The Expectations Game

Do you learn more from good shots or bad ones? It all depends on your frame of reference.

At some point in your shooting career, you'll begin to learn from the bad shots you've made because they are the exception; the good shots are expected.

No one would disagree that how one thinks determines to a large degree one's success. In shooting, as in life, there are different ways to think about almost anything. An enduring question every shooter asks is, "What do I need to do to shoot higher scores?" It may be as simple as changing the way you think--about shooting and about yourself. This is especially true when devoting adequate time and effort into practice and training has seemingly placed the shooter at a standstill in his quest for improvement.

My losses are planted in my mind at least as firmly as my wins. I can't recall the good shots that won because in reality it's the bad shots that lost. That, by some definitions, is negative feedback--what I did wrong.

I have no choice but to judge my performances through negative feedback because it's unavoidable. When I fire a good shot, nothing stands out because I expect to make good shots. Over 99 percent of the time, based on my across-the-course scoring average, I'll have positive results and positive feedback.

Better shooters tend to operate more from negative feedback than do lesser-skilled shooter. The newer shooter has more positive things to focus on than negative, even though there are going to be more bad shots.

Not everything will give positive feedback the first few times it's tried, but improvements are there for the taking. Experiment, find ways to make it work better, and try again.

In a previous article I outlined the process for making changes using directed or controlled experimentation, and to reiterate that message, give a change some time--but not too much time. If it's not working or not feeling right, do not stubbornly accept that it must be right, no matter what the source of the information or idea might have been.

It is best to instead look again, a little deeper, at the core of what the change or method is supposed to accomplish and then find another way to incorporate that effect into your own set of techniques.

Teach yourself to change, and it becomes easier and more productive to do so. That's one key to ultimately finding the set of technical mechanics that allow you to shoot your best. Don't be afraid to give it all up and try something new. You can always go back to the old way.

As the skills and scores increase, the shooter is doing far more right than wrong, so it's now that the focus of learning may well shift to seeking out the defects in the position rather than building up all its fundamental strong points.

It's a balance, and I certainly look for ways to improve the strongest elements in my positions. I will add that a lot of the changes that improve my strong points have come from advancements I've effected in rifle design and setup. These modifications allowed an opportunity to incorporate previously unattainable changes. Those aside, however, it's usually finding ways to heal a sore spot.

As your positions get steadier and your call radius becomes smaller, the swings in score will narrow.

Starting out, there is nothing more important than building and learning the "control" position. That is the shooting position you are currently working with or from. In that process, not all shots are going to go where desired. The bad shots are not necessarily mistakes; they are inevitable outcomes that result from the effort and perseverance to learn, work and improve.

If the feedback this shooter is operating off of is always about the things he's doing wrong it will be harder to develop a decisive, confident shooting style. Stay with it and make it positive. Overcome a failure with a success, and learn from it at the same time.

Once the scores start to reflect the effort, expect them to get better. I have the same problems everyone else does in shooting competitive events, except mine may be limited to or contained within a narrower band.

That's the goal, and that's the message and focus of this column: just as the call radius will come down, so also will the range in score. Instead of a good or bad day being 10 or 20 points different, it may get down to a three- or five-point spread match to match.

What will also happen is that the score will continue to increase, and that will be part of the reason for the narrower span. In the 750-800 range, the shooter may be experiencing mistakes that can either exceed (assuming these mistakes are corrected) or reduce (assuming they all conspire to occur in the same afternoon) that score by a very wide margin.

At the 790-800 level, a shooting a score that's a little over or under is more likely than shooting one that's a lot over or under. I am not sure at which point or level the gap between scores closes because I have seen many people at Camp Perry have 790s one day and 770s the next.

With time and experience, though, you'll begin to close this gap. Just remember there is no mystery to becoming a good shot. The biggest obstacle is not knowing the problems that stand in your way.

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