COACHING AND TEAMWORK - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter XVI


As ONE’S interest in pistol shooting grows and his knowledge and skill increases there comes a time when all students of the game feel a natural desire to impart knowledge of their hobby to others. They du this not because of an egotistical tendency to show their knowledge but because they want others to enjoy with them the advantages and pleasures of the sport that has been profitable to themselves. It is this desire to instruct others that keeps the game alive, for the success of any sport depends to a large degree upon the men who do the coaching of the novices when they first feel its appeal. The inherent desire to teach also adds to one’s pleasure in a sport by giving the instructor an opportunity to watch the development of a pupil of promise. Athletic coaching is the life work of many men and women and they do it primarily because of their interest and love for the work. It is probable that the pleasure and satisfaction they get out of developing worthy representatives in a sport is greater than any other rewards they may receive. Teaching a beginner the elements of pistol shooting and then carrying him through the more difficult problems is an excellent test of one’s ability and knowledge. In the process one may find that there are many details to which he has given little thought. A study of these will be of value to the teacher.

Successful team coaching for pistol competitions is largely a matter of good individual coaching and not of intensive training in teamwork. The spirit of teamwork must prevail in any successful pistol team, but, like trackwork, the winning points will depend largely on the individual and his instruction, coaching and training. The good coach must possess knowledge of the finer points of the game and be either a good shot or have been one in the not too distant past. Shooters are all too prone to ignore the advice of men who cannot demonstrate, or at least who have not been able to demonstrate what they preach. Even though one may have an enviable record, we frequently find in coaching young men that there are some of the latter who, because they are able to shoot better than their coach at that particular time, indicate by their actions and attitude that they feel they know more about the game than men long in experience in competition work. Self-control, patience and tact, the primary requisites of a good coach, are needed in dealing with such men.

In the coaching of individuals better results will be obtained if the coach makes a careful study of the characteristic traits of each person he is instructing. Shooters are like musicians. They are all too frequently temperamental and have to be handled tactfully to secure their enthusiastic support and retain their best efforts. As regards disposition and temperament marksmen may be divided into two groups. Perhaps the majority of shooters may be said to have nervous temperaments, while those really phlegmatic are in the minority. There is not a distinct dividing line between the two groups and we cannot always place an individual by appearances or first performances. Basically, persons with nervous temperaments are apt to be high strung, physically and mentally energetic, quick tempered, easily excited and irritated. They are inclined to be talkative when things are going well and moody when blue or displeased. With these inherent characteristics it would seem that persons of this class would make poor pistol shots, but this is not the case for there are many examples of distinguished marksmen who by perseverance in training themselves in self-control and the psychology of shooting have mastered the art, and through the force of their will power travelled farther along the road to success than many of their less energetic, phlegmatic brothers. In handling men of this type care should be taken to see that they do not over shoot, that they are paired off with congenial shooting partners and that they fire their matches at such times of day as a study of their work shows they do their best shooting. Firing under conditions that will assist in training them to overcome the tendency toward irritation at trivial things should be prescribed without the purpose being known to the marksman. The training routine should include plenty of competitions. In coaching this type of shooter praise will accomplish much more than criticism and censure.

As a rule a man with a phlegmatic temperament is excellent material for a pistol shot and should make a good team man. His calm, imperturbable disposition, which makes him slow to anger or irritate, his well controlled nerves that accomplish marvels in steady holding, his reliability and confidence in his ability to produce a good score at any time, are all assets to be desired. Usually he lacks imagination and consequently is not easily upset or worried over the results of a poor start in a match or of the possible glory that will be his should he win. He makes a splendid anchor for a team. There are of course extremes among this group that are not desirable for marksmen. They are too easy going. Some are so lazy that they lack sufficient energy to make them ambitious enough to do really good work and they may be so dull witted as to be unable to absorb, understand and apply the principles taught.

Between the distinctly nervous and phlegmatic types there is a large field of material that possesses many of the good points of both groups. They are energetic without being highstrung, they have reasonable self control and are not easily upset. They may not become as good deliberate fire shots as their more phlegmatic brothers, but they learn more readily and are more versatile in manipulating revolvers in all-around practice. I have in mind a shot of international fame who is phlegmatic to a high degree and who has tried repeatedly to learn aerial shooting without success.

There are three distinct dispositions that are worthy of mention here. The first is the pessimist who is always “on the rocks,” who has little or no confidence in his ability to improve and who is constantly worrying about future matches. There is always danger in giving such a man a place on a team until he has proved that he can stand the gaff of competition and not “blow up” when he gets in a pinch.

The optimist is always going to do better, at any rate he thinks he is. If he does improve, the chances are he will become over-confident and he then presents a big problem. It is difficult to teach him anything and he spends so much time explaining away his poor shooting and offering tiresome alibis that he has no time for studying his weaknesses and improving his work. A few good drubbings at the hands of some of his straighter shooting teammates may take the conceit out of him and show him the error of his ways so that he will settle down and shoot instead of talk.

Another extreme type of personality is the ornery individual, if I may be permitted to use this term. He is extremely temperamental, which accurately defined might be called meanness. He is always carrying a chip on his shoulder, is never quite satisfied with anything about him and his noisy tongue and disagreeable presence make him a decided bore and a source of constant irritation to his teammates. He may be a very good shot but if his manners and conduct bring discord and discontent among the team his ability to shoot well will not be as valuable as his absence.

The chances are that a coach will find among his team material men of each type who may cause him worry because of the different problems they present. The majority however will give little trouble and no especial attention need be paid to their dispositions. In his first conference with the squad it is well for a coach to announce, among other items of policy, that temperament will not be tolerated on the team, in order to forestall any attempts on the part of the individuals to use temperament as an alibi for favoritism or for poor work they may do.

The first important thing in the preparation and training of a team for competitions is the selection and appointment of officials and the organization of the squad. The plan followed by teams attending the National Matches at Camp Perry has proven to be very efficient without being cumbersome. It provides for a team captain, team coach, a supply officer, and the shooting members. For minor local competitions this scheme may be unnecessary and can be modified accordingly. For competitions such as sectional, national and international contests involving travel, messing and supply problems, organized training periods, and other extensive preparations, it is well, in fact essential, that a good organization be provided to carry on the work. The team captain should be in command as the administrative head and the go-between for conducting all business between the team and the officials of the matches. He should be well qualified to coach, and should have tact and diplomacy for acting as an arbitrator when difficulties arise. He should make himself responsible for everything pertaining to the welfare of the team except the coaching, and in this he should not interfere save in exceptional situations. Any differences of opinion regarding coaching methods and training can always be amicably settled by a quiet conference between the team captain and coach provided they are the right kind of men for the jobs. If they are not they should not be selected as team officials. To have a team captain and a coach with decidedly different ideas regarding the training of a team cannot help but be disastrous. Of equal harm is the policy of carrying joy-riding dead wood and figure heads among the team officials. This usually results in the shirking of responsibility by some and the carrying of the entire burden of team administration and coaching by one man.

The team supply officer under the supervision of the team captain should provide those things necessary for the team as a whole. Cleaning materials, stationery, scorebooks, ear protectors or absorbent cotton, trigger testing weights, sight blackening materials, target supplies, spotting telescopes and ammunition are among the things he should be responsible for.

An important item in regard to military, police and semi-military teams is that the team captain should be the senior officer present. I have in mind a fine police team that was in charge of a patrolman of long experience in the shooting game. Among the shooting members was a police captain who was perhaps the best shot and who thought he knew more about the game than any one else. He did not loyally support the patrolman in charge and there was dissension in the team, for the patrolman, thinking perhaps of the future, did not like to oppose his superior in rank although he had the better ideas and methods. Situations of this kind should be avoided.

The team coach is responsible for the coaching and training of the team. He should be relieved from other work and devote all his energies to his specific duties. He should by reason of his knowledge of the individual characteristics of team members be better able to make the final selection of the team or recommend it to a team captain. An official scorebook should be kept which shows the work of the team in detail. Failure to keep an accurate record of all scores made during the try-out period will result in an inaccurate record of the relative standing of the team members. Shooters are inclined to remember the good scores they make and forget the poor ones so that their average seems better to them than it actually is. Each man should also keep his own record as a check and for his convenience in determining his progress or setbacks. In order to carry out this plan of showing a relative standing of team members, all should fire the same record courses each day. Daily standings should be posted on a bulletin board after each day’s practice. Weekly standings should also be compiled and be posted so that men may see their relative progress with that of other members. The plotting of curves for each man, showing his progress in each kind of fire, is an excellent way to indicate a man’s ups and downs. This should be done by making a graphic chart on cross section paper with the scores as ordinates and the dates as abscissas. I have seen the members of a team watch their charts with keen interest and fight their hardest to keep their curves pointing upward. Records of all inter-team or other matches should be kept separately and special study made of work done in these competitions for it is the ability to shoot well in matches that counts the most in the final analysis and selection of the team.

The final selection of a team may be difficult if the race for places is a close one. There are other things to be considered besides scores, but the safest plan to use, if the questions of favoritism are to be avoided, is the record made in competition and secondarily in practice. If it is impracticable to conduct matches with keen competition it may be desirable to have several try-outs among the members to select the team. These will be of such importance to the shooters as to provide a good test of their ability under strain. They should be completed several days before the matches for which the team is selected. The greatest error I ever saw a team captain make was to hold a final try-out for the selection of a very important team the day before the big match. The candidates put every effort into the tryouts and worked so hard for their place on the team that the reaction of mind and muscles the next day lowered the scores in the match materially below what they should have been, and the men actually shot poorer than they did in the try-out or had done for some time previously. It is well to remember that some men simply cannot shoot well in team competitions and they should never be selected to fire in an important team match unless there is no one else available, this regardless of how well they show up in practice.

In the matter of prescribing a schedule for practice, exercise, meals, sleep and similar details the reader is referred to the chapter on competition shooting. Good judgment should be exercised in these details.

Among the first things to be done by a coach when a team assembles for training is to inspect each member’s shooting equipment to see that it complies with competition rules and if not that it be altered or replaced at once to avoid lost motion. Practicing with unauthorized sights, with trigger pulls below weight and similar evasions should not be tolerated. The coach should also assure himself that all guns are properly sighted.


Much depends on the attitude the coach takes on the firing line and the critiques he may hold after practice. He should school himself to be always patient, to be ready to assist no matter how tired he may feel, to be encouraging at all times, to be cheerful though he may not feel that way, and when it is necessary to criticize, to temper that criticism with some praise for the shooter’s efforts. In running a firing line the less loud talk, hurry and bustle there is the better it will be for all present. Many annoying delays occur that test one’s patience when getting relays on the line and the loss of temper by a coach may cause some shooter to be so upset as to ruin his work for the day and lower his morale accordingly. Men should be cautioned that good discipline on the line is necessary in order to make the work run smoothly and that if they wish to avoid later unpleasantness with over zealous or “hard boiled” range officers at competitions they should practice promptness in getting on the line and preparing to fire. In observing and coaching a shooter, instructions should be given in a low tone and an unhurried manner. The coach’s self control will have a good effect on the shooter whereas any excitement on his part will only increase the nervousness of the pupil. Do not divert a man’s attention from his work while he is actually firing. That is no time for giving instructions other than an occasional word of caution. When new men are inclined to be flinching and their minds leave the problem of squeezing and aiming to think about the noise or recoil of the gun they can be helped by repeating quietly “Squeeze”—“Call your shot.” This will aid in bringing their mind back to the work at hand and they forget to anticipate the explosion. It is poor psychology to say “Don’t flinch” at such times, as the power of suggestion may cause them to do the thing you mention.

A study of each man’s shooting technique should be made before prescribing rules for his observance. If he is not using good form and his scores correspond then it is well to make some changes. If he is shooting well be careful about suggesting changes in his form. With new men it is a different matter entirely and is the duty of the coach to see that they get started correctly. He should insist on proper methods being followed. Frequent inspections of guns for creepy triggers, loose or bent sights and similar defects should be made by the coach. This should be done far enough ahead of a match date to insure equipment being in first class shape. A good motto for a coach is “Patience, more patience and still more patience.”