Choosing an Instructor

Choosing an Instructor
Author:  Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor

What to look for in an Instructor

The demand for instructors in the shotgun sports is constantly increasing.  It would appear that more and more people are recognizing the benefits of learning in a structured environment, and thereby advancing their shotgun skill sets faster and more efficiently.

Not all instructors, however, are created equal, and the informed consumer should be able to determine if a specific instructor is going to be a good fit for them.  This is best determined by the client understanding what their expectations are – that is to say that the novice shooter who has done very little or no shooting will have different expectations when compared to the shooter who has been hunting birds for the past 30 years and now wants to learn a bit about shooting clay targets.

Once you have decided you would like to take a lesson, you start the process by booking a lesson online or by calling Silver Willow.  You should also request that the Instructor contact you so you can begin a dialogue and apply the steps listed below.  Open lines of communication before and during the lesson will ensure you get the most out of the lesson.

Step One – have a goal

If you are considering a shooting instructor, know what you hope to achieve, and be able to communicate your goals to an instructor.  Here are a few examples:

  • You are a novice shooter and want to learn the basics.
  • You have done some shooting and want to improve your sporting clays skills.
  • You want to transition from shooting clays to shooting live birds, or vice versa.
  • You enjoy sporting clays and would like to improve your skills in order to enter competitions.
  • You are a competitive shooter and would like assistance regarding specific aspects of the sport.

Step Two – talk to an instructor

Once you have expressed your goals to a potential instructor, here’s a few things to consider:

  • Parallel interests – if you want to learn to shoot a shotgun for the purposes of upland bird hunting, for instance, having an instructor who is also an upland bird game hunter is beneficial.
  • Rapport – There must be a certain comfort level with the Instructor. You both must be able to communicate easily with the other, and both must be respectful at all times.  A good instructor not only imparts knowledge to the student, but they also inspire the student to expand their potential and exceed their current skill levels.  This will not occur in a relationship made turbulent by miscommunication or disrespectful behaviour.

And here are a few things that are somewhat less important:

  • The competitive performance of the Instructor – Not all instructors compete in registered competitions, and not all that do necessarily win all the time. As in most other sports, some of the best coaches were not all-star players, and some of the very best players turned out to be mediocre coaches.  All of the instructors at Silver Willow have been certified through the NSCA’s Coaching program, and they have all met the shooting proficiency requirements.
  • The physical appearance of the Instructor – Getting a particular Instructor because you think they are attractive is a poor reason to select an instructor. Remember to focus on your goals, and find an instructor with the same focus.

Step Three – the lesson

Now that you have booked your first lesson, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your goals – Once again express your goals to your instructor. It is important to have a realistic understanding of what can be achieved through one lesson or a series of lessons. It is not realistic for a new shooter to expect to win a large Provincial or Regional competition after one lesson.
  • Communication skills – communication during your lesson is not limited to verbal communication.  The best instructors are excellent observers, and they can see when the student is bored, tired, nervous, frustrated or confused.  But do not hesitate to express to your instructor if you are tired or something is not making sense.  The instructor should be able to adjust their delivery to accommodate your needs, but remember that learning is a two way street and your feedback to your instructor is just as important as the instructor’s direction being provided to you.   Many, but not all, instructors will provide a written report for the student – it need not be anything formal or fancy.  A short email to the student with an overview of the lesson as well as the salient points is often enough.  A lot of material can be covered in a lesson, and many students find it helpful to be able to review what was covered in a lesson so they can focus their practice.
  • Simplicity – Good instructors want to simplify things rather than complicate the technique.  It has been said that perfection is not adding everything that you need, but rather, eliminating everything that is not necessary.  If your instructor is giving too much information for you, say so, and between the two of you, decide a path of focus.  For example, you may decide to concentrate on stance, or your gun mount, but you may not be able to do both at the same time.

Here are a couple of things to watch for that are NOT conducive to a productive lesson:

  • Showing off – the lesson is not the place for either you or your instructor to show off.  Many of our instructors have had, paradoxically, students who did not want to learn new skills, but rather, seemed to want to demonstrate how good they were.  At the same time, the lesson, which is paid for by the student, is not the place or time for the Instructor to be showing off what they can do.  Many instructors will demonstrate a certain point from time to time, but it must have an educational component.  There should never be a sense of competition between the student and the Instructor.  The best instructors strive to create the best possible student they can – they are not intimidated or threatened by the student who demonstrates greater potential than the Instructor.  Indeed, the best instructors look forward to the day when the tables are turned and the student becomes the teacher.
  • Trying to do too much – It is unrealistic to believe that one lesson is all that a person needs to achieve their objectives. Shooting a shotgun is a complex, dynamic activity that has a lot of moving parts.  It is not unusual to spend an entire lesson focusing on one aspect of shooting.  As a result, your goals may need to be modified to either work on a specific issue, or to work on basics. Sometimes the Instructor will work on a problem with the student, and sent the student away with ‘homework’, things to work on for a period of time before the next lesson.  Don’t get down-hearted if your Instructor wants you to focus on basics – the best shooters have mastered the basics, eliminated any inconsistencies, and are therefore able to focus on hitting the target.

Step Four – Going forward

Once you have had your lesson you may choose to book additional lessons, if so:

  • Goals – look again at you original goal and continue on that path, or you may want to adjust. For example, you may have booked your first lesson simply to improve your skills, but now you may be thinking of entering a competition.  Goals can change – be sure to always be clear what your goals are and communicate them to your instructor and between the two of you, map out a realistic, achievable plan with measurable results.  There is not a lot to be gained, for example, by emphasizing the mental aspects of competition if the shooter wants to become a more proficient upland game hunter.  And it is unlikely that someone who has been shooting for a season or more to expect a sudden jump from C class to Master Class after just one lesson.  A good instructor is certainly able to help shooters get into the higher classes, however, it takes time and it takes a serious commitment on the part of the student.  It takes time on the range and at home, it takes lots of targets and lots of rounds, and it means training as opposed to practicing.
  • Continuity – Understand the cumulative benefits of multiple lessons. Each lesson should re-enforce skills learned in the previous lessons and progressively build upon them resulting in a compounding effect on the skill level of the student.

Now that you have had a lesson, or are embarking on a series of lessons, keep in mind that it is up to you to apply the instruction you have been given.  Vince Lombardi is often credited with the quote, “Practice makes perfect.”  In reality, that is not what he said, nor is it what he meant or used in his coaching.  “Perfect practice makes perfect” is the whole quote, and it only makes sense.  If you are going to be training and getting better, you need to practice the right things the right way.  You need to eliminate the less desirable aspects of your technique and focus on perfecting the more desirable parts of the technique.

Practicing the wrong things establishes bad habits that can take years to overcome.

Good instructors take the time to get to know the student, and they learn to tailor their delivery to the student. For example, an engineer may relate better to a physics based explanation, whereas a may respond better to an instinctive method of teaching.   The good instructor will try to draw on similarities between shooting and something familiar to the shooter.  To achieve this, there needs to be a rapport and open communication.  Chatting about your job, hobbies, and other interests may be very relevant to developing a successful method of teaching.

When the instructor/student relationship is well balanced and rooted in mutual respect, everyone benefits, and it can result in a lasting enjoyment of the sport and perhaps a friendship that can endure for many years.

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