Tactics are defined as an action or method that is planned and used to achieve a particular goal.1In our case we can define tactics to refer to any activity we can plan for in advance of the competition to maximise the outcome of the competition or goals set for that competition. In this sense we can also include tactics with competition strategy, which encompasses the methods employed to gain a competitive advantage during the competition.
Either way the definition of tactics can be as wide as we wish to make it. The advantage of viewing issues as tactical situations is that it allows us to compartmentalise and isolate potential situations and to develop a defined response to them. Each defined response to a situation is the result of an individualised set of actions that we know work for the shooter in that circumstance. In instances where the situation is new to the shooter, having a wide experience of other tactical situations will help the shooter to approach this new situation in a similar mind set and approach which is likely to result in a better outcome for the shooter.
Tactics in Competition
Tactical situations can occur at any time during a competition. It can range from environmental issues where wind and poor lighting can make the performance difficult. It can also refer to issues with the management of the competition and the people involved from referees and jury to other athletes.
As shooters and coaches become more experienced some of the tactical situations which arise become less of an issue as they can rely on their past knowledge and experience to deal with them. They just deal with the situation as they have previously done. This level of familiarity really is a product of experience and we can aid in the development of that experience by introducing tactical situations into our training.
Effect on Performance
Every tactical situation has a potential effect on the athlete’s performance. Some situations can be positive; dark clouds in the foreground with bright sunlight from behinds makes targets highly visible. On the other hand, we generally train the situations that are likely to negatively impact on our athlete’s performance.
For each situation in which we decide to make a tactical plan we must evaluate the potential performance effects that may arise should the athlete not deal with the situation. The scale of the likely impact is important to gauge as it will determine how much specific training for the situation will be required. Training time is a scare resource and to be effective and productive in our coaching we need to allocate it wisely.
Knowing the likely effect on performance of a tactical situation will also contextualise for the athlete the need to deal with the situation promptly before the situation worsens.
Mitigation and training solutions
For each of the potential tactical situations we identify we will need a corresponding plan of action to mitigate the effect on the athlete and their performance. The plans do not need to be complicated, on the contrary the simpler the better, as the athlete will need to recall the plan quickly and implement it while probably in a situation of anxiety and stress.
Tactical training should form a part of your normal training activities. It should not become a special activity that is only performed on rare occasions. Remember the key purposes of developing tactical plans is to provide solutions to minimise the effect of an unexpected event on performance and the best way to do that is to make such training feel as normal and natural as any other shooting training activity.
Example tactical situation – Gun Malfunction
A gun malfunction can and usually does happen at the worst time possible, the point at which the athlete is taking their shot in competition. Such an event can have an immediate effect on the athlete and if not resolved quickly with minimal intrusion can quickly develop into a critical issue for performance.
The most common gun malfunctions are broken firing pins and broken springs. Both types of malfunctions render the gun incapable of firing and pose an immediate risk in the athletes continued performance in the competition.
Effect on Performance
The shooter’s routine is not only interrupted but their continued participation in the competition and ultimately their score is at risk. By nature, gun malfunctions happen usually at the point of pulling the trigger when making the shot.
Disruption to the round of shooting
When a gun malfunction is called by the referee, the athlete has a three-minute window to correct the malfunction. For that period, the round of shooting is stopped. If the athlete can quickly replace the broken items, then the round can continue with minimum disruption. But if the athlete must leave the range and search for replacements then this time period can reach the full three minutes.
A gun malfunction does not only affect the athlete whose gun is involved but because the malfunction stops the round of shooting it has a direct effect on all the athletes in the squad as they have to wait. If this situation occurs, it is advisable to intervene as a coach with the referee to ensure that the time-limits are adhered to.
Having to deal with a malfunction is going to put pressure and anxiety on the shooter. They are faced with an unexpected situation and their routine of shooting has been disturbed. Whatever mindfulness state the athlete was in is now replaced with a crisis situation that requires them to make immediate decisions under pressure. If the athlete is prepared for this, the disturbance can be minimised but it is preferable that the athlete have a psychological plan to help in this process.
The longer it takes for the malfunction to be rectified the higher the emotional disturbance of the athlete.
Mitigation and training solutions
Carry a spare trigger group
If your athlete’s gun uses a removable trigger group, then always make sure that a spare group is with them at the range as part of their shooting kit.
Changing out the trigger group should be performed from time to time to ensure that the athlete is familiar with the process and that the spare group fits the gun correctly. In the event it is required to be performed during a competition the process should be familiar to the athlete and should not add additional stress to the situation.
Access to a replacement gun
Have a contingency plan to either carry a spare gun or have an arrangement between your athletes to allow them to borrow a gun to complete the round in the event of a total gun malfunction.
For a top competitor it would not be unusual for them to carry a second gun to competitions.
Do not get involved
Your athletes should not involve themselves if another athlete on the squad has the malfunction. A contingency plan in this case would requires your athlete to take a seat or stand in a quiet, shaded area whilst the malfunction is death with. Your athlete needs to stay centred on their task but be ready to move quickly back to their station and resume the round at short notice.
Prepare a psychological plan
Have a plan prepared to deal with the additional stress that a malfunction will create. Develop a routine to help manage emotions and to keep the focus of the athlete in the competition. Test the plan in training by having a simulated malfunction and observe the attitude and approach of the athlete to the failure.
Example tactical situation – No-Target
A no-target situation can arise at any stage during the conduct of a round. It is characterised by the target emerging broken or in the case of flash targets it might even be due to the premature release of powder from the target.
Effect on the Performance
The occurrence of a no-target can manifest a performance issue in several ways as follows:
Disruption of shooting rhythm
The shooter has probably established a shooting rhythm during the round and it has allowed them to create a productive performance. The sudden emergence of a no-target can interrupt that state of flow and it results in a disturbance of that rhythm. Once the rhythm is disturbed the shooter may find it difficult to re-establish it and it can lead to an issue on subsequent targets. If the repeat target also emerges as a no-target, the effects on the rhythm can be further compounded and introduce further issues particularly of a psychological nature.
Psychological disturbance and loss of focus and concentration
The unpredictable nature of no-targets creates a disturbance to the execution of the technique. It is a forced halt to the shooting technique that does not allow the shooter to complete the action of shooting. Such an interruption can alter the performance flow as it takes the focus away from the shot mid-way through the shooting process. Such a break in focus or concentration can have a jarring effect on the shooter’s mental routine and create an undesirable effect of having the shooter move from autonomous movement and control to one of conscious movement and control. The break of concentration can have a compounded affect if the no-target condition continues for two or more targets. Once such a mental disturbance is created, the time required to re-establish a normal mental flow is not helped by the speed required to reset and take the target again.
Onset or recognition of pre-movement with the target
A no-target situation can highlight to a shooter that they are moving the gun or anticipating the release of the target. Under normal conditions this pre-movement might go unnoticed and it may not be significant enough to effect the shooter’s performance. However, if under a no-target situation the shooter becomes consciously aware of moving the gun they may on the subsequent repeat target become over-controlling of the movement. Consciously trying to hold the gun steady will introduce further issues that can compound the shot such as added conscious control combined with general muscle and body tension.
Incorrect anticipation of target trajectory
Having seen a no-target emerge, the shooter may anticipate that they know the direction of flight trajectory of the target. This situation can result in a predisposition to move in the direction of the target upon calling for it. It can also entice the shooter to offset their usual neutral gun hold position in favour of one that is along the target flight line of the presumed trajectory.
All of this anticipation might be a false indicator caused by the target flying on an irregular path. If this is the case, then the shooter will not have a correct hold point and will be psychologically disposed to committing themselves to a direction of movement which is not that of the actual target trajectory.
A situation can arise where the target appears to be a valid target but the referee disagrees and call it as a no-target. This is a fundamental issue of refereeing and it can be disturbing to the shooter on all fronts particularly if they believe the target was valid and they subsequently hit it.
A negative refereeing decision can create a very negative feedback situation for the shooter, a situation that in terms of performance can be more negative than that of a miss. If the shooter cannot accept the decision and move on from it in a neutral way they will bring that negativity into the repeat shot and subsequent targets.
Mitigation and training solutions
The key requirement when dealing with no-target situations is not to allow the interruption to alter the path of the shooting technique. If you have a pre-shot ritual, then that ritual becomes the anchor on which the technique is based. If anything during the shooting routines becomes abnormal we abandon the shot and return to the ready position whilst not acknowledging the no-target. A feature of this approach is that the shooter does not react to a no-target, or acknowledge it as a viable target by trying to shoot the broken pieces.
We train the shooters to maintain discipline and to commence movement only on sight a whole target. This is a fundamental training principle which we should instil from the earliest stages of the shooter’s development. If we do not recognise or respond to the no-target, then we do not allow it to enter into our shooting process. We can achieve this by regular use of the manual release of the targets in order to vary the timing of the release to simulate slow pulls. We can continue thus all the way to not releasing the target at all thus simulating a no-target.
The shooter needs to know the rules regarding no-target situations and be prepared to ask the referee to call the target for him should two broken targets emerge.
Discipline is also required when a target is seen to visibly fly although it is a no-target. This can best be achieved by using a trap training box to select which targets are thrown and it is possible to load several broken clays at intervals into the traps. Upon the release of a no-target, the coach using the training box can select another trap from the same group thus creating a completely different target trajectory to that of the no-target and this will help the shooter to train to move only to the sight of the target in flight.
Making a Protest
Protests happen in situations where there is a challenge to the judgement of the referee as to the hit or miss call on the target or the conduct of the round of shooting. Other situations can arise that involve technical violations by the shooter which can result in a warning or penalty.
These situations are exceptional, but they do happen and when they do it creates an upset in the normal conduct of the round of shooting and in the activities of all the shooters involved. Your shooter may not be directly involved in a protest but they will have to wait until the protest is resolved before they can continue shooting. This is a tactical situation where the response of the shooter to the situation should be to ensure that they do involve themselves in anyway if the issue relates to another shooter. It is human to get involved in situations but you have to remember this is not your problem, it is another shooter’s problem and for them to resolve.
Don’t get involved
Your shooter must have a backup tactical plan to deal with this. If it is a protracted protest you must remove the shooter out of the situation by telling them to go and wait in a quiet corner of the range. This is a time to take a break but to hold the competitive flow by visualising and engaging in planning for the next shot once the protest is resolved.
The restart after a protest will be a moment of enhanced anxiety and there is a strong possibility for a missed shot which increases proportionally with the length of the delay. If your shooter is the protagonist in the protest, then they will have very little time from the point the protest is resolved until they will be asked to continue shooting. Emotions can be high, the focus of the shooter entirely lost and will probably still be preoccupied with the protest when they return to the station to take their shot. It is most likely that they are not prepared and not following their own pre-shot routine.
When protests arise, they should calmly be dealt with by both the shooter and the coach. It is not a time to inject emotion into the situation. Calm heads can produce a better solution and can allow the affected shooter to return to the competition with minimal impact. If a resolution is not agreed upon, it is easier to ask for a jury member to rule on the issue if it is anything other than a protest on score.
- Merriam-Webster dictionary ↩