Coaching Tips

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Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum is a strength coach. Here are his basic guidelines for working with trainees.

TL;DR: Good coaching is the opposite of how drill sergeants “teach” recruits.

Basic Coaching Review Principles

1. Remember you are coaching a human being, not a machine.

This is a person who has previous experiences, successes, fears, struggles, and ideas.  You probably do not know all of these, so take a moment to ask a few questions, to look at the demeanor of the lifter, to see how they are talking about themselves and their lifts. You can in fact do this online and with a video.

This practice tells you a lot about how you can proceed.  I can yell forcefully (or write very direct cues without always noting all of the positives as well) at some people and that’s effective.  For others, they would shrink and immediately become less confident or their overall anxiety about mistakes or problems can increase.  For some, they are assured with some affirmation of a positive before they can really hear a correction or problem.

A lifter might have some long-held habits and ideas about a lift and I won’t get very far if I immediately contradict those unless we have a chance to communicate about this first. For example-a guy who has been benching for YEARS usually thinks he’s an awesome bencher.  He and the bros have been maxing out forever.  I can usually find things to improve, but if I make him immediately feel like I think he’s “not a good bencher” or if change something that he has been doing for years without explanation as to why the change might be helpful, chances are he’s not going to hear or accept what I have to say.

Someone else might have long-standing knee trouble and hold quite dearly some ideas/narratives or fears about a squat.  I want to know a bit about this before I yell cues about going deeper or cueing the knees at all.

2. Be patient, step back, and be quieter than you might want to be.

Coaching is not about filling someone’s brain with feedback, words, and corrections.  It’s not even about praising them as much as possible. It’s about providing fitting feedback at the fitting time and in a fitting manner.  You’re not a better coach because you have something to say right away or can fill the time with words.  Remember this is not about the coach and all you can write or say to fill the rest times, it’s about the lifter and what you can do to help them.

3. Aim to take in the whole picture: their entire movement, confidence, control, speed, balance, and all that.

Do not fall back on those “handy cues” that are easy to hyperfocus on and miss the more important things.  You’re a better coach when you can step back, see the overall movement, consider THIS lifter, and offer coaching cues to improve the most impactful problems first.  Think about things like this lifter’s confidence with this lift, with this weight.  Look at overall balance, control of the bar, range of motion, and bar speed.  These are the places to start, not necessarily their fingers, an exact toe angle, and even their head position.

4. Be careful with your words.

You might not share a coaching language yet, and you certainly can’t assume that you’re going to have one way to coach everyone. Simply offering short cues without any shared understanding is ineffective and incredibly frustrating to a lifter.  Imagine trying to execute a lift and someone is now using phrases that mean very little to you, yet they expect you to do something with that information WHILE you are moving.  Ack!  Also, this is why short cues posted to videos on Facebook generally drive me crazy.  No one needs a series of one-liners, they need a cue AND an explanation on what that means, unless you know that lifter and share this language already.

Common Core Math

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Many people have strong opinions about what is commonly known as Common Core Math. As with most things, the general, popular opinion of laypersons is usually wrong.

This has a number of parallels to small arms instruction. Personnel with minimal experience (which describes most military and law enforcement) assume their limited exposure is The Way and anything that deviates from that must be wrong because they’ve never bothered to consider it.

It’s also similar to anti-gun arguments. Non-shooters with little-to-no formal firearm education that know little-to-nothing about guns and unwilling to study the matter beyond looking at memes are only too happy to spew their opinions about it and demand their way into public policy. Similarly, non-mathematicians with little-to-no formal math education that know little-to-nothing about what the common core approach is intended to teach and unwilling to study the matter beyond looking at memes are only too happy to spew their opinions about it and demand their way into public policy.

As a non-mathematician, my initial, layperson, knee-jerk reaction was similar to the common, negative response: “What is this? That’s not how I learned it!” Then, I took the path less traveled. Within minutes, I was able to Google up writings and videos from the mathematicians that created it (including the video by Dr. Jo Boaler below) and quickly reversed my opinion. Part of the approach is learning how to learn. I quickly found similarities with this teaching approach to what is needed to understand theories in computer science. A few examples:

https://www.ece.ucsb.edu/~parhami/pubs_folder/parh02-arith-encycl-infosys.pdf

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lambda-calculus/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambda_calculus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relational_algebra

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_O_notation

For a given program’s computation, a programmer may not need math knowledge beyond simple arithmetic, however, that doesn’t teach the theory behind how a computer works. Understanding the how and why behind the scenes requires a level of knowledge beyond working a simple algorithm.

Doing math “like they used to teach it” is mechanically working a single, basic algorithm without true understanding. Some people can successfully intuit a number sense without being deliberately taught it but many do not. Showing how to solve the same problem in different ways, demonstrating “backwards and forwards, inside and out” requires a full command of the knowledge. It’s not about which way is faster (use a calculator, or a spreadsheet program, or MATLAB if you just want to compute the answer fast), it’s about developing a deeper understanding.

Consider these explanations of the rationale of this education approach by some of the mathematicians that created it. This will take longer and require more deep thinking than blindly sharing and/or liking idiotic memes on social media. Perhaps that’s the cause of the real problem.

You’re wrong about Common Core math: Sorry, parents, but it makes more sense than you think

8 Common Core Math Standards, Explained



From Michael Goldenberg The mistake here is pretending that there is any such animal as “Common Core Math.” There is not. There is a set of content standards; there is a set of standards of practice for both students and teachers (which is very similar to the Process Standards from NCTM going back more than a decade).  And then there are a bunch of curricular packages (mostly textbook series for various grade bands, but also some online material, most notably (and horridly) ENGAGE-NY, which has been forced on all public schools in NY State and Louisiana). Those materials are not “the Common Core” but merely various implementations that CLAIM to be aligned to the standards. Period. So anyone who uses the term “Common Core Math” other than to refer to the standards is in error. And that goes for Dr. Boaler, much as I respect her and her work. It’s just silly and misleading and dangerous to pretend that there is some monolithic entity that is isomorphic to COMMON CORE MATH. There isn’t. And likely won’t be. 

Those who know the history of math education in the US know about “The” New Math, c. late 1950s into the early 1970s. But again, no such animal ever existed. There were a bunch of separate projects funded by the federal government to design new approaches to math. Some produced textbooks, but few of those got published and distributed past the pilot schools/district with which each individual project worked. One series, however, did get widely published and used: the Dolciani series. Some people, including people who generally hate what NCTM was pushing in the ’90s and henceforth and also hate “Common Core Math” to the extent that it is similar to those ’90s reform math texts, really LOVE Dolciani. Others despise it. I have mixed feeling about the series. It is VERY formalistic, much more like college math books than anything that appeared in the US prior to the ’60s for K-12.

As someone who now knows a lot of math, they’re okay. But as a kid, I probably would have found them dry and off-putting. And my dad, who had to try to help my younger brothers with homework out of those books, was at a loss, despite having studied math through calculus in school. It was too far from his own experience.  What we see now is people who are reacting against Common Core math books similarly to how my father reacted in the ’60s to Dolciani, but he didn’t blame everything on Obama. He didn’t blame it on Eisenhower or JFK, either. He just knew that he was out of his depth.  

Note, I’m NOT claiming that all the materials being hawked by publishers as “Common Core Math” are any good. Maybe NONE of them are. But that’s not really the issue. Most of what people are screaming about and finding a host of conspiracies behind (see all the crazy videos and many of the nastier comments against Common Core) is just ideas about teaching math better that have been around for decades.

The math isn’t new, and neither, really, is most of the pedagogy. Most of it makes perfect sense if done intelligently, but of course is confusing if it’s presented badly (seriously, folks: what ISN’T confusing in math if presented badly?) or if you’ve never seen it before and are so angry that you won’t even stop to think about how it might be sensible either because you’re embarrassed to say to your child that you simply don’t get it.

Bottom line: calm the fudge down, folks. When the smoke clears and the Common Core is gone, most professionals in math education will still want your kids to learn how to approach math more deeply and thoughtfully than you were presented with. That’s the nature of people who actually care about more than a small elite learning math. I’m one of them. Jo Boaler is one of them. There are thousands of us out there. We’re (mostly) pretty smart folks who spend our lives studying math, kids, learning, and teaching.

You may certainly disagree with anything or everything we think and say, but that doesn’t make it communism or corporate capitalism, either. You can fight it, but you’re not really helping your kids when you do so blindly and with great prejudice, when you swallow every horror story your read and hear, when you react out of fear and ignorance (and tell yourself it’s really out of deep knowledge of mathematics and its teaching, when few Americans really know mathematics deeply or are at all familiar with research on teaching and learning the subject at various levels), and kick and scream that you know more about all this than any college professor or K-12 teacher (you might be right to some extent about any given teacher, of course).

I wait patiently for parents who take the time to actually think rather than just react emotionally. Those who do the former often find that there’s a good deal to like out there, no matter what label is put on it, and the anti-Communist lunatics who post videos here are for the most part out of their minds. But of course, if you need to believe that progressive math (before or after the Common Core label got placed on it) is really about “dumbing down” kids, be my guest. Your loss, and, sadly, your kids’ loss. 

From Rufus Driscoll
It looks weird because you’re seeing it from the other side of the wall. I used to think it looked stupid and over the top until I became a Maths tutor.

When teaching a child maths before they truly understand what numbers are and how they relate to each other, telling them to simply put numbers on top of each other and follow the steps to make a new number gives them very little understanding. Some kids will see the relations without all the added breakdowns but you’d be surprised at how many will simply chug along doing the usual steps and never really get the process of what they’re doing.

The issue with this is that once you forget just one of the steps involved in getting from a to b, you will be completely unable to solve the problem. If someone is taught to understand how numbers form and work together, it doesn’t matter if they forget the one way they were taught to solve a particular problem; they will be able to reach the correct solution even if it does take longer than using the perfected method.

From Violet Crawley
The gag is, all the countries who score at the top of the PISA actually do teach their kids the “number sense” way. It works.

The problem is that American teachers are woefully underqualified, so they confuse the kids because they themselves aren’t good at math.

Traits of the Very Best Leaders

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Spoiler: It’s also the opposite of every drill sergeant stereotype and other incompetent leaders in the military.

Google’s research is in line with the Disciplined Disobedience approach that the Army is supposed to be following but few personnel actually do.

1. Be a good coach.
You either care about your employees or you don’t. There’s no gray zone. If you care, then you’ll invest time and energy to help your employees become better versions of themselves. That’s the first 50 percent of being a good coach.

The other half is knowing you’re a facilitator, not a fixer. Ask good questions, don’t just give the answers. Expand your coachees’ point of view versus giving it to them.

2. Empower teams and don’t micromanage.
Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. Research indicates empowered employees have higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment, which reduces turnover and increases performance and motivation. Also, supervisors who empower are seen as more influential and inspiring by their subordinates.

Everyone wins when you learn to let go.

3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being.
Individual fulfillment is often a joint effort. People derive tremendous joy from being part of a winning team. The best managers facilitate esprit de corps and interdependence.

And employees respond to managers who are concerned about winning, and winning well (in a way that supports their well-being).

4. Be productive and results oriented.
Take productivity of your employees seriously and give them the tools to be productive, keeping the number of processes to a minimum.

5. Be a good communicator — listen and share information.
The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. It often doesn’t happen because of a lack of effort from both the transmitting and the receiving parties. Invest in communication, and care enough to listen.

Former CEO of Procter & Gamble A.G. Lafley once told me his job was 90 percent communication–communicating the next point especially.

6. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team.
With no North Star, employees sail into the rocks. Enroll employees in building that vision/strategy, don’t just foist it on them. The former nets commitment, the latter compliance. And be prepared to communicate it more often than you ever thought you could.

7. Support career development and discuss performance.
The best managers care about their people’s careers and development as much as they care about their own. People crave feedback. And you owe it to them.

People don’t work to achieve a 20 percent return on assets or any other numerical goal. They work to bring meaning into their lives, and meaning comes from personal growth and development.

8. Have the expertise to advise the team.
Google wants its managers to have key technical skills (like coding, etc.) so they can share the “been there, done that” experience. So be there and do that to build up your core expertise, whatever that might be. Stay current on industry trends and read everything you can.

9. Collaborate.
In a global and remote business world, collaboration skills are essential. Collaboration happens when each team member feels accountability and interdependence with teammates. Nothing is more destructive for a team than a leader who is unwilling to collaborate. It creates a “it’s up to only us” vibe that kills culture, productivity, and results.

10. Be a strong decision maker.
The alternative is indecision, which paralyzes an organization, creates doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Strong decisions come from a strong sense of self-confidence and belief that a decision, even if proved wrong, is better than none.

https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/google-tried-to-prove-managers-dont-matter-instead-they-discovered-10-traits-of-very-best-ones.html

Recoil Anticipation

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I’d argue that recoil anticipation (also known as flinch, pre-ignition push, trigger jerk, and a variety of cuss words…) is the single biggest detriment to novice shooters. Novice here also includes gun owners, law enforcement, and military personnel with years and decades of “experience” that never developed shooting ability beyond passing routine qualification.

Learning how to overcome (or at least greatly reduce) the very natural tendency to react to recoil, noise, flash, and movement of a discharging firearm while attempting to maintain alignment on target is the most single most important thing a firearm user can do to improve proficiency. This also increases the ability to followthrough and call shots, critical to refining a shot process.

The lack of attention paid to this critical element of successful shooting is the biggest reason why many gun owners, law enforcement, and military personnel never progress beyond the elementary, initial, basic skill levels used during initial entry , basic, academy training. Far too many personnel are not even aware of this being an issue and most of them completely fail to actively address it.

For intermediate shooters, DRY FIRE DOES NOT FIX RECOIL ANTICIPATION BECAUSE KNOWLEDGE CHANGES EXECUTION . Here’s the proof right here and this is extremely common. Slight disruption to the gun sufficient to cause a miss as distance increases. At close range, people often chalk this off to sight picture when actuality it’s a slight case of recoil anticipation. Take this back to 15 or 25 yards, it’s a miss. This drill works great with a partner but if you’re working alone, try mixing in some dummy rounds. Facts not opinions is what I am after. Hold yourself accountable and fix your deficiencies.

Note, this doesn’t mean that dry practice isn’t useful and won’t help at all. Continued dry practice will continue to enhance (or at least maintain) the ability to more rapidly obtain sufficient alignment on target and manipulate the trigger without causing disruption. The point is that after a certain point of development, dry practice alone won’t magically fix recoil anticipation because it’s purposely done dry/empty (obviously) and knowledge of that removes that tendency. Only intelligent exposure to live fire, preferably done with dummy rounds (skip loading and other approaches) and perhaps additional feedback from sensors (MantisX, SCATT, etc.), can do this.

If you want to get stronger, you need to subject yourself to the stress of lifting heavier weight, preferably done with intelligently-programmed increases. If you want to eliminate recoil anticipation, you need to subject yourself to recoil, preferably done with intelligently-programmed intermittent exposures (training partner loads as demonstrated below, dummy rounds, intermix shooting with lower recoiling firearm/cartridge, etc.)

https://www.facebook.com/114008039194217/videos/vb.114008039194217/435200330372416/

More on this:

https://firearmusernetwork.com/grooving-bad-habits/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/training-and-habits/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/misplaced-tactical-training/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/pistol-shooting-questions/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/head-shots-are-still-misses/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/shooting-basics-uspsa-idpa-ipsc/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/dummies-steal-dummy-rounds-smart-shooters-use-them/

Dental Hygiene Level Effort

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One of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered when trying to help shooters (military, law enforcement, and civilian/private gun owners alike) is that it wouldn’t take much effort to make a marked improvement.

My advice to LE students at the academy I instructed for was a simple dry practice routine:
Five careful “shots”
Five presentations from the duty holster

Do this in the locker/ready room at the start and end of each shift. The officers were gearing up/down and checking equipment anyway, so adding this only takes a minute or two. However, even for those skipping half the sessions would end up with well over a thousand quality “shots” and presentation reps before the end of their rookie year taking no real amount of time and costing nothing.

Everybody that bothered to do it reported their next qualification went notably better with a much improved score. Amazingly enough…

I refer to this as the dental hygiene level of effort. Dedicate about the same amount of time it takes to brush and floss your teeth every day to learning a new skill can yield long-term results.

The big problem was how few bothered to do so.

Solving Dunning-Kruger Effect

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Dunning–Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability or skill maintain illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their ability, skill, and/or experience as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition (an awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes), low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.

Dunning–Kruger Effect impacts all humans and everyone (including you and me) is potentially susceptible. It has been recognized by many people over the course of human history. Dr. David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger established a variety of test methodologies to measure this phenomenon and published a formal research paper about their found results.

David McRaney is the host of the excellent You Are Not So Smart podcast. He recounts when he first realized the Dunning-Kruger Effect impacted him.

I remember the first time in my life that I really recognized that [Dunning-Kruger Effect] was true.

In college, I staged a fighting game tournament where I set up all these video game systems and I invited people from around the country to the university to play. We had a group of friends – it was like, 8 to 10 people in our hometown who played this game – and we thought that we were amazing at it. We thought that we were the best in the world and I had no problem inviting the champions at this game from around the country to come to play against us.

Every single one of us lost our matches immediately. Like, we didn’t even place. We didn’t even come close. We were absolutely destroyed. And I remember all of us sort of shaking our heads and rubbing our temples and thinking, “How could we not just be not okay but actually suck? I mean, how is that possible?”

I bet that sort of thing happens a lot amongst people who are sort of at the amateur level and feel that they have achieved something.

Every human is susceptible to Dunning-Kruger Effect. The challenge is to be willing to find the means to overcome it. Because this is a cognitive bias – a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, and/or remembering – nobody can reliably do it on their own. As McRaney’s example illustrates, it was only after he and his friends organized a tournament, invited everyone that was interested and thought they were good, and measured the results did he finally snap out of his delusion of competence.

Dr. David Dunning confirms this is the path to solving Dunning-Kruger Effect.

“Why don’t people know themselves?”

You begin to realize that there are just some really big barriers to knowing yourself. That’s if you make it a private task that only you are engaged in. If you don’t talk to [and engage with] other people.

If you talk to other people, they can be sources of invaluable insight into yourself. Some of these insights may be unpleasant. Also, just watching what other people do and benchmarking what you do versus what they do can be a source of insight. It takes a village, if you will, for a person to know themselves.

We engaged in a number of studies where we exposed people to others who are performing very poorly to performing extremely well and what we find is that the collective is pretty good at knowing who’s bad.

A last hint is to ask, “Are you vaguely embarrassed by things you did 5 or 10 years ago?” And if you are, that means you’re improving. I mean, if you think about the self you were 10 years ago and you’re not embarrassed by something that you did, you might be off the task.

TL;DR
Go shoot a match or compete in something outside your unit or immediate group of friends once in a while. If you don’t, you’re almost certainly a victim of Dunning-Kruger Effect and are not able to even realize it.

Full interview with Dr. David Dunning:

YANSS Podcast 036 – Why We Are Unaware that We Lack the Skill to Tell How Unskilled and Unaware We Are


As measured ability/knowledge improves, so does the awareness and self estimate of that ability/knowledge. The top 20% will tend to underestimate their measured ability/knowledge.

It’s worth pointing out that it is wrong to believe the D-K effect applies only to people who are “incompetent.” This is wrong on two levels. The first is that the DK effect does not apply only to “incompetent people” but to everyone, with respect to any area of knowledge.

It is important to how the D-K effect is interpreted. The vast majority of people who bring it up seem to think that it applies only to dumb people and that it says dumb people think they are smarter than smart people. Neither of these things are true. Further – if you think it only applies to other people (which itself, ironically, is part of the DK effect) then you miss the core lesson and opportunity for self-improvement and critical thinking.

More:

Misunderstanding Dunning-Kruger

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2017/01/24/the-dunning-kruger-effect-shows-why-some-people-think-theyre-great-even-when-their-work-is-terrible/

Think, Don’t Plink

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https://www.tacticalperformancecenter.com/blogs/the-dump-pouch/110306694-designing-a-practice

One of our mottos here at the Tactical Performance Center is “think don’t plink.” More than just a catchy phrase, there is deep wisdom in this statement: each round you fire should have a purpose.

I have lived by this motto and every shot I have fired, of my own ammo, in the last eight years has had one of three purposes:

Does the gun work?
Did my outcome match my intent?
Did I follow the process I wanted to follow to release this shot?

Unfortunately, this approach is rarely seen at the range. Too often I see shooters simply turning money into noise without gaining performance improvement. Occasionally I’ll even have a shooter tell me something like “Yeah, great practice. 1,000 rounds down range.” They grow quiet though when I respond with “Great! Did you get 200 bucks of improvement?”

As shooting becomes more expensive and the reasons we shoot–whether it be training to defend our life, protect the public, or win a match–have become more pressing, we owe it to ourselves, and those we protect, to be as good as we can be.

The good news is that improving our performance doesn’t mean that we need to spend more money on ammo or even more time at the range. We just need to build better practices!

At our TPC boot camps, we do just this. While we focus on principles and fundamentals for world class shooting, these concepts are new to most and unlikely to stick after just three days of instruction. For that reason, we also teach our students how to design practices that lock in those fundamentals and improve the speed and consistency with which they can deliver shots.

Here is how we work with our students to develop a practice:

START WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS

Start and end with the fundamentals of grip, stance, isolating the trigger, letting recoil happen, calling shots, and active follow through. If these are not holding, stop and work on just them. If you have 200 rounds, use a large percent of them here.

ONLY DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO WITH LIVE FIRE

You can perfect a reload with very little live fire but a lot of dry practice. We can hone technique dry and then measure or experiment live.

THINK SMALL, LOOK SMALL

I recently had a fellow instructor who was visually leaving targets early in a rush to get to the next target. This was causing misses and hurting his competition performance. Together we designed an *exercise using dots focused on follow thru. He did this exercise with 100 rounds a day, over two days. At his next performance at a large competition he found that his problem was solved.

*Note that we designed an “exercise”, not a drill. We want to improve a fundamental skill that we can reuse elsewhere, purposefully, not just as a series of sequences where we can fool ourselves with improvement by memorizing a sequence of actions.

END WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS

We used this process to design a 200-round practice with a group of students at a recent boot camp. Our “look small” goal was to improve our ability to isolate the trigger, including under speed stress. The class had wisely deduced that a lot of low hanging fruit in improving their performance could be found in the trigger pull.

Here is what our practice looked like:

  • 75 dots, dry, focusing on a different element of the shooting cycle on each row
  • 75 dots, live, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot (3 shots per dot)
  • 40 alpha exercise (from the Army Marksmanship Unit Action Shooting team)
  • ½ USPSA metric target, at 15 yards (this simulates a 30 yard shot)
  • 40 shots, in 5 shot strings, as fast as the sights present what you need to see
  • Strong focus on isolating the trigger
  • 75 dots, live, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot (3 shots per dot)
  • 75 dots, dry, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot and active follow through

This practice took 190 rounds and an hour and a half to complete. Every person on the line got 20+ Alphas, with some in the high 30’s. When I asked them “was that worth 1.5 hours and 20 bucks in ammo?” the universal answer was that it was the best experience shooting, in terms of improvement, they’d ever had.

Now imagine doing that twice a week. How good would you get with $40 a week in ammo and three hours of your time?

I encourage you to bring PURPOSE and PLANNING to your practices. You will improve at a dramatic rate and the gains will be more permanent.

Think, don’t plink!

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