“How do I do that?”, I kept asking myself? How can I know I improved when I leave the range each time. Or more generally, after each time I practice. What I really wanted, was to; “Never leave the range again wondering if I’d improved”.
When I first started practicing at the range (what I learned in training), I usually left the range wondering if I had, in fact, improved. Have you felt this way? I mean, if I’m going to spend the time and money to practice, and time is very hard to come by, I really want to know that the practice was worth it. And I also want to know what I improved and why. Crazy, right?
Well here is what happened and it changed everything!
It isn’t a secret. It’s not really that difficult if you learn some practice skills. Yes, practice requires some skills all its own! And a dose of discipline. In short, there are some key things you must know and some key things you have to do in every practice. This is not about what techniques you should work on or in what order. This is about practice not practicing!
Peeling back the practice onion.
As I started to ask some shooting buddies, a couple of trainers, looked on the internet and started to pay close attention to what most people were doing at the range I uncovered some very, very interesting observations.
- The Trainers gave me good advice. “Keep track of your results of time and hits, etc.” Keeping a record of time and hits is a “DO” item for practice that we will expand on later. I wrote down my results, however, I did not understand how to tell what skill or skills I improved or what created the improvement. I wanted more resolution and awareness of the breakdown of my performance.
- My shooting buddies seemed to always run the same drills (and boy could they shoot them well), and they focused on time and then admired their shot groupings. At the time, their drills were too far down the road for me. I couldn’t shoot them well enough to isolate an actionable next step.
- Now the range was surreal. When I inquired about drills to shoot, they looked at me funny. They had targets but no drills. In fact, when it comes to inventory of all things to support shooting handguns, the only thing ranges didn’t have were drills. Just kind of funny. As I watched other shooters, I saw a lot of shooting but no real practicing. No-one seemed to write anything down. No-one had a reference book, app or printed papers they seemed to be following. I mean no-one. I’m sure someone was practicing; it just wasn’t obvious.
So let’s get down to business. Let’s practice. The DO Step.
In Part 2 of this series we covered the PLAN step, creating the Practice Plan. Now in this step, the Do step, you are practicing according to your plan. Your Practice Plan may include dry fire and live fire, working on skills and drills you and your Trainer have identified as “homework”. There are many ways to go about a practice and you can mix the purpose of each in a series of practices. For instance, you could have a practice where you just shoot fundamental shots, the next practice you focus on a couple of skills, the next some scenario practice, and another where you shoot 3 drills to benchmark your progress.
Please note that the overall PDCA Continuous Improvement Cycle is a feedback cycle, where CHECK and ACT, are evaluating things and making changes to what you will do next. In the Do step, since you are shooting and observing your real time results for each shot, stage and drill, you also have a feedback loop, but a much more immediate one. During practice, you should feel free to make adjustments to what and how you practice even if you have to deviate from the plan you walked in with.
These are the 3 fundamental actions involved in a practice that is focused on improving your shooting skills, knowledge, and decision-making.
1. Practice the planned shot, stage or drill. (10-15 minutes of repetitions).
- It is important to focus overall, but also on a single skill.
- After a set is complete, shift to another skill. If you have tried to focus on two skills at the same time you know how frustrating it is.
- You can go alternate focusing on skills but give each skill a few minutes and then switch to focus on the other.
Some strategic approaches to practice can include:
- Start out slowly and prioritize accuracy, with a focus on proper technique. This gives you time to feel things a bit. Close your eyes and see where things end up. (With a dry fire or unloaded weapon of course.)
- Video capture yourself an play back the clip, and use slow motion playback if needed. Check technique.
- Try things in reverse. See if your body mechanics follow the same path.
- Speed up and see which skill is the weakest link. Isolate that skill for more work.
2. Record the Results at Least Once.
- Record results at points that make sense. Not after every shot or stage, but a minimum of once to represent your performance on that date.
- A record should include enough information that you can replicate the drill, and include the things, that if changed, would change your results. This is critical. You need to know what to attribute your improvement to. Is it due to your skill or a change in gun, sight, holster, ammo, garment, or other hardware?
- At HandgunDrills.com we call that the Loadout (it’s how you leave the house) and it is standard information to record on all Drill Cards. If the Loadout is the same, then you can be more confident that you have improved your skill.
3. Record Your Observations. (Take a short break, and if necessary, adjust what you are doing.)
- When you practice you are obviously paying attention to what you are thinking and doing to improve your technique in some way. Focus is required. You can miss your target for many reasons, one is your technique is not adequate yet, another is you daydreamed for a split second, or you were distracted, to name a few. Since focus requires concentration (mental energy) as you practice you will tire and when you tire you can get sloppy. Just sloppy enough that you aren’t doing your best.
- So, to have your performance represent your best, take occasional breaks to mentally or physically recharge. I know when I draw 100 times is very physically demanding and I must break it up into groups of 10 or 20 with 1 -2 minute breaks in between. During these breaks, make notes of what you experienced beyond the shots on target. Do you need to work on being able to concentrate longer or build physical stamina. These are real limitations that, if worked on, will pay dividends in your practice. To be clear, just taking breaks isn’t the answer to managing mental and physical stamina. Designing features into your practice or using other mental and physical exercises to increase your stamina will help you improve capacity in practice.
- These recorded observations during practice are important in two ways. First, they can inform you that some immediate small changes to your technique, focus skill or mental concentration should be changed now and that the rest of your practice will benefit from the change. Second, on review of your recorded results in the next step, CHECK, you will have the overall information to decide your next steps in practice. Don’t allow yourself to believe that you will remember all of your observations a week later. Having it in writing is critical for good decision-making and future reference.
Remember, small adjustments are usually made during practice and larger adjustments between practices. If possible, design your practices with input from your Trainer and set clear goals for the final test of your improvement.
And “never leave the range again wondering if you’ve improved!”
If you use HandgunDrills Concealed Carry Book of Drills, pull the drills you need into the Active section. Make notes of the plan in the Practice Plan Template or use a Log Card. Head to the basement to dry fire or to the range to live fire. You are ready for the DO step of Practice.
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Please see the other articles in the PDCA Continuous Improvement Practice series as they become available at HandgunDrills.com.
HandgunDrills.com series Concealed Carry: 4 Steps to Become a Great Student Now! is dedicated to helping Concealed Carry Students “practice with a purpose, what they learn in training, from the skill level they’re at, with the time and ammo they have.” And to help Trainers stay connected to their Student’s practice.
- Concealed Carry; 4 Steps to Become a Great Student Now! (Part 1)
Disclaimer: Every person and their circumstances are unique, so no single point of view is applicable to everyone. And everyone must decide what makes sense for them. Therefore, the thoughts, opinions and information in this post are for your consideration only to incorporate as you believe is appropriate.