As a top instructor at Holland & Holland, Steve Rawsthorne has plenty of advice for shooters looking to take that next step in their career
Many keen shooters after a while feel they would like to become an instructor. Others just stand at the back of the cage when you are shooting in competition and give advice, whether you want it or not, but if you want to become an instructor, how do you go about it?
There are certain qualities you need to be an instructor, but these don’t necessarily appear in order of importance.
A client needs to believe that you know what you are talking about, and that you have a broad base of shooting experience and knowledge – if you have only been shooting for a year or two, you are unlikely to have that experience. At Holland & Holland, the school’s instructors may do lessons for a clay shooter, followed by a small corporate group, then a lesson for a game shooter in one day, which means you need in-depth experience in all of those areas.
If you are standing in front of a crusty old colonel who has been shooting all his life, he will suss you out in short order if you do not know what you are talking about. You don’t need to be an international shooting star, but you will probably be at least a B-class shooter, ideally higher, with experience of shooting some of the major competitions so you know the type of targets they present and how they run their shoots. How can you instruct a competitive shooter if you have never had that experience? Would you have a driving lesson with someone who cannot drive and goes to work on a bike?
A huge part of instruction is the ability to communicate effectively with the client. Each person is different and you need to approach them individually: some may need cajoling, others respond to praise and reward, and occasionally you’ll need to push a client past their comfort zone to move them on to the next level.
The words you use to communicate with different clients may vary.
You might explain something in five separate ways before the client understands, and sometimes they do not, either because they do not understand the concept or it is beyond their ability. This might require a step back to restate the already-accepted concepts before moving on again. Tact and patience is something you must have in huge quantities because someone might have a belief that is basically wrong, which they have held for many years, and you have to convince them, tactfully, to change it.
You are going to be working with clients from all sorts of backgrounds and with varying expectations, but the common factor is that you will be up close, in their personal space. You will need to be clean and tidy, to have showered and use deodorant. Preferably you will be a non-smoker, as bad breath is off-putting to your client.
A suitable shooting vest or coat, not tatty and torn, cleaned regularly, decent footwear, glasses, hearing protection and headwear are essential. People buy people. In the first 10 seconds of meeting someone, we form a lasting first impression so it needs to be a good one.
Just because you have been shooting for years and you’re a AA-class shooter, this does not mean you are an instructor. Most of the major shooting grounds will require you to have undertaken some form of training. At Holland & Holland, we require all of our instructors to be APSI members (Association of Professional Shooting Instructors) and many top professional grounds are the same.
APSI courses are run by professionals with many years of experience gained at commercial shooting grounds. Courses cover all aspects of shooting instruction, from how to coach a game shooters, how to run and organise a team of your own on a corporate day, and, of course, instruction for clay shooters, as well as safety for yourself and clients.
If you want to be able to teach rifle, it is a good idea to have a firearms certificate, it goes without saying you must have your own shotgun certificate.
Read extensively into the shooting world, you need to have a thorough grasp of all the main shooting methods and how to apply them and how to teach them. Knowledge of gunmakers and their history, at least in brief, is a big advantage. You will need to be familiar with using semi-autos, over-and-unders and side-by-sides, how they are put together and taken apart, how they function and their common faults. The more knowledge and information you possess and can communicate, the better the instructor you can become.
6. Continuous development
Training and knowledge is all good, but that is just the start of the process. You need to develop your skills over years of work and thousands of hours of lessons, a badge and a certificate does not mean someone is a competent instructor.
What can you expect?
Instructing can be a hugely rewarding job, passing on skills to the current and future shooters, it can also be immensely frustrating sometimes. When you are with a client and suddenly something clicks, you see the light go on and they really take off with their shooting – it’s just great. Don’t expect to be shooting all the time, the client is the one with the gun, not you. There is a common misconception that shooting instructors spend all their time shooting, but they don’t, and instructing can actually mess with your shooting, as too much analysis and looking at people’s faults can get into your head.
To get your first job, approach a shooting ground to see if they have any work. It takes time to build a reputation and most ground owners and managers are cautious – at Holland & Holland, we start people off on some small corporate events where we can keep an eye on them. You may get an odd day here and there to start with, then as you get more used to each other, work builds up.
I would not advocate quitting the day job straight away as it is hard to find enough work, and there are always lots of people who want to become instructors. If you are good enough, you might then be offered further training by your chosen ground and start doing some lessons.
Did you know?
Several organisations offer coaching courses in order to be considered qualified on a national and international level. A few of these include the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors (APSI), the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA), the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC) and the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF). In addition to this, some grounds will want their employees to complete certain achievments.