Commonwealth Games medallist Anita North says bravery and risk-taking are key to progressing in clay shooting
How many of you think you are brave or courageous? I bet there’s a few of you saying “Not me!” Well, think again – you were brave enough to try clay shooting in the first place.
How did you get into clay shooting? Some people start shooting because they have family or friends that shoot. Others may encounter shooting through an activity day organised as part of a celebration or on a corporate team-building day. I first tried it at a game fair, on a have-a-go stand many years ago. It was the first time I had been anywhere near a shotgun and I was completely out of my comfort zone, but four shots later I was hooked.
Even if you were brought up in a family of keen shooters, it’s not hard to appreciate how much it takes to give shooting a go for the first time, and then a second time, and then to decide to take it up seriously.
Since my first shot, one thing I have learned is that it’s healthy to spend time out of your comfort zone. It is scary to try a new sport. It’s scary to go along to a club where you may not know anyone. However, here’s the big thing: that’s all great stuff. You don’t learn anything by sticking to what feels safe. To progress you have to be willing to do things differently, to try something new. You have to be willing to stretch yourself; if you are then you can learn about yourself, and sometimes even surprise yourself.
One element of success at clay shooting is doing the same thing over and over again. We have to perfect the skills required to succeed. But as well as repetition, this process also involves being willing to do things differently. You may have a method, a process that you follow, but is it the optimal one for you? Training is the perfect time to experiment, to try different things, to understand what works for you. You have to be interested in working, reviewing and moving on.
So you may be a pretty good shot, but are you the very best that you can be? If you want to be your best, then you need to put in the work. When you go and practise, do you have a purpose? Do you have a plan? Pardon the pun, but what’s the aim of a day clay shooting? Do you really know what works and does not work for you as a shooter? How often do you work with a coach?
To become a really competent shooter, you have to be willing to experiment. For example, try shooting a particular Sporting target in a different way. Identify a different kill zone, look in a different place for the clay, or hold your gun in a different start point. This experimentation means taking a risk – new ideas will break fewer clays. But does a missed clay mean failure? I would say no! In training we can try different things. In this context we can learn more from missing 10 clays than from hitting 10 clays. I spent quite a lot of time just going out shooting and pulling the trigger. However, I realised I wasn’t really learning anything. It took quite some time for me to learn to train, to become fully prepared to compete.
I am not telling you to change things for change’s sake – you don’t change your gun or cartridges every time you miss a clay. What I am saying is that you should sometimes vary your shooting and experiment in order to learn what works for you. That way, when you compete you will have a robust and reliable process for your shooting.
Taking yourself out of your comfort zone could also mean trying different disciplines. Our sport has quite a selection to choose from. Go and give them a try. You may just discover one that really really clicks with you, which you enjoy above all others.
Be brave, experiment and enjoy the process. The results may just surprise you!