Yesterday evening Tom Givens posted this to the graduates of his RangeMaster Instructor courses and I thought it was way too good not to share. For those of you who follow the Trigger Control Dot Org Facebook page, you know that we share a lot of content to help make you a better defensive shooter along with many other things focused on the responsible armed citizen.
When I am at the range, I am there with a plan in mind to work on a specific skill set that is important to me. Sure sometimes I am there to “shake out” a gun that I might be using for training or a new concealed carry gun that I bought, but let’s face it, these days with the cost and availability of ammunition, range memberships, gas to get there etc… we all need a plan with some goals to work toward in improving our defensive shooting skill sets.
I give the “floor” to Mr. Givens.
What are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?
A critical step in increasing your defensive shooting skill is to be able to set up S.M.A.R.T. training goals. Think of it as driving your vehicle from your home to some other destination. You could drive around aimlessly and hope you eventually arrive at the address you seek. A better solution would be to get directions, plot them on a map, and follow those directions directly to your destination. That is our goal in S.M.A.R.T. training.
I’ve been teaching people professionally for over 35 years, for 18 years I owned a range where people often came to practice, and I teach almost every weekend somewhere in the US. On my range I frequently saw people come and practice with no plan, no goal, and little or no organization. When they left they were not one bit better than when they arrived, and they could have accomplished every bit as much with dry practice at home. In our classes no matter what part of the country we are in I see the same errors by shooters who have had a fair bit of prior training. The problem is, after the training their practice is unorganized, haphazard, and without real goals. Since they practiced so inefficiently they come to class shooting no better than when they came to the last class. We basically start over with these folks every time we get them in class. For your practice regimen to be of any real value you have to set goals and attain them. You can’t just say your goal is to be a better shot, or to be “really good”. That is so vague as to be meaningless. We need a standard to achieve and road map to get there.
For a goal to be effective and useful to you, it should be S.M.A.R.T…. S (specific), M (measurable), A (attainable), R (realistic), and T (timely). Broadly general goals, generally speaking, will not be achieved. So, let’s look at each of these criteria and see how they apply to the defensive shooter.
Specific– each range trip or dry practice session should be planned around working on and improving one or two specific skills. The skill should be identified in advance so that you can have the correct supplies, targets, and any other equipment you need to work on those specific skill sets. Trying to work on everything at once leads to improving nothing significantly. It is far better to concentrate your attention on one or two skills in each session. In advance of your range trip or dry practice session identify the skill set you want to work on and then identify the drills that would help polish those particular skills. For instance if you want to work on accuracy, a bull’s-eye course of fire may be in order, or perhaps one of the small dot drills.
Measurable– a time and accuracy standard gives you a metric for seeing if you are actually getting better or not. Never just blow rounds down range. Every drill fired and practice string should be critiqued and or scored, and targets taped or replaced so that you can see exactly where hits are going. Never rely on your subjective idea of how fast you’re working, you will just about always be wrong. You can have a training partner with a stopwatch, or if you practice alone you can use an electronic timer to verify your progress. Many smart phones now have timer apps available, so there’s really no excuse for not using a timing device in your range trips. To accurately measure your progress you can use standardized drills, exercises, and courses of fire. By scoring your targets and noting your time it’s pretty easy to track progress or the lack of it. There are a lot of standardized drills that emphasize discrete skills with well-known time/ accuracy requirements. The FAST drill devised by Todd Green is just one example. You either get your hits into the 3 x 5 card and the 8 inch circle or you don’t, and you either make the time specified or you don’t. It’s a great idea to use a small notebook as a log and note the date and time of practice, the individual drills worked on, and your scores/times. Tracking your progress in this manner gives you an accurate idea of how you are progressing.
Attainable– be realistic when setting your goals to avoid frustration and burnout. If you’re just starting out as a defensive shooter, a 1.2 second draw from concealment to a hit at 7 yards is probably beyond your reach. Find your current baseline by shooting scored drills, record your score or time and set a reasonable goal for improvement. For instance, if a slide lock reload currently takes you four seconds, make your goal cutting your time to three seconds. Once you achieve that goal, make your next goal cutting the time to 2 1/2 seconds. Each time you have a major improvement, it is going to be harder to make it to the next level, so work in increments that you can manage. Trying to go from that four second reload to a two second reload in one jump is a lot to ask. If you shot the current FBI pistol qualification course at 75% today, make your next goal shooting 85%, rather than 100%. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Realistic– when setting goals take into account your physical attributes, your training resources (time, ammunition, and money), your equipment limitations, and the context for which you are training. For instance, it is counterproductive to set goals built around what Grand Master USPSA shooters do with match gear worn openly if you are wearing a compact pistol concealed under clothing in an IWB holster. If you are older or have physical limitations take those into account realistically in your training plan.
Timely– set a real-time goal for your desired improvement. This helps you stay on track and put in the work. If you want to improve one specific skill such as the slide lock reload mentioned above, you might set a goal of shaving the time from four seconds to three seconds in three months of combined range work and dry practice. If your goal is to reach a certain score on a broad course of fire that covers a lot of different skills, you might set a time limit of say, six months. As mentioned before, use a logbook to record your efforts and your achievements as you work toward your goal.
Using the S.M.A.R.T. approach you can make the most of your training resources and I assure you, you will progress faster and get a lot more out of your limited training time.
Stay Safe and Train not just Hard, train S.M.A.R.T.!!!