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Practice Makes Perfect

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Practicing magazine changes in my garage, with a training barrel installed.

 

Time to come clean.

I played a lot of baseball in my youth, and one thing I learned was that it took practice – practice to improve, practice to win, heck, practice just to stay even. I liked baseball practice – fielding, batting, throwing, running the bases. And I got better and better every season.

I also played a season of youth football, but I quit after the first season, not because I didn’t like the sport, but because I hated practice. We did so many things that seemed to have no bearing on the game of football.

In my shooting career, I’ve seen improvement from time to time, and it usually came when I practiced. Nothing surprising there.

About ten years ago I read a book called Mastery, by George Leonard. George took up the martial art of aikido at age 47, and went on to become a black belt, and open his own dojo. In the process of becoming a black belt, he studied and then wrote about the process that humans go through when they learn and master any skill, from sports to career to marriage. Without reviewing the whole book, he found (and my experience confirms) that humans learn in spurts. In between these growth spurts, we are on a plateau, until practice and training enable us to reach another growth spurt.

This past week I decided to get the book out again, after hearing Michael Bane talk about it on one of his old podcasts. Two things became immediately obvious to me.

First, despite anything I’ve written in this blog, I am, sadly, merely a Hacker when it comes to shooting. I have worked on my shooting, and improved, but I have reached a plateau, as George Leonard predicted. Sadly, I have somewhat accepted this plateau, and I am most of the time content to compete at the level I am at.

Second, if I am going to shed this Hacker status, and truly improve – move up in USPSA, win a match, learn new techniques – I am going to have to devote myself to practice. I am also going to have to get a coach, someone who can show me where I am lacking, correct mistakes, and hold me to my program.

Fortunately, through contacts I’ve made since I started this blog, I have access to the tools, drills, coaches, and techniques that I will need. I have the time and the desire. All that is lacking is the doing. Practice.

I am currently putting together my practice plan, and in the coming weeks I will share it with you. In the meantime, I welcome suggestions.

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4 thoughts on “Practice Makes Perfect

  1. This will be interesting to follow. I feel the same way about myself. I’m looking into training with a local expert, but then I have to figure out a way to find time and motivation to practice.

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  2. I’m afraid I’m at a plateau as well. Being as though I don’t reload yet, I’m maxed out in regards to my ammo budget. That doesn’t leave anything for live fire drills.

    I’d love to see what you come up with for dry-fire and may even follow along with your routine to see if it helps me improve (I rarely dry-fire these days and I could use the motivation)

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    • First, to address the plateau: this is where reading the book will help. The plateau is a normal part of the Mastery process. We learn skills that help us improve in incremental amounts, then we reach a plateau. While we are on the plateau, we should be continuing to practice the things we’ve learned so far, while learning new skills. It’s the new skills that eventually help us incrementally improve again.

      The problem comes when, like me, someone stops learning the new skills it takes for the next improvement. When you become satisfied with the skills you have, you stay in that plateau. Not good.

      If you’re learning new skills, you can rest in the knowledge that you will sometime improve. But if not, like me, you need to find a way.

      I hear you, as far as the ammo budget goes. If you can only afford X rounds a month, you will need to decide how to shoot them. If you have 600 rounds a month, is it 3 matches at 200 rounds, or is it 2 matches at 200 and 2 practice sessions at 100? Only you can decide.

      So, having said that, I’m going to talk about dry firing and other practice techniques soon. In the meantime, keep practicing!

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  3. Something even cheaper than the dry-fire practice that is necessary is the art of imagination. A study was done years ago,about the usefulness of visualising a task and how it could lead to improvement. 3 separate groups were gathered, first was to practice their free-throws x-number of times a week, x-minutes a day. The second was to not physically practice but to set quiet and imagine themselves making the baskets, imagine themselves utilizing the proper technique. The third group was told to neither practice nor spend anytime even thi king about trying to improve. As predicted, those that actually hit the court and practiced showed much improvement, but the second group, those that simply visualized themselves shooting and making without the actual physical act of shooting, still showed signs of improvement.

    The third group showed no improvement and even signs of decline, giving further proof of the loss of skill if nothing is done to keep sharp, but the second group showed that the mind doesn’t distinguish between imagination and reality as much as you’d think. Before falling asleep or during your afternoon walk, visualising those quicker, crisper, faster mag changes can help.

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