Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Practice - a $500 lesson for free

As we head into the season it's time to think about how we practice. Most of us are drawn into the seductive trap of practicing stages. That is where we set up stages or stage-like things and we run them like it is a match. Sometimes they're simple or sometimes they are more complex. It is fun and it seems like the right thing to do.

I'm here to tell you it is not.

If you talk to any of the top few GMs they will tell you they only practice very simple and specific drills. They only shoot stages at matches.

A lot of people take classes or buy DVD's expecting to learn some "great secrets" of practical shooting. I can save you a bunch of money by telling you there are none. Zero. The holy grail you seek does not exist.

There are two real differences between the top few and the rest of us:
1. They are more dedicated. They practice more. They shoot more matches. They will do whatever they need to do to be prepared for the next match.
2. They excel at the basics. They are just better at the really simple things.

What should we do now?

First, you must search your soul and decide how much of yourself you are willing to dedicate to practical shooting. Your goals have to be proportional to the effort you are prepared to put in. We all have other things in our lives. Family, jobs, other hobbies, lots of things. But there are only so many hours in the day.

Are you willing to put everything aside to be the best? I love practical shooting more than most, but I am not putting it at the top of my priority list, and I understand that it will limit my USPSA career. You too must make peace with yourself and know who you are as a shooter. No one else can do that for you. One of the great things about this sport is that you can shoot once a month, not practice at all and still win C, D, or maybe even B once in a while, and if it makes you happy that's cool. Or if you want to practice 4 times a week and shoot 4 or 5 matches a month and 12 majors a year you can be in the top 16 at Nationals and a GM within 2 years. That's cool too. You can be anywhere in between too. Me, I'm happy practicing once a week, shooting 2 matches a month, 3 to 5 majors a year and just being a respectable Master. Sure, I'd like to be better, but I am not willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the GM card, and must accept that.

So let's assume that you have decided that you will practice, maybe a little, or even a lot, you have to make the most of the practice time available. Believe it or not, I used to shoot a lot more and not be progressing as much. Somewhere along the way I learned I had to practice smarter not more. I think I figured out that whenever I taught someone else the basics I learned them better myself and it made me a better shooter. Something practicing stages had not done.

What are the basics? You probably already know them:
- the draw
- the reload
- accuracy
- target acquisition
- movement

All you have to do now is figure out to be better at these 5 things than everyone else. If you practice these 5 things, and nothing but these 5 things, you will improve. I guarantee that. In later posts I will explain some drills that I know that will help you to improve at these 5 things.

For now, review where practical shooting fits into your life, and get it into your head that you are going back to the basics. You're going to build a strong foundation on which to base your match performances.

You better believe I'll be taking my own advice.


Robert said...

Well stated, Howard. It reminds of the Sean Connery line in "The Untouchables"..."What are you prepared to do?". We all want to do well in our chosen sport, but without putting in the required time and effort, little improvement will be realized.

Tom Gallup said...

Sounds like a good plan of attack, something i know i have not been doing enough of.

Mark Cooper said...

Sounds like good foundation building advice to me. I know it has helped me.

Bob King said...

Howard, your words are oh so true. Though one thing some of us forget on to do on a regular basis that is almost free is dry fire. The reason I say almost free is because it still does require devotion of the most important resource many of us posess. That is time.

You said it best devotion, in most cases devotion = time.

ALBY said...

we all have different things we take away from USPSA.

the best thing USPSA has done for me is make me a safe shooter. our safety regime is simply top notch.

i also feel like my basic shooting skills with AR, shotgun and a variety of pistols is pretty good, even a 'C" level. most non USPSA shooters see you shoot and are blown away. i can outshoot most normal people.

and, it's fun.

i'm embarassed to say, I fired less than 2000 rounds in 2007. about half of what I did in 2005 and 2006.

i have three kids and a job that sucks up 60 hours a week. really, im happy i got to fire the 2000 i did. and im honored to do it with the the york IWLA pistol crew.

Sean M said...

To piggyback a little, the best way to figure out WHAT to practice is to have a shooting partner watch you shoot stages at matches and identify where you would benefit from the practice. It's damn hard sometimes to actually see where you are losing time or why you are missing shots. You should never show up to live fire practice and not know what to practice if you do this.

Howard said...

Absolutely! or another option is to have someone video tape you shooting. Then you can see for yourself. It is instructional, and humbling, not to mention cool to show your non-shooting friends.