How to manage the competition and create the right environment for your shooters to perform
John Wooden, the esteemed basketball coach famously said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. It is a very apt saying and one that I think every coach should have written on the front cover of his or her diary as a gentle reminder. This article is about how preparation before the competition and the actions of the team manager, the coach and the support team during the competition can have the most profound effect on the outcome of the competition for our shooters.
While as coaches we work on the technical aspects of our shooters preparation ahead of a competition there however a parallel set of logistical preparations that must be undertaken before and during the competition. That preparation is normally the responsibility of the team manager but for many teams, the coach and the team manager are one and the same.
I hope to give you some insight into the tasks and logistics of team management alongside some insights into the type of thinking that successful coaches and team leaders use to make the management of the competition a success for their shooters. This is not a definitive set of observations but it should encourage you to think about how you can improve the competition experience for your shooters.
Use a checklist
So before we start, get out your clipboard and make a checklist. Don’t rely on your memory to recall all the tasks that you must complete ahead of and during the competition. The checklist will also help you in delegating the various roles and tasks to be performed to your support team.
Set a date for the completion of each task; remember that planning and preparation for team management is no different than the planning and preparation for an shooter or team performance.
Start Preparing Early
Time is a valuable resource; so don’t leave your preparations to the last minute. Book your entry early on the ISSF Online Registration System. Choose your hotel and reserve it with the organisers. All of this work can be done relatively easily using the Internet.
Take care when booking your air transport to ensure that your airline will carry firearms. Make sure they know in advance that you will be carrying firearms and that all the paperwork for carriage is cleared in advance with the airline. Transporting firearms at the best of time involves a lot of bureaucracy, by minimising this and preparing in advance we can make travel less stressful for your shooters. By booking early you normally get a cheaper flight too.
Don’t forget about visas. Get them early and check that your teams passports are in order and that they are not about to expire.
Coping with Travel
The global nature of our sport means that we can be assured of many long hours of airline travel. Travel is such a critical component of the competition and how we manage the timing of our arrival can have a profound effect on the performance of our shooters.
Remember the effects of jet lag are worse when travelling west to east so be prepared and allow adequate time to adjust upon arrival. If it is a particularly long flight, you might consider seeking the advice of a doctor in preparing a travel strategy and while you are there get your vaccination shots updated. Whatever your strategy, make sure you arrive with enough time before the competition to adjust to the time zone.
No matter how long or short the flight is, always be aware of your hydration levels. Drink water regularly and avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight.
On arrival, try to get into the local time zone as quickly as possible. Avoid sleeping in the afternoon; try to stay awake until your normal bedtime and eat at your normal meal times.
Lost luggage is a nightmare for shooters particularly if your equipment is delayed. If your arrival date is close to the start of your competition then think of how you will manage such an incident as lost equipment. What is your backup plan?
Work together as a team
A good team spirit can lift individual performances within the team. Encourage group activities and use opportunities such as breakfast, dinner or warm-ups to work as a team.
Group support has great psychological benefit and can help in situations where one shooter is having a difficult competition Use the team spirit to create a sense of shared goals; we work as a team for a team performance.
Pride in your team and your country are powerful motivational factors for success. So dress in your team tracksuits and wear your country’s shooting uniform with pride.
For managers this can be a long and tedious process particularly at a big competition. Make things easier for yourself by paying in advance by bank transfer, if the organisers will allow. Bring a copy of the transfer receipt with you and it will make the process of payment much easier.
Try and get your team accreditation completed early, this is very important to your shooters who will go straight into pre-event training and equipment control where they will need their bib numbers and id cards. Don’t leave it until the last moment; it only creates stress for everyone concerned.
Do a final check to ensure that all the athlete details are correct. Take the time to have your athletes fill in their update forms for the athletes’ database. This information is very important to the media and to ISSF TV and it only takes a few minutes.
Give careful consideration to the accommodation and rooming arrangements for your team. A quite room away from the noise of the dining rooms and the reception area are best. When you have athletes sharing rooms, try to have them room with someone who has a similar temperament and personality.
Take some precautions for a good night’s sleep, use ear plugs if noise is an issue and as strange as it sounds try bringing your own pillow. It was an athletics coach who told me once that bringing your own pillow is as close to sleeping in your own bed that you can get when you travel.
An army marches on its stomach and so too does a shooting team. Getting meals that you like can be a problem. Cultural requirements and special diets need careful planning so check with the organisers in advance as to what the menus are at both the hotel and the range. You can also check with the concierge at the hotel for some recommendations’.
Remember we are here to compete, so keep to a diet which your are normally used to. Now is not a time to try new foods or menus for the first time as you run the risk of gastrointestinal issues. There is plenty of time to try out the local delicacies after the competition.
Where airport customs allow, bring some dry food with you. If you have a brand of breakfast cereal or muesli that you like, think about bringing a box with you just in case you have difficulty with the breakfast menu at the hotel. Find the local supermarket, its ideal for fresh fruit, water and soft drinks.
Ask the organisers in advance what food will be available at the venue, they will be only too happy to do so.
Find a base at the venue
The organisers provide athlete rest areas so find a spot and create a base camp for your team. Do not inconvenience other teams by taking all the chairs and tables but do work with the teams around you to create a vibrant and relaxing camp for your shooters to rest.
Book your training early
You will want your team to train and to familiarise themselves at the venue. So find out from the organisers what arrangements for training are in place? In shotgun, it is normal to have to book sessions at the range and the best times can go quickly, so make the journey to the range office early to book your team places. Remember that official transport might not be running yet so you might have to make your own transport arrangements (taxi, hire-car).
While you are there, check with the armoury on what type and how much ammunition is available. If you had planned to purchase at the range it’s best to make contact in advance to ensure that the armoury has your brand and sufficient quantity is reserved for you.
Bus transport is a big expense for organisers so they are limited, so check the bus timetable every day. These can change daily so don’t assume just because the bus left yesterday at 3pm that it is also leaving today at 3pm. Always have a backup plan for transport, get the number of a local taxi service and have the name and address of the range written on a card to show the driver.
Make sure to attend the technical meeting. It’s where you will hear the running order for the competition and also get the latest news and observations from the other team managers. Often issues arise and this is the place to be to hear about them and the resolutions.
Talk with your shooters in advance of the meeting and bring up at the meeting any issues or questions they want clarified at the technical meeting.
Keep your team and support staff informed, but don’t overload the shooters with information. Each evening have a short meeting to discuss the timetable of activity for the following day. What time everyone is meeting for breakfast, what time is departure to the range and also the timings for each shooters competition programme.
This is a good time to briefly review that day’s activities and to iron out any issues from the day. It is best to resolve issues quickly and not let them develop, as the smallest issue can become a major problem if left to grow.
We have a great shooting community at ISSF Championship events so go and talk to the other coaches and team managers. Help is never far away should you need advice or assistance.
The organisers provide pigeon boxes for each country in which news from the organisers will be placed. Check this regularly, it will contain any last minutes changes to the running order, transport times etc.
Talk to the Coach Committee
The Coach Advisory Committee will always have a representative at a competition. It’s a good time to discuss the latest developments and to offer suggestions and observations that might be of benefit to the coaching community.
Remember the coach committee is there to represent your interests. When a coaches meeting is organised, do your best to attend and contribute.
Make sure your shooters are drinking enough water and eating regularly during the day. It is easy to overlook this in the stresses of competition but managing the physical condition during the competition is essential.
An equipment failure can ruin the competition for a shooter. Be prepared and have a plan of action. It can be as simple as carrying spares through to carrying a backup firearm, but always consider a worst-case scenario and have a plan. Practice the plan with your shooters so that when the time comes it is not a first time experience for them and the disruption to their competition will be minimised.
Preparing for the Final
If you are lucky enough to have a competitor who looks like they will make the final it will be critical time for you. Much activity will happen in and around the final and knowing what is expected and what to do can make the most of the final for your shooter.
Take the time to run through your finals plan with your support team and your shooter. Everyone should know their role and responsibilities at this time of high tension and excitement.
Be aware of the timing of the final. Your shooter will have to be ready and in the finals area ahead of the start, so check with the jury the time and locate the waiting area for shooters.
Make sure you have all that you will need with you. It’s better to be looking at all your equipment and ammunition rather than looking for it.
Doping control will also be performed so you must brief your shooter on the procedures and escort them with the doping control officer when required.
After the final the media and ISSF TV will want to interview your shooter at the press conference. This is a very important role that medallists perform after the event. It is essential for our sport that sponsors and the general media are provided with access to the winning competitors and it is critical for the successful promotion of our sport. Prepare your shooters well in advance of the competition on how to deal with media interviews. With the approach of the Olympics many NOC’s are conducting media training seminars, if you get that chance, send your athletes to those seminars.
After the Competition
Check the transport arrangements with the organising committee at least two days before your departure. Find out the arrangements for taking firearms from the armoury and for checking in with the airline.
Upon your return home, schedule a meeting of your team to review and debrief the competition. This is a time to learn from the performance. Give everyone their opportunity to comment on how things could be done better but keep the analysis of individual performances private and conduct these on a one to one basis only. This is a good time to look again at the performance plan and see how the performances measured against the expectations and if you need to alter your plan.
I hope this short summary on managing the competition has got you thinking about how you can improve the competition experience for your team. Good preparation leads to a good competition for all.