Top shooter Ed Solomons recently took some time out to coach a group of students from Essex, as teacher Neal Wilcox reports
Champion Sporting and FITASC shot, Ed Solomons made the trip to The Fennes in Essex to assist Helena Romanes School’s shooting team make the next step in their shooting career. Even though most of the students are only in their second year of shooting, the under 13s have already taken a national title at the Schools Challenge last May. Ed’s opening gambit thawed the air of anticipation, explaining his approach to any level of shooting: “You’ve got to enjoy it, if not, give up!”
Training and practice
The first pointer had nothing to do with the gun – Ed told the students that they should not rush to get in to the cage. He encouraged them to take their time to get comfortable and to know what they are going to do. Equally important is to ignore anything else around you and what has gone on before: “That way, when you shout ‘pull’ there are no nasty surprises.”
For the second step, students were put on the spot regarding their kill point on any target. To test this, and to inject their own personality into each shot, each student was asked where they would shoot a clay if there was a £10,000 prize and to use this as their kill point. Shooters already have an idea of where to kill the target, so it’s best to go with that rather than over-thinking it or worse, copying someone else.
The last technical point concerned eyes and how to pick up a target. A number of people comment that shooters need to stare down a target, concentrating intently. Ed felt this idea was somewhat unhelpful as it caused shooters to become tense as they prepared for a target. “Your eyes are either in focus or not, you cannot over-focus. Looking is a natural thing – you do not need to try to do it,” he said.
Ed also told the students not to shoot 100s of cartridges every weekend – a practice that can quickly result in bad habits. Such shooting can make you feel like a hero and falsely skew ability as you become used to a target and do not learn to actually read each target. Instead, Ed suggests shooting at a range of grounds and regularly in a competition environment. This can condition against nerves that can so easily spoil a building score.
Don’t think of a Zebra
To counter inevitable misses, Ed broke the response down into three elements:
One at a time. When it doesn’t go right, change must happen one element at a time, whether it’s hold point, lead or line, rather than a smorgasbord of components. Changing a number of fundamentals may result in short term success on that target on that day but it does not promote a consistent learning process that will ultimately take you closer to your goals.
Positive mindset: “Don’t think of a zebra; what are you now thinking of?” Ed extolled the virtue of not concentrating on what not to do, but to be positive about each shot. Thinking of the negative usually makes it happen, and in turn pulls your entire mindset down for the day, resulting in frustration and further misses.
Realistic goals. “You are not going to shoot 100/100, so that should not be your goal. 91 can win a major competition,” Ed says from experience. Too often people try to hit everything, concentrate more on hitting tricky targets and ultimately fail to achieve a representative score. It is better to shoot all of the targets you should have and not missed anything silly. It is good to push yourself, but being realistic in your targets is equally important.
Enjoy it and be yourself
The overarching principle of Ed’s shooting method is that of enjoying our sport. How many times have you enjoyed a day of shooting with friends and suddenly realised you have shot your best score? Conversely, have you concentrated and worked hard at a competition yet got nowhere close to your target score? Having a laugh and a joke while remembering why on earth you took up this stressful, costly sport in the first place might just be the tonic you need rather than trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Without fun, young people can be lost from our sport so it is our responsibility not to load them with too much pressure and expectation that quickly saps the enjoyment factor.
Relaxation is the main thrust of Ed’s shooting philosophy, from trusting your instinct on a target, to not trying too hard to look for a target, to raising the mood when a day’s shooting goes downhill. Ed’s humble, self-effacing approach was summed up beautifully at the end of the session: “At the end of the day, it’s just a game. Enjoy it! No one cares who you are once you step off the clay ground. You’re just a bloke who fires a gun.”
If you wish to sponsor, support, coach or offer help to this comprehensive school shooting club, please contact Neal Wilcox on firstname.lastname@example.org as any support is gratefully appreciated.