The first competition of the season (for me, at least, since the actual season began about a month ago) started with some clouds, a few raindrops and a lot of hope that the fair weather will hold… luckily for all of us, it did.
Our mornings are as hectic as possible, and competition mornings tend to be even more chaotic. Who’s going to walk the dogs? Who’s going to put some snacks together? Who’s going to chat with our over-chattery son, while trying to dress him up? That’s why ‘the boss’ insists on having almost everything ready the night before. And that’s when our competition day starts: the night before. With us checking the guns, tighten up screws, and chokes, getting our bags ready (especially my bag, which must hold all sorts of emergency and not-so-emergency items for all those ‘mommy, I need !’), checking the pockets of the vest, cleaning earplugs, making sure glasses and all lenses are in and clean, making sure we have the ATA card, the OPTA card, the average card (all tucked safely in their nice leather wallet), getting the shells ready at the door, getting the guns all oiled up and cleaned… and going through everything one more time, just for the sake of it.
I have to be honest, in the beginning, I found this ‘ritual’ kind of annoying and I suspected that Florin is quite ‘gone’… but trust me, once you get on the line and find yourself without the earplugs (which are nicely drying out on a towel in the bathroom about 150 km away) or, even worse – without the glasses… well, that teaches you a lesson you tend to never forget. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to learn through hard lessons, but hopefully, some of you, reading this, will be a little more disciplined and learn the lesson the easy way: by creating your own pre-competition day routine.
If nothing else, the routine will bring you in competition ‘mood’ (and that’s no small accomplishment either).
After all is well and dandy with the equipment after clothes have been chosen for the next day – always check the weather report and bring extra with you; the old adagio “better safe than sorry” had never held more truth than in this case; you are usually miles away from home, most of the time in a remote place and on a Sunday when stores tend to be closed in the country… – so after all the preparation it is time to relax and get to sleep sooner than later. The resting part is paramount: there is no amount of talent and passion in the world that will replace a well-rested mind and body. A good rest could make the difference between winning and not winning since in this sport one target is almost always enough to make or break a winner. Even if one is just beginning and cannot entertain thoughts of actually winning an event (yet) – one should want to do his/her best. And you can’t do your best if you are tired, no matter what kind of super-man / -woman you think you are.
Now – with all the equipment ready and one being well-rested… what’s there left to be? Just one more thing: a sunny disposition. You wake up in the morning, butterflies in your tummy (I really don’t care what anyone says: if you don’t have the slightest butterfly fluttering around in your tummy, you have the wrong attitude. This sport is meant to be fun and joy and most of all passion!), and no matter what else is on your mind, you fix a bright smile on your face. That way you somehow direct yourself to be happy and to enjoy the day. Then you travel to your destination and start the drill: register, pay, find out what bank you’re shooting on, go there and wait for your turn.
And that’s how our first competition started – on a day that turned out to be beautiful, even hot in the afternoon, with a gold, sunny, and bright team – T-shirts and attitudes alike. We met in the morning… the whole LTS family, we had lots of fun squading everyone and then figuring out who’s who (note to self: write down the names on top of the first registration paper, those ‘copy’ tools won’t display names on the top paper… that’s how we mixed up Keith’s with Frank’s… and we had to fix it back 🙂 ), then we had lots of fun confusing the lady at the cashier desk (her first day on the job! and she had to deal with all that ‘junior / not junior’ info), then we had lots of fun trying to adjust our guns and attitudes with just 9 shells before coach Florin had to sent us in a hurry on the other side – they are calling for our squads already!
And the real fun began, with the second competition ritual: the right-before an event ritual. When one should get his/her gun ready, briefly check everything again, load the proper number of shells in one’s bag (add some extras), glasses on, plugs on, gloves on, sign up, breathe and wait for the squad’s turn. This being a relatively small shoot we didn’t have to wait for long and soon we got into the next ritual: the on-the-line ritual. Get into your stance, breathe, check if everyone is on the line, put a shell (or two if it’s the doubles event) in the gun, and breathe again.
If you’re the squad leader –  Squad ready? Puller ready? Let’s see one! Target! Everyone is OK? No? – check whatever is not OK and fix it (if need be). Then repeat from . Yes? Proceed to 
 For everyone, when it’s your turn: Wait for the previous shooter to finish his round. What does that mean? Usually is enough to see him/her dismounting the gun… sometimes (depending on conditions) it means knowing his/her shell has been ejected.  Mount the gun – is the mount perfect? No? Dismount, breathe, repeat from  until OK. Breathe, focus eyes, wait for eyes to adjust, and call. Then – wait to see the target, move to it smoothly (no rush, there is lots and lots of time to get to it), when you get to it – smoke it! Follow-through, dismount, breathe. Wait for your turn and repeat from .
Sounds simple? Because it is really that simple!… You have to have the proper stance (to be able to rotate to the target), you have to see the target (which means: first your eyes must be focused where the target is, not anywhere else; and second – you have to wait for the target to get out of the house before moving), you have to move as smoothly as possible to it and you have to pull the trigger when you ‘touched’ it… To shoot 100 targets takes about an hour. People think it’s a lot of time to be focused on targets. But it’s not the whole hour you need to be focused. It’s just about 10 to 30 seconds for each target. Think about it: 10 seconds for each target…
There are a few important tips: first: never ever count your targets. The goal is to smoke one. Then the next one. Then the next one. Until you hear ‘All out’. You don’t want to smoke 25 or 50 or 100… You just need to smoke one. If you focus on the ritual of smoking just one, you’ll be able to smoke them all. But still – one at the time. This is probably the hardest for every trapshooter – to be patient, to get them one by one.
Second – be disciplined. Create a ritual that works for you and follow it no matter what happens. If everyone in the squad shoots really fast and you are a slow shooter, don’t try to keep up with their pace. That works the other way around: if you are a fast shooter and you have a slow one in your squad, don’t rush yourself even more, but don’t slow yourself down either. Keep your pace. Keep your ritual. You have paid for your target, they are your targets – mind them 🙂
Third – don’t watch what the other people in the squad do and don’t get ’embarrassed’. This one is hard to follow and I should know first hand. When I first started competing I will always squad with Florin and Frank and because I was such a beginner I had to concentrate on my targets, having no time to do anything else. Once I started to get better scores – something really interesting happened. I started to watch what my friends were doing. And wondering – why did Frank miss that one? Guess what? 90% of the time I would miss the next one as well (I use Frank because he was on my left, shooting right before me, while Florin was on my right, shooting right after me. If he would miss, I had 4 posts to clear my mind and try to focus, while if Frank did so – I really didn’t have enough time or experience to clear the brain). Soon enough I started to the squad without them – to try to ‘mind my own’ business. And after a while – I learned to be disciplined enough to break my own targets and discuss each other’s funny moments after the event. Which meant – I could be back on the same squad with my friends.
As some of you found out yesterday – the squad is really really important. At least until you master the ‘discipline’ of the ‘one shot’. Even after that – a good squad can help one to win. I had the honour last year to be on some really great squads. At the Canadians, we had 2 of our teammates getting close to breaking their first 100. One on position 3, the other on position 4. And I can tell you that on positions 1 & 2 we both started to work harder and harder to help them, we tried our best to keep calm and smoke each and every target that was thrown at us. And when both broke their 100 we were all beyond ecstatic! In Pennsylvania, when I broke my infamous 99 in handicap (missed the very last target!) I felt the energy from the rest of the team. I know for a fact that both gentlemen on my right and left started to try harder and harder to smoke the targets. I do owe the gentleman on my left my targets from 86 to 95… when I realized I could ‘do this’, and mind went wandering places it shouldn’t… and, instead of the steady smokes I had until then, I started to chip each and every target – those exact same targets he started to smoke like there was no tomorrow… you feel people you don’t even know trying hard to help and you gather energies you never knew you had… And at the Provincials – where I’ve been on a squad with a ‘Straight 125’ – one of the singles sub-event when all 5 of us broke all 25. And again – you could feel the energy. It’s a positive energy and you can feed on each other’s without draining each other. It’s an amazing feeling and for me, it’s one of the reasons I keep coming to the range. That camaraderie, that beyond-word friendship is something deep. You can be friends with people you don’t know and, more interesting, you compete against, in fact. And that’s something amazing!
And yesterday was no different: the young who kept their cool under unusual circumstances (great job, Chloe, really great job!), the adults who were able to smile even when those frisky targets eluded their well-intended swift movements, the even younger who delivered again under the added pressure of all the large and unknown audience – the LTS team once again demonstrated we have what it takes to be great athletes.
I do have to thank Frank for keeping his cool and being the great friend he is; Chloe for smiling even when she missed a few in a row; Phil for being a great team-mate and for asking questions; Dan for being extremely consistent in all 3 events; Garret for doing a wonderful job as a first-time squad leader; Anthony for giving all his best; Ed for following his routine each and every shot; Keith for not getting too upset about the mix-up; Matthew and Ben for being such wonderful young athletes; and all the parents and visitors for taking their time to come by and check our teams. And last (but definitely not least) – to Florin for his dedication. I know he would have loved to shoot those doubles but graciously gave his spot to the lone gentleman that would have had to shoot in a squad by himself. We need more coaches like Florin; we need more supporters like our wonderful supporters to have laypeople understand what a great family sport this actually is. As usual – it’s not about winning, it’s about friendship, and patience, and a great attitude. This is one of the few sports I know (if not the only one) where one young child can be around 2-3 different generations of shooters, from beginners to top athletes; where generations of wisdom can be passed seamlessly to the new-comers.
I hope you all had fun! I, for one, had one of the best days of my on-the-range life!