Whether preparing for a tournament or just working to improve your scores, it’s important to understand the difference between practicing versus training. For most people practice means going out to their local sporting clay course and shooting a round. While any practice is helpful, if you want to improve your game, it’s important to supplement practicing with training. Practicing is just what it sounds like - you shoot a practice round. Training is where you work on a specific technique or target with sufficient repetition that creates habits. Think of it this way, where does a PGA tour professional spend the most time, playing practice rounds or hitting balls on the driving range?
Practice has served me well early on in my shooting career, though it wasn’t until I understood how to train that my game began to make serious improvements. Training begins with observation during either a practice round or competition. Personally, I keep a shot log in which I record targets I struggled with during competitions. I try to draw out the target, noting things such as target type, distance, speed etc. I try to keep it to the 2 or 3 targets that gave me the most trouble or the ones I dread the most. Next I take my log to my home club, Quail Run in Colorado. I will go specifically to the type of target presentations noted in my log and work exclusively on them with my coach, Jon Kruger, or my father. The more detail you can record in your shot log, the better your coach can assist you in improving your game. Training requires determining if my technique is sound, understanding the corrections I need to make, and then it’s about repetition after repetition.
I won’t lie, shooting your least favorite target over and over again isn’t what I or most people would call fun, but training isn’t meant to be fun. It’s designed to help improve your skill, and improving your skill leads to winning, and winning is always fun. Usually I will focus on 3 or 4 different variations of the target that is giving me trouble. I remember a time last year where the high incoming floating teal target that peaks and hangs out there between 40-60 yards, which seems to be on every FITASC course, was destroying my scores. One look at this type of target in the show pairs left me saying, “Oh No.” Instantly my thoughts went negative with images of misses flashing through my mind. The most frustrating thing was once you have a target you don’t like; each course seems to have this very target every peg or every other station. Upon arriving home, my father and I went straight to Quail Run and asked the owner Jerry if he could set up this presentation for me to practice on. For the next 200 rounds I only shot this target. Starting from 40 yards and moving out to 75 yards. I probably missed 75% of the first 100 targets, leaving me more than a little frustrated. We tried several different techniques until we began to find some consistency. Somewhere around my 150th shot I was finding success.
Over the next 100 rounds, with some breaks thrown in along the way, I worked on my consistency. Consistency is achieved when you no longer consciously think about lead or even pulling the trigger. When the picture in your mind is correct, everything happens automatically. Sort of like driving a car, all the steps happen automatically. To make my point, think about your drive to the range. How many times did you touch the brake? It’s not an answer you can determine because braking was something you did subconsciously due to repetition of driving. To be the best, this is how you need to shoot. Repetition drives consistent movements and when the picture is right, your subconscious does the rest. I’m proud to say during those “next 100” rounds, I broke 80-90% of them, not bad considering that just a few hours earlier, I missed 75% of the same target. Along the way my attitude towards these targets changed from the “Oh No” thought I had when seeing the show pair to an “I got this” and my scores were the major benefactor.
In summary, if improvement in your skill and results is what you truly desire, ask yourself how much do you practice versus train? Get a shot log to record the targets that challenge you while they are fresh in your mind. Don’t just shoot them until you can hit them but keep pushing until you are hitting them with great consistency. Along the way you may find a new favorite target develops from one you used to dread.