But that doesn’t mean you should. Having a successful shooting year isn’t necessarily a case of going to every tournament you possibly can. For starters, no one can shoot at their very best level week after week. By planning out your year, you can train to hit your peak at the optimal times, in the events that matter most to you.
It’s also a practical consideration. There are very few people who don’t balance shooting with their budget and other responsibilities. Even though I am a professional shooter, I don’t go to nearly as many tournaments as I once did. I’m too busy with my coaching business, running my family’s gun club, and helping my wife raise our family. So I carefully choose which events to attend, and I plan my training to make the most of my opportunities. You too should have a sustainable tournament schedule, one that you can follow year after year.
Start by setting your annual goals. In some cases, the task is relatively straightforward. If you want to make your all-state team, you must attend your state championship. The same goes for all-regional teams; you must attend your home regional to qualify. People hoping to qualify for Team USA in either sporting or FITASC must attend a minimum number of selection shoots.
In other instances, your goal may be based on a specific tournament or desired outcome. I’ll walk you through the process I used with one of my students a few years ago. His goals were to reach Master class and to perform at his highest possible level at a big FITASC tournament in the middle of the summer.
He took a lesson in February and came up with a list of targets to work on. He went back and shot about 300 targets a week in practice and shot a few local tournaments to get used to shooting under competitive pressure. When he came back for another lesson in late April, we worked on planning tough pairs and shot some practice parcours. Then I had him ratchet up to 500 practice targets a week. He shot a couple more local tournaments to perfect his planning and pre-shot routine.
By the time he showed up at the big tournament, he was ready to perform. And he shot at a higher level than he ever had and made Master class.
You can follow a similar agenda to help your own shooting. Prioritize your events, then schedule your practice and shooting around them. You don’t have to start training for a specific event so far in advance, but it’s not a bad idea to start ramping up a month or so in advance.
A few hints:
- Make sure you get enough practice. Even if you shoot a tournament on the weekend, carve out time to regularly practice fundamentals and drill on the targets you expect to see at the big tournaments.
- Be careful scheduling lessons. Possibly the worst time to schedule a lesson is right before a tournament. You won’t have time to build the knowledge you gained from the lesson into skill. If you want/need a lesson, take it maybe four to six weeks before the tournament, then go back home and work on what you learned.
- Shoot a few smaller tournaments. There’s no better way to get yourself in the groove of shooting competition. Work on your processes and routine, and worry less about the results – your goal is to prepare yourself for what’s coming down the line. You’ll also get a better sense of what types of targets give you problems when you’re shooting under pressure.
In the last two weeks before a competition, focus your final few practice sessions on the bread-and-butter targets you expect to see at a competition. For example, when I’m training for the Nationals, I make sure to shoot plenty of 40-yard crossers showing the belly of the target. Build confidence in your game and you’ll have a much better chance of achieving your goals.