abe-axe-quote“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

I love that quote. And I’m not sure if there is a better way to describe the mindset that typifies the serious USPSA shooter than that phrase. Sure you can just blast quickly and often and find yourself in C class, but getting beyond that and into the upper levels of the sport takes takes work, and more specifically, work with purpose. Now that I’ve stated the obvious, let me expand on something that recently occurred to me when thinking about my abilities as a shooter and how I typically approach my training. Spoiler alert, I do a pretty poor job at it.

In the past I’d take a class and see some improvement, or spend countless hours dryfiring, yielding only marginal gains in performance, all the while I’d have some new shooter race by me in skills and classification levels. I’d chalk it up to natural ability, or having more time for training, etc, but in reality I think they don’t shoot better, they train better. I’m not seeing their process, only their results. Now again I’m stating the obvious when I say you have to set goals and train to achieve it, but I believe doing this incorrectly has been a fundamental flaw in my approach and my downstream results. In short, I’m not sharpening my axe, I’m wasting my effort polishing the metal or rubbing oil into the handle, which does little to effectively cut down the tree.

So what do I mean by all of this pontification around training, goal setting, and approach? Let me give you an example of a poor goal;

“I want to make Master this year.”

What does that even mean? I have a desire to get better? What is actionable? How does that help me achieve making it to M Class? The fact is it doesn’t. I’m just whacking away at a hapless tree with a dull axe with that kind of goal.

So then, what is a good goal? Well it’s an actionable plan that enables me to make Master Class that goes beyond stating my desire to merely make M this year and sets up a strategy to get me there with actionable steps towards a quantifiable goal. Whew! That’s quite the statement, but I want you to go back and read that a couple of times. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Staying with the “I want to make Master Class this year” example, let me put it in terms that might actually enable me to make Master Class.

Let’s first start off by defining “Master Class.” What makes up a Master Class shooter? How fast does a Master Class shooter draw, reload, split times, transition times, doubles at 25 yards, typical match points and penalties, etc. Now that “Master Class” has been quantified, you know what your times and abilities need to be, thus you now know what you must train yourself to do and must identify the drills that you can use to elevate your skills to the Master Class level.

So now that you’ve stated where you want to go, isolated the skills associated with that goal, quantified each component of said skills, and identified drills to improve each skill, there is one last thing you’ll need to do, and that is to get your baseline and measure your progress. You need to get a log book, spreadsheet, cocktail napkin, whatever, but you need to track your progress across each Master Class skill you’ve identified which begins with hitting the range, running through each drill and logging your current times/abilities so you can set your training priorities. I’m sure you’ve seen shooters who go out and practice the same things over and over, addressing only the skill/drills that they enjoy shooting while neglecting the ones they don’t enjoy doing. Personally I would stack rank each skill and “weight” it in importance among the other skills you’ve listed. For example, shooting weak hand only to a specific standard vs. getting .25 second transitions on 10 yard targets. Although both are important, which one are you going to run into more often in a match or classifier? What is your baseline for each? Knowing the weight or importance of each skill as well as the delta between your ability and the goal time should also be considered when building your personalized training plan which further points you towards the skills you need to bolster vs. the skills that you can already perform.

Up until recently I have really been “practicing” in the dark, randomly picking a drill and blindly blasting away at it without knowing what I need to get out of it or even recording my times. Running hard without knowing where you’re going isn’t likely to get me much further than I am now, at least not quickly. It is now time for me to sit down with the diamond file and carefully sharpen my axe, transforming it from a hammer into a razor.

Training With Purpose
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