I have tried for the last year
to write about subjects I think would help the readers of this magazine
with their shooting. These were tips and suggestions from my own school.
I have received a lot of great feedback on these articles and would like
to continue down that same road here. The only difference is I will
discuss how to choose an instructor or coach that will be right for you.
Choosing an instructor or coach is kind of like selecting a new gun. Sometimes we canít seem to break targets with a new gun because it doesnít fit us well, so we get rid of it and try another. The gun may be a great gun and one many top shooters and our friends use, but for some reason we just canít seem to shoot it well.
The same can be said about instructors. Because of the many different ways of achieving lead or the opinions and experiences of these instructors, we may find their way of doing things may not necessarily be the best way for us. These guys and gals are great shooters and usually have a large following. Many have champions from their student base, so why would I say some may not be the best for different shooters? They have shown they can give good information, and if the student is dedicated and willing to work hard, they can take this information and do very well.
Let me answer the above question by describing five different types of coaches to you. These are hypothetical people and are not meant to represent any real person. There are many different types of instructors out there. Many of the top shooter/instructors teach the way they shoot. There is nothing wrong with this, but we are all different when it comes to shooting and learning. Instructors and shooters are no different. All instructors will teach a different method and philosophy of breaking targets. Please remember these are all great instructors; they are just different. I should mention these people are all full-time professional instructors with a lot of experience.
Our First instructor is a very successful shooter and instructor. He has
been around our game for many years and won several championships. This
person likes to always shoot low gun and normally inserts his muzzle
into the lead. This common method is Maintained Lead. In my opinion,
this is a great way to shoot for many people. This is also the main way
The Second coach is a world champion who is always hard to beat. Most of his shots are taken with swing through, and he nearly always shoots gun up. Now this man does not teach a lot, but his reputation is far-reaching, so many shooters will take a lesson from him just because of what they read in the magazines.
The Third is another top shot who owns a gun club. He is a champion shooter and teaches a lot but not as much as the first coach. His preferred method is collapsing lead (Decreasing Maintained Lead). His main target group are people who come to his range and shoot. These people are of all different skill levels, but this man understands how to handle these people and he mainly teaches collapsing lead.
The Fourth instructor is another great shooter who has been in the game for many years shooting all disciplines. He is known for his skill in developing champions. He really likes Pull-Away. In fact, this is the way he shoots and teaches all of his students. He does very well with younger shooters.
The Fifth person is a Certified NSCA Level III instructor who has been teaching for 25 years. His background comes from all clay target disciplines, too, but while a good master class shooter, he decided early in his career he would rather become a really good instructor and target setter. His main goal has always been to promote the clay target sports and get people to enjoy breaking targets. I should tell you this person is not fictional but a real person.
One of the main things this instructor does is find each of his studentís natural method for achieving lead. He believes all people have this natural way, and this will be the foundation method of their shooting style. He does agree there are many ways to achieve lead other than the studentís natural way but feels they need to understand all methods so when their natural one doesnít work, they will have other options. He also doesnít teach just the way he shoots.
I would like to also mention he is a strong believer in the NSCA Instructor Program and their methods of teaching. The same ones were used when he moved through the levels. All NSCA instructor levels have a limit as to who they are certified to teach. Level I instructors are certified to teach only beginner and novice shooters. Level II is certified to teach experienced shooters who want and need more information. And, Level III instructors are certified to teach all levels of shooters. Of course, there are Level III instructors and then there are Level III instructors. Some of the most experienced instructors in the game are Level III Instructors. Plus, there are many great instructors who never went through the NSCA program but have the communication skills and experience to teach.
Now that we have an understanding of the types of instructors, letís talk about the wants and needs of those people looking for instruction. There are many types of shooting students who want to take lessons and learn. These people have different goals and reasons for taking lessons. The following is a list of these reasons and goals. From this list, I think we all can see what type of instructor would be best for each student.
Beginner Shooters. These people would be wise to find a good Level I or II NSCA instructor to teach them the basics and get them breaking targets. Most of the top instructors charge more than the beginner may want to pay. Plus, these top instructors sometimes have a harder time working with a beginner because the majority of their students are far more experienced. When this new shooter becomes more familiar with our game and has some shooting experience, then it might be the right time to seek out a more experienced instructor.
There are people who will never become a tournament shooter and just want to learn to break more targets. These people may be C to A Class shooters when it comes to their experience. I would again suggest an NSCA instructor who is Level II or III. These instructors can really help someone to get much better, and again, they normally donít charge as much as one of the pros. Also, there is normally one of these instructors teaching at a club in your area. If you want a coach instead of an instructor (they are different), ready access is very important. What I mean is a coach is someone who works with you a lot. An instructor is someone who helps you learn but normally is not available to teach you on a weekly basis.
Now letís look at the person who wants to do better in tournament shooting. A NSCA Level III instructor would be a good choice, but also one of the top pros would be a good one, too. Make sure the coach you choose is a good shooter. He doesnít have to be a champion, but he needs to really understand tournament shooting. The one thing I suggest is to go to someone who shoots and teaches your natural method. You will find doing so will make it far easier to understand the information.
Now letís go to the man who is a good shot and has a lot of experience. This person will help you build a complete shooting style which includes all methods. I am not saying the other types of instructor/coaches canít also do this, but I am just describing this person. Being a target setter, this person will be able to give you a look into the target setterís mind and explain what these guys do to try and fool you. He can also offer you ways to counter what the target setter is doing. Plus, he can help you with reading targets, because he has the knowledge of what target setters do. The different experience levels of shooters are not a problem with his style of teaching, and he is a very good communicator because he was also a salesman for most of his adult life. This person will also recommend a great coach for you; someone with whom you will click.
Many of you probably have figured out who this person is. If not, this person is me. I never like to write about myself, because it may seem to some people I am saying I am the best; far from it. I donít believe there is one best instructor in the country, because again, we all learn better with different people. I just want each of you to have a better idea of how to select your instructor so you can get the most out of your time and money.
There are many really good instructors and coaches out there. Some are NSCA Certified and some are not. It makes no difference so long as you understand and click with the one you choose. Decide if you want an instructor or a coach. Donít pick a coach or instructor simply because he is a great shot and donít pick one simply because they are certified. Choose one because he is a great teacher who achieves results. Ask for references and talk to his students. Also, ask around at the range and see who has taken lessons from the instructors you are thinking about booking a lesson with. When you take that lesson, remember to take a lot of notes. I give my students a manual that has all of the information that I will be teaching. I do this with all of my schools mainly because I cover a lot of things, and there is no way a person can remember everything. My students tell me this is a big plus when taking one of my classes. If you find you didnít get much out of a lesson, try another instructor. I can guarantee you, when you find the right instructor, you will become a much better shooter than you could have ever done on your own, and you will have a lot of fun with that person. Plus, you will probably make a new friend. As a friend of mine once said, ďThe journey to become a better shooter is almost as much fun as getting a punch.Ē
Mike McAlpine is the owner of Clay Target Academy and Claybird Specialties (www.claytarget.us). His three-day Target Reading & Presentation Seminar (TRAPS) teaches shooters of all levels how to read targets and their lines, as well as how to break any presentation. Mike was NSCA Chief Instructor for seven years and is a member of the Texas Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. He is recognized nationally as a premier target setter and course designer and has set targets and taught in three countries and 40 states. Claybird Specialties builds equipment for clubs and ranges. You can reach Mike at (325) 656-6319 or visit www.claytarget.us.