who, true to form, told and showed me in great detail where precisely I was lacking as a shooter. The deconstruction came with a plan: dry fire, with a really honest focus on gun-handling technique and sight picture. Less than a year later, I took the class again and was pronounced improved (a little ;) ). I still have a long way to go towards my goals, but here's a few things that have helped me get to where I am now:

I dry fire or shoot (live fire practice or match) 5-7 days a week. That includes days we go out with friends or run errands after work, days when I'm stuck in the office late, days when I want nothing more than to crawl into bed right after dinner...I take a night off if I'm sick, if dry firing means I can't get my minimum amount of sleep to function, if I'm traveling, or occasionally if I'm busy packing for a match. And with that last one, I'll probably sneak in a few minutes of trigger control work anyway. 

I've settled on 30 minutes for my dry fire sessions. A half-hour straight through is a bit longer than is often recommended, but it's a chunk of time that works for me. Occasionally, I'll add an extra 15 minutes if I want to make sure I get in some time on a second gun, but 30 minutes is about as long as I can stay on task and not overwork my body. But even 5-10 minutes would do. To keep myself focused, I set a timer and use a dedicated space. My laptop and cell phone stay out - it's just me, my gun, my session timer, and my shot timer. 

I've built a plan that I follow if I don't have something specific I want to practice. That way, I never wonder what I'll do in dry fire on a specific day. My plan includes specific exercises, including par times and other goals. I want to leave my thinking for the actual work I'm doing in my dry fire studio, not for figuring out what that work will be. The plan also forces me to do things I'm bad at or haven't thought of before, not just blow through some feel-good drills.

I track and journal my dry fire, so that I can look back and tell you what I worked on last week or last month, and what challenges I had or details I noticed that helped me hit on a new or better way to do something. My trackers and journals also create accountability because they don't lie on how much I have or haven't done, and can be used when checking in with my training buddies. Plus flipping back to old entries can be really motivating when I see how far I've come. 

I participate in the occasional dry fire "throw down", where one of my training buddies will post a video of a dry fire drill performed under par time, and challenge the rest of us to match it...on video, of course. The drills can often focus on more obscure skills or push heavily into the limits of what's physically possible. It's fun and I learn a lot about the skills in the drill, since participating often includes lengthy discussion of the specific techniques that make it possible to perform the drill as described or refine performance even further.

I push my dry fire practice until I fail, then I figure out what went wrong and fix it. While perfect practice is important, so is going hard until the wheels fall off. Dry fire, in a safe environment, is where you can find out how fast you can go, whether or not an odd technique will work for you, or if your bright idea about how to do something really is so bright. And having that safe space means I can make a skill mine even if it didn't seem so hot the first thirty times. Three hundred. Whatever. It doesn't cost me anything but time to figure it out. 

One of my mentors and coaches describes dry fire as shooting with everything but the bang. Or rather, shooting live ammo is just dry fire with a little more noise and recoil. While you can't replace every bit of the shooting experience in dry fire, you can do most of what matters. All that work you do in dry fire? That's what's behind making your shooting beautiful.

26 March 2015

Hi There - A Few Personal Updates, and Some Thoughts On Range Safety

I'm sorry for the radio silence here. While I've been able to post shorter tidbits fairly regularly over on my Facebook page (where you really should go for more timely news and posts anyway) and even my new (relatively) Instagram, the longer and more thoughtful stuff that goes here has taken a backseat to some developments in my professional life both at my day job and as a shooter.

My day job career and my shooting career have paralleled each other in many ways, having started at roughly the same time. Major shifts in the way I've approached my relationship with guns can be almost directly tied to jumps I've made between jobs and roles. In 2015, my life in both worlds has become both more visible and more demanding. I won't bore you with the details of what I do in my office, but on the range, I'm happy and proud to a member of Team SIG SAUER and Team Lucas Oil. I'll also be proudly representing, in no particular order but alphabetical, Brilliant Backstraps, Full Bore Firearms, Grayguns, King Shooters Supply (Better Bullets), and PHLster...a list that is continuing to grow with my team affiliations. I'm really fortunate to be supported by these fine people and companies, and I'm looking forward to doing my sponsors proud. Each one of them puts out products that I'm personally impressed with and would choose to use regardless of sponsorship status. 

Enough about me. 

Most shooters who haven't been living under a rock recently have seen this video, showing a gross safety violation at a USPSA match. 

Clearly, I believe that since the video showed up on the internet at all in the first place, we are better off as a community not trying to delete all traces of it. Social media just doesn't work like that, and we have an excellent opportunity for education here on many fronts. Since we're all just playing experts here on the Internet, I'll need to go back to mememe for a moment and remind you of my qualifications. In addition to being an avid competitor, I'm also a match director, an IDPA Safety Officer, and a USPSA Range Officer

Having this video out in the wild doesn't just show a huge safety violation. It also shows that we are safety conscious. Witness the almost universal reaction of competitive shooters; I think we're more outraged at what went wrong than anybody in or out of the shooting community. Do you know what would be worse than this video? Not having this video posted because nobody thought it showed anything noteworthy.  The reason it's gone viral is because it is so out of the norm, and so far away from what we consider acceptable on the range. 

Range safety is an overlapping system so that if one element fails, the others continue to protect you and those around you. That's why we talk about safe direction AND finger off the trigger: if you put your booger finger on the bang switch when you shouldn't, but you're pointed downrange, all you'll do is give a good scare. Here, there was a failure of many best practices. There isn't one person at fault, and not everybody bears a greater or lesser degree of fault. So what should have been done?
  • Stage designers and match directors should carefully consider design and construction to maximize safety. I'm not raising a call to go to mesh walls, but you might think twice about that shoot house stage, or build your walls to start a few feet off the ground so that you an RO/SO can do an extra safety check by looking underneath them. 
  • Range/Safety Officers must remain diligent about visually clearing the entire range before starting a new competitor. The common, and smart, recommendation is to designate the RO/SO as the "last (wo)man off", who will conduct a visual sweep of all areas as they move to the start position. If a stage is very complex, there should be a plan to clear people off the range: who will walk from where, along what path? Who will keep watch to make sure nobody else goes uprange as the range is being cleared? What areas can be double-checked and how, before the next shooter makes ready? 
  • Range/Safety Officers must remain aware of the entire range as much as possible while a competitor is shooting. Focusing on the gun/muzzle does not mean locking on with tunnel vision that does not take into account what is beyond/behind the muzzle. The scorekeeper can take on some of this responsibility, and you can designate a squad member if there is a shortage on staff. It's not just for shooters downrange, but anything else that might affect range equipment or safety: a prop that has blown over or activated early because of wind, an animal wandering onto the range (you laugh, but it's happened on ours!), an errant brass-picker. 
  • Other squad members should stay on the ball when taping and resetting a stage, and drag their fellow squad-mates off the range with them. We've all been squadded with "That Guy" who can't resist lagging behind a few minutes for a few extra pieces of brass as long as they're downrange. We all should be reminding him to stop holding up the match and be keeping an eye out to make sure he isn't still downrange when the rest of us are done taping. 
  • If we're watching or video recording a shooter, we need to remember that we are all responsible for safety and for keeping an eye out for the same things the folks holding the timers and score sheets are. You're watching for your buddy's foot faults anyway so you can razz him after the match, so watch for what's on the range too. 
  • Some shooters like to visually clear the range as they head towards the start position. You might consider doing that too, at least in bays with compromised sight lines. Or you can ask the RO/SO running the timer if they've checked. And you should remember that while most all of us love that win, we should be paying enough attention that if we see or hear something odd, we can and should stop ourselves. Just like a suspected squib. 
And let's remember this: nobody got hurt. It was awful close - far closer than it ever should have been - but this incident didn't result in extra holes in anything outside of a cardboard target. Instead, we've been fortunate enough that it's just a community reset, a wake-up call that our best practices exist for a reason. Not a bad thing to have in our heads as we get into the full swing of competition season. Are you ready to get started? I am!