David Radulovich interview

Team USA’s David Radulovich says coaches and competitors need to develop new techniques to stay at the top of the game.

David co-hosts the Beyond the Podium podcast with fellow Team USA shooter Kayle Browning

The standard of shooting worldwide has risen massively over the past 20 years, particularly at the top level of competition. Only a few years ago it would have been unheard of for someone to hit in the high 90s at a Sporting shoot; now it’s commonplace. The winning scores get higher each year. As a result, everyone is having to find new ways to keep getting better.

“This has been happening for generations in other sports, of course, but shooting is beginning to catch up,” says David Radulovich, a Team USA shooter, World Fitasc Champion and co-host of the Beyond the Podium podcast.

“Our sport isn’t particularly old compared to other major sports. Take golf for instance. It’s been around for hundreds of years, so over time professionals have been able to look at factors other than just the mechanics, allowing them to get better.”

As the standard of shooting competition rises, it affects not just the competitors but also their coaches. “To stay in the coaching business I have found new ways that allow my students and I to stay at the top,” says David, who has found a ‘questioning’ technique useful to prompt improvement in his own shooting.

“The question I have always used is ‘What is the next thing that will improve my score?’ If there are eight things that will enhance my shooting performance, I need to find a way to try out all of those eight things.”

David explains that the answers will depend where you are on your shooting journey. “If you have just started shooting, the first thing is how to mount a gun correctly. Getting that right is going to give you an extra 15-20% on your scorecard. The next thing you might ask is ‘Where do I hold my gun before I call ‘Pull’? This might give you a further 10%. Then you keep asking questions: ‘How do I use my eyes during the shot?’”

“People too often focus on the question ‘Do I have the right gun?’ That might give you a 3% improvement, but it’s not the right question to ask, because there are other factors that will have a greater impact in making you a better shooter. Having a great gun may enhance your confidence in your equipment, which is important, but you need to address the other questions first.”

A young David with one of his early heroes, George Digweed

The sum of small gains

In a nutshell, it’s about picking the next thing you can do to give you the biggest net benefit to your score, David explains. “Do it, make it perfect, then move on. Make it a goal that you never have to go backwards to something you have already covered.”

As you develop and improve, eventually you will reach the point where the next question you need to address is about fitness and nutrition. Maybe you ask ‘What is the best thing I can put in my body, so that I am calm physically, but also mentally alert?’ That might only bring you an extra half a percent on your score, but that may be all you need to win. 

David says the ability to reproduce the same movement is especially important in Sporting clays

“Maybe there are other competitors that aren’t considering these possibilities,” David says. “That can give me an advantage when I compete against them. Suppose shooter X has a talent level that will get him to 95% performance, while my talent level gives me 92% on the same course. I need to find 4% to beat him.

“Maybe if I eat well and apply sleep science I can find that 4% and win. This is the sort of thing that’s been happening in other sports and now we can do it in shooting too. Golfers nowadays take nutrition, fitness and body mechanics incredibly seriously, and look at the results. They are driving the ball further than ever!”

Efficiency of movement

One thing David has worked hard on in the last 15 years is biomechanics. “I could shoot any one pair in an infinite number of ways, but rather than focus on that I think about the movement my body is going to make,” he explains.

“I think about rotating through my core, bowing and rising, where I’m going to rest my eyes, and what I’m going to do with my hands. By focusing on these factors, as well as my kill point and hold point, I can ensure that I’ll break the target time and time again, and this ability to reproduce the same move over and over is especially important in Sporting Clays.”

“One of my Platinum Programme students is an ultra-marathon runner, a 52-year-old guy who is in the most amazing shape and will run 100 miles in around 12 hours. I realised I could learn from him about efficiency of movement, and how this relates to shooting. If he can run 100 miles, he has to do it in the most efficient way possible.

As standards improve, David is constantly looking for new ways to raise his game

“From talking to him and understanding balance, weight distribution and movement now plays a massive part in how I shoot and how my shooting has developed – just one way I have adapted to become a better competitor and coach.”

“A straight driven target is one where efficiency of movement is important – and I know you see a lot of those in the UK. To kill this bird you not only need to shoot the target in exactly the right place, but ensure that your hand and eye co-ordination is pretty much perfect, to ensure you don’t shoot up one side of the target.

“That’s also why eye-dominance issues are exaggerated here. One mistake people make with this target is to switch their weight distribution during the shot, from front foot to back shot. That’s something I don’t ever want to do.”

“Through studying the different moves I can make on a driven bird, I have found the best way is to set my point of impact to where I am not forced to shoot at more than a 75 degree angle, so where possible I’m shooting the bird out in front of me.

“This way I am able to keep a keep a consistent relationship between the speed of my hands and the speed of the bird. I can bow and rise and, being fit and healthy, I can make the move comfortably and efficiently, without having to change the distribution of my weight – creating a much more repeatable and consistent shot.”

“If you’re forced to shoot a driven target vertically, perhaps because it’s the second of a sim pair, then your options will be limited. I prefer to move my feet and position in the stand so that I can shoot the target as more of a crosser.

“This allows me to move through the core and maintain a good connection with your hands and the bird. It’s not a perfect solution, but if you are forced to shoot a driven bird vertically it isn’t a matter of perfection. There’s already a problem that has been created by the target setter to test your ability to adapt to the situation.”

Making a plan

Another question David is often asked is how to create a plan for the shot. “In answering this, I talk a lot about biomechanics,” he replies. “To create a plan I look at the variables of the bird and directly correlate them to the variables in your movement.

“I pretty much trace the line of the bird, using body mechanics to maintain a good relationship between my eyes, barrel and target. For example, the vertical change in the bird equals my draw length – how low the gun is in my shoulder.

David aims to use body mechanics to maintain a good relationship between eyes, barrel and target

“By doing this, I can exactly match the speed and timings of the bird that I’m shooting. Obviously, that doesn’t work in Fitasc, but in Sporting this is the rule I use. Similarly, if I’m going to be with the bird as it’s falling or dropping, the move I make will equal a change in posture by bowing down lower.”

He adds “In the simplest terms, balancing the body in shooting is like balancing scales. To ensure that you maintain a central line of gravity, the variables of the target have to equal the variables of your move.”

The most frequent question, he says, is “How do I execute my plan?” – and anyone who has watched David shoot will know that he has a unique way of shooting.

“First, I hold the gun at my kill point, where I ensure that I have zero physical tension. I mount my gun with an upright posture to the kill point and from this point my posture on this target will never change. As I then rotate back to the hold-point, my hands come down in one plane.

“In other words, the angle that my gun creates never changes. I mount to the hold point, my barrels don’t dip or raise as I mount, they stay at the desired angle.”

He continues “I call ‘Pull!’ and rotate at the speed of the bird, simultaneously bringing my hands up at the speed of the bird vertically. Then, I’ll finish the move at exactly the right point when the target is at the break point.

“If I adhere to the variables of the bird and follow my pre-shoot routine, this should result in ‘Dead pair!’ which is always comforting. In a nutshell that’s how everything comes together. When I see a bird, I can immediately plug in the variables, and know that this is biomechanically the simplest way to shoot this target.”

Failing to plan

“As a coach, I understand that I’m not teaching someone to shoot a target; I’m teaching them how to move their body. I’m coaching my students to control their emotional and physical response in the most successful way possible.

“This is basically what you’re doing when you create your own pre-shot routine: We spoke extensively in one of our podcast episodes about the purpose of a pre-shot routine and for those of you who are interested in this, go and have a listen – it would be too long to explain in an article.”

Balancing the body in shooting is like balancing scales, David says

The most common problem that David sees in shooters, he says, is the failure to have a plan that controls their physical and emotional response to a target. “It’s too late to make this plan once you get into the stand. It requires a bit more preparation in return for a better score, which sounds fair to me.

“When new or unpractised shooters see a bird fly through the air and don’t have a plan, they go into panic mode and chase after the bird, which is very inefficient, and the panic also creates a lot of physical and mental tension. It’s like me trying to run a marathon with my student; I would soon be miles behind him, because I’m not using my body correctly.”

He continues “It’s my job to teach people how to respond to targets. The emotional response to the bird needs to be to stay calm. Don’t push or pull with your hands, stay anchored with a solid balance-point, rotating around a central point in your body. And trust in the process.”

Applying the lead

“Lead is a massive part of our game and if I can consistently apply the correct lead, that will give my scorecard a huge net benefit. So I spent a lot of time in practice investigating how I was going to effectively and efficiently apply lead.

“I was lucky that I was doing the majority of my training when I was a Junior, and so I have been able to practise this skill for quite a long time now – and the answer is all about proprioception.

“Proprioception is something that you use every day. If you turned the page while still reading, you just performed a proprioceptive skill. It’s all about your brain’s bodily awareness, your innate ability to point to something. I learnt that by perfecting gun mount and gun fit, it’s easy to make a shotgun an extension of your body.

“Subsequently, you can use your mind to put your gun in a specific place by having bodily awareness, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. This is when shooting becomes more of an instinct. This instinct takes a lot of time to perfect, but once you’re there it’s something you won’t lose.

“It becomes instinct in the sense that you are no longer measuring or noticing lead – it’s absolutely present in my shooting, but it’s not something I have to focus on.”

It’s too late to make your plan once you get into the stand

“When you are shooting proprioceptively, you are relying on a skill that you use every day. That’s a lot easier than having to consciously measure lead for each shot.

“Proprioception is also more efficient, as you are not relying on your conscious computer to lead a target. Instead you are acting subconsciously, so the brain can process information and make quicker responses.

“The only negative is that it’s hard to get to a stage where you can shoot proprioceptively. It takes a lot of rounds and experience to know what the correct lead feels like.

“When you first learn to shoot, you are taught to shoot the bird where you see it most clearly. As time progresses, you focus on aiming the gun in the hope that this will result in more targets shot.

“Then, if you shoot enough and continue to progress, you go back to shooting proprioceptively. It’s not something you have to learn how to use, it’s something that you have to learn not to get in the way of.”

All this is just a brief insight into David’s unique – and proven successful – approach to shooting. It goes much deeper of course, and David is sure that shooters and their coaches will continue to develop and improve.

“I can’t wait to see what coaching and competing will be like in ten years’ time,” he says. Forty years ago, competitors were just working on perfecting everything that they knew and understood at the time. In that generation, they had to figure it all out themselves. Then people like me would come along and ask them to teach everything they knew.”

“The new generation would build on that, and so on – every generation that comes through has a whole extra lens of improvement to how they’re taught and the tools that are coming in, from outside the game, along with the science, which will continue to get better over time.”

David was talking to Rhys Plum. Check out David and Kayle’s podcast at www.beyondthepodiumpodcast.com

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