Shooting is a very inclusive sport. It can be enjoyed competitively or as a bit of family fun.
In order for shooting to grow and develop, we need to work to encourage and support the next generation of shooters and find new ways of engaging with young athletes who may not necessarily come from shooting backgrounds.
So how can we help get more youngsters into shooting? There are so many inspiring new schemes and programmes which have really come to life over the past few years, such as the British Shooting Talent Pathway, The Schools Challenge and BASC Young Shots – but is there more that we can be doing?
Cost is a big factor. As a junior, I was very fortunate that my parents supported my shooting. Whilst I never took it for granted, I now realise that I never had a true understanding of the cost of the sport. This appreciation has enabled me to see how those who aren’t in a similar position to myself might see shooting as an exclusive sport.
It’s brilliant to see more events and shooting grounds offering cheaper entry fees for competitions in the juniors and colts categories, however it’s rare to see cheaper junior rates in other areas such as clays, cartridges and other associated training costs, unless they are sponsored athletes.
Whilst I understand that businesses need to make a profit, if we want to make shooting a more inclusive sport, we should be trying to reduce costs for young people who might want to take part, but feel like they can’t due to financial restraints.
As we try to promote the sport, we should be trying to minimise barriers for those starting out, instead of making them more difficult. This could also see an uplift in performance throughout junior categories across the board, if they have access to more training resources.
Categories and incentives
Whilst most competitions feature a junior category, it is much less common to see colts get a mention. Sporting as a discipline seems to be the most supportive of younger athletes, with the majority of significant shoots hosting a colts competition. Although participation in colts is always likely to be less than in other categories, I think it’s worth celebrating them taking part.
Even a small act of recognition, like presenting the top scoring athlete with a box of cartridges, can go a long way. Simply adding a colt category to a shoot can help encourage participation, as athletes that fall into this category are more likely to travel to take part if they know there is something in place for them.
That is an incentive in itself, for the shooter and the host! The same can be said for junior ladies. So many shooting events are really upping their game with prizes, but it’s also important to recognise that there is often a significant difference in winnings across categories – improving these could also act as a good incentive for those who are starting out.
The Corsivia Grand Prix was recently hosted at Griffin Lloyd Shooting Ground, and was a brilliant example of an event which had prizes for the top three athletes in both juniors and colts.
Competitions for juniors
I’m pleased to see that there are more competitions on offer for athletes under the age of 21 than ever before, and I really hope this is going to keep growing. The variety of competitions available can now cater for all ages and abilities, across a wide amount of disciplines.
The British Shooting Talent Pathway is a brilliant way for young people to try their hand at Olympic Trap and Olympic Skeet. This programme is designed to help athletes develop a winning mindset as well as a technique that can stay with them throughout their shooting career.
Whilst Olympic ranges are relatively low on numbers in the UK, British Shooting ensure that they use as many as possible to host development programmes and taster days nationwide.
The aim of these sessions is to help juniors progress from grassroots level shooters into national and international athletes who can represent Great Britain at European and World championships.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation hosts a series of Young Shots days throughout the year, all over the country. These taster days are intended to help introduce juniors to the shooting sport in a safe and welcoming environment.
They are incredibly family friendly sessions which are run by qualified instructors, aimed at grassroots level, and teach juniors gun safety as well as getting them started on clay shooting.
The Game Fair sees the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association host an incredible sportrap competition called the Colts Challenge, which has been won twice by Tristan Hockey and always gathers a large crowd.
Whilst the challenge is invite only, athletes from the top 10 in the national rankings are chosen by the CPSA to come and take part. This competition offers a brilliant incentive, encouraging colts to take part regularly in competitions in order to secure their place in the rankings and earn a place in the top 10.
The Schools Challenge
The Oxford Gun Company has firmly secured its place as one of the most famous competitions for young shooters in the UK, offering the biggest prize in clay shooting history, a car – or two in fact, one each for the top boy and top girl.
Prizes like this can be life-changing, so it’s no surprise that the competition has very quickly become one of the nation’s favourite events in the junior calendar for Sporting shooters.
Juniors are quite literally the future of our sport, so we should do everything we can to support them. The shooting industry as a whole needs to keep re-inventing itself in order to spark interest in a new generation of athletes, as well as retaining that of those who are already aiming to be the next Peter Wilson or the next Cheryl Hall.
With numerous plans already under way, I’m personally so excited to see them come to life throughout the year and look forward to seeing more and more juniors take up the shooting sport.