See that cute little kid with the oval around his head?
I'm not going to tell you how many times we have felt like giving up. If I did, it would fill this whole blog post and would quickly bore you. Like any sport, practice is required if you want to succeed. And, like many youth athletes, John Allen wanted the success, but didn't always want to work for it.
As I mentioned yesterday, we were very unknowledgable in the shooting sports when we first began. Really, we are still learning a lot and have much more to learn. We did realize, however, that one of the first things that we needed to do was make sure that John Allen was coached well. At first, John Allen was coached by Meghan, the head coach of the team. Megan was on a collegiate shooting team and was very accomplished. She had the philosophy that you shouldn't push a child too quickly. She wanted every young shooter to learn to love the shooting sports and not to hate it because they were pushed too hard at first. I remember sitting behind she and John Allen when they were on the firing line and mumbling things under my breath when I though John Allen was doing something wrong. She would often turn to me and say something like "Calm down dad, he's doing fine!".
I credit Megan for instilling a love for shooting in both John Allen and our middle child, Joshua, who we'll talk about tomorrow. I only wish she were still around for when Jacob, our youngest, begins to shoot in a year or so. Unfortunately her husband was transferred out of state and they had to move.
Even before her move, however, I was watching the other dads/coaches. Shooting is a very family oriented sport. At least in our shooting club, fathers and mothers are put into service almost right away. There are 8-10 bb shooters on the line shooting at a time so one person can't coach them all at once . While one group is shooting there is often another group that is studying for the test (I'll talk more about the test later). Fathers (and often mothers) are on the line coaching their child and, at the same time, mothers (or often fathers) are helping to prepare students for the test, give the test or score the test.
As I watched the fathers coaching their own and other children, it was easy to pick out the dads with experience and the dads, like me, who had little to no experience. One father in particular seemed to have the right balance of patience and pushing the shooters to do their best, so, after Megan went on to coach other newbies, I approached him about taking on John Allen and he agreed to help him out. It was an excellent fit. John Allen and Jeff worked fantastically well together. Jeff was just the right person to teach John Allen the intricacies of the four positions - prone, standing, sitting and kneeling - and the techniques of proper site picture, proper site alignment, breath control, trigger squeeze and follow through. John Allen began to advance in the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program and advance in rank among the shooters.
John Allen's second year of shooting we went to pre-states and states to gain valuable experience but didn't place. Finally, however, in his third year of shooting, his hard work began to pay off. At the pre-state match he actually made the shoot off. The shoot off is where the top eight scorers in a particular match go head to head shooting 10 standing shots one at a time. After each shot the scores are checked and announced to the crowd. John Allen shot so well at the shoot off that he moved from seventh to sixth place. Afterwards Megan announced that his chances of being chosen to be an alternate on the team that went to the national match had greatly improved. That year, after the state match, John Allen was, indeed, selected as an alternate for the Daisy National BB Gun Championship Match in Bowling Green, KY. He didn't expect to win any medals, but he set a goal, practiced hard and off we went to Bowling Green that summer.
Boy was the national match a totally different "ball game" than what we had ever experienced before. You walk in to that large room with dozens of firing points set up ready for hundreds of competitors to shoot on and you are awestruck. John Allen, however, rose to the occasion, kept his cool, and shot his best ever - far exceeding the goal he had set.
We began to wonder if he could actually go home and win the state match someday. Could he? Tomorrow you'll find out, but you'll also find out about some bumps in our path including a bout with nerves, a shooting slump and, yes, dealing with a pushy father who some said (and at times still say) wanted it more than his son. So, get ready for the next segment of my week long series - Our Shooting Journey - Part Three - A Family Affair.
Click here to get to part one of this series - Our Shooting Journey - Part One - How it All Began!
Shooting at a national match isn't all work. There is some time
for fun and games. The sponsors always treat the athletes well, like
providing free passes to a local mini-golf course.