Two Groups – Not One

New - Leigh GroupNew - Ashley Group

Please take a look at these two groups. The air group was shot by a brand new shooter (two months of light training) in the standing position with no suit or boots. The smallbore group (A-36 target) was shot in the standing position by an experienced air rifle shooter in her first weekend of smallbore.

What do you see? How would you evaluate these targets? How would you discuss them with yourself if they were yours or with the athlete?

Did your answer involve the use of the word “flyers” or anything related? Did your answer emphasize the one or two wide shots or the majority of the shots near the middle of the group? Did you emphasize score or the size of the group?

From now on, the word “flyer” is prohibited!

There are two groups, not one. When we first start to shoot, our “group” may look more like a shotgun pattern. Quickly we learn and our group shrinks. Soon enough, we get targets like the ones shown here. Each target illustrates two groups.

The main group is what people generally refer to as “the group” when discussing a target. As we make progress, the main group becomes smaller and it has a higher percentage of the shots. The outer group are the wide shots that aren’t in the main group yet. As we make progress, the outer group also shrinks and it has a lower percentage of the shots. Eventually it, too, shrinks and all the shots are in the main group. Even in the smallbore target above, there are two groups even though all the shots touch. At least one shot is obviously not truly in the main group.

What is the point of this discussion?

Focus your mind and thoughts on the main group. It is your future. The outer group is your past. Which way are you headed? Answer: in the direction you spend the most time thinking about.

Recently at a collegiate match, an athlete commented on how he had shot a 7 in a practice session that week. His coach, whom I greatly respect, immediately responded: “No that is not how you talk about that session! You shot a 591 with 54 tens!” The athlete got the point!

I like to look at a match result with an athlete this way: Lets see, 34 Xs, 19 tens, and 7 nines. The X count is growing!

Focus on the positive and the future. Congratulate yourself on those tight main groups and let the process take care of the outer group for you.

Which wolf are you feeding?

Give up? — NEVER!!!

Jodie Briggs  sport pistolDSCF0390 s

Don’t let their petite stature, good looks, or blond hair fool you. These two ladies are forces to be reckoned with! Both are smart, sweet, hard working, accomplished, national champions, and… tough as nails. They will gladly exchange a friendly greeting with you before the match, and chat with you after the match, but during the match you had better bring your “A” game, because they are out to win. Period.

Despite their vast dissimilarities, and their very different journeys, these two amazing young women have a great number of things in common. As but one tiny example, they have worked hard – very hard – and  they have faced great adversity, both on and off the firing line, and succeeded.

One of the most important similarities they share is that, despite the incredible obstacles placed in their paths, both found ways to work past the obstacles, thrive, and win. Either one of them could have given up and folks would have understood. Not these two. Despite the pain, heartbreak, and frustrations they faced, neither was willing to allow herself to be diverted from her goals. Neither was willing to give in to the temptation to “ease the pain” and just walk away and give up. They never gave up on themselves and they never gave up on their dreams and goals.

Their mode of operation is very simple: NEVER GIVE UP!

“Come on, JP, get real. Stuff happens.” It most certainly does. That is no excuse to give up on yourself. Just ask these two young women.

One of these two athletes suffered a devastating loss of points early in the first match of a two day match – in her very first trip to the US Olympic Training Center. This was for the National Junior Olympic Championship. She could have given up. Many would have. Instead, she remained calm (we saw a lot of tears that morning, but not from her), trusted herself and her training in order to sort out the issues, and made the proper analysis and corrections all by herself. She shot so well for the rest of that match and all the next day that she made the final and finished 6th (and winning a shoot-off) in air pistol.

As an aside, although I was right there on the range, she knew what to do (being well trained and a hard worker) and knew that I trusted her completely and so she handled it perfectly all by herself. She knew I was there and would have come off the line to speak with me if she felt it was needed, and knew that I had every confidence in her. I cannot expect an athlete to trust herself if she doesn’t feel that I also trust her.

Just 72 hours before, upon entering the shooting center for the very first time in her life and watching the women’s smallbore final, she was so nervous she wanted to just run and get sick. But she didn’t run and instead she faced her fears head on, stuck with the plan, and executed.

The morning of the first match, she was so nervous that she backed up against my shoulder, sort of like a baby bird being sheltered under her parent’s wing, and I could literally feel her shoulder vibrating from the nerves. But she had coined a phrase “Somebody just say ‘Start!'” which reminded her that once the match started, she quickly went to work, calmed herself, and she thrived under pressure.

This story is  just one of the smaller (yes, smaller!) obstacles she faced in her shooting career. She would go on to make the final in both guns at subsequent JO competitions, be a collegiate All-American, and collegiate women’s air pistol national champion.

This same athlete helped me write article #35 “Intangibles” in my “On The Firing Line” series, since she is the student who participated in the conversation we had with the professional sports executive in that article. After the conversation was over, she said to me, “JP, he was talking about all the same things you always talk about!” It should be no surprise that, like the sought after pro athletes, she, too, possesses all of the so-called intangibles discussed in the article.

She and I are pictured above, the day before her first JO competitions.

Imagine being on top of your game, including being collegiate national champion in women’s air pistol (as a true freshman) and being on a junior World Championships team.

Then imagine having your game destroyed over the course of a year and ultimately performing very poorly at a major competition. Think about that for a moment. Feel it. Imagine the hurt and pain. Ready to quit?

The other athlete discussed in this blog entry is not a quitter either. She provides what may be one of the ultimate never-give-up stories in our sport.

The evening after that devastating performance, she called me. (We had worked closely together all through her high school years and first year of college, so we knew each other quite well.) Would I work with her again? Of course I would. What did she want? Perform well at the upcoming USA Shooting Nationals (USASNC). Because she focused on academics first, by plan and prior agreement, we only had about two months between the end of her semester and the competition. No hurry!

We spent those two months rebuilding her game – specifically, rebuilding her confidence in and belief in herself. She is among the very small group of “hardest working athletes” I have known and focused on her goal. (I knew the sharp pain of that last competition was inside her, but she never let it affect her work.)

Knowing that I could not be there for her competition, and seeing how well she was shooting, we sat down at the end of our last session and had a talk about what might happen and how she could approach it in her mind. During that conversation I scared her so badly – twice – that I could see her visibly react. Funny thing is, that talk was exactly the final piece she needed to pull off her amazing feat.

What happened at the USASNC? You won’t believe it. People who saw it were blown away. (After the last finals shot, the crowd converged on her as if she were a huge music star and my cell phone lit up.) If I told you she shot a 5 in the final and didn’t give up, would you believe me? Oh, it’s even better than that!

How about an 8, then a 5, then another 8 all right in a row in the middle of the final? Yup! And, as a junior, she still won the Open gold medal in women’s air pistol. She had gone into the final with such a large lead that only after the second 8 did she drop from first to second. (Scores were retained for the final in those days.) Then she shot very well to the end – instead of giving up – and retook first for the gold.

She is pictured above, shooting sport pistol at a PTO I was running a couple of years later.

For the full story and more details, including what we talked about that last day, see the “Rebuild my Confidence” section of article #25 “Believe” in my “On The Firing Line” series. While you are there, read the entire article for perspective on the impact of confidence from a future Olympic champion and see the “Believe In Me” section of the article for another very dramatic story about not giving up and about believing in oneself.

The latter story also illustrates, through the first hand words of the athlete, the power of a coach’s beliefs on an athlete. Coaches, we need to be aware of that at all times!

When you give up, you are saying to yourself “I cannot.” That is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many a match that could have been won was lost with that thought. When you give up, it hurts. You hurt yourself most of all.

When you say I can or I will, you just might surprise yourself and everyone else. It is really fun to watch when an athlete does that!

It is NEVER over until the range officer says “Stop, Unload.”

“I can! I will!”

Feeding the Wolves

Feeding the Wolves

An athlete posted this classic story of the two wolves while thinking of our discussions about thriving under pressure. “This reminds me of what we talk about!”

In competition or a tough training drill, we are happy when things go as we expect. We are unhappy when they do not. We often become some combination of angry, hurt, upset, fearful, disappointed, and who knows what else. Some athletes have learned how to shed those feelings and keep living in the Present Moment while others are debilitated and shut down or give up. How you respond is entirely up to you and you can learn to change your response in ways that are positive and beneficial to your performance (what you do) and ultimately in the outcome (score, winning).

Many of the articles in the “On The Firing Line” series address this topic, either directly or indirectly. Examples include #5 “Eights Are Your Friend” and #8 “Mental And Emotional Skills” among numerous others.

Which wolf are you feeding?


Welcome to the High Performance Olympic Target Shooting Blog

AP5 Group - 2002 06 - Center


This blog is specifically for athletes and coaches engaged in the sport of Olympic Rifle and Pistol target shooting. However, shotgun participants, and participants in any other sport or performance activity (music, singing, dance, public speaking, etc.) will find that much of the content applies to their activity as well.

The primary emphasis of the blog is on the mental (e.g. self talk, focus, etc.) and emotional (e.g. anger, fear, etc.) aspects of thriving under pressure. These are universal themes applicable to all performance activities.

Posts will be at varying though hopefully somewhat frequent intervals. Time will tell how often and how in-depth.

Please read the About and Author pages of this blog site for further information about the blog and the author. Please also feel free to go to the Contact page to send me your comments, suggestions, and topic ideas.

During November and December of 2013, the blog will be in “start-up” mode with official launch in 2014.

Feel Center!


The target shown above, scoring 50-4x, was fired at the 2002 USA Shooting National Championships hosted by the US Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, GA in the demonstration event of Standard Air Pistol. This is a ten second series, fired at a slightly too rapid tempo with a Steyr LP-5, in only eight seconds – with an audience. No pressure!