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Winter Airgun (WAG) has proven to be the biggest Airgun Match of the year for U.S. Shooters both in number of competitors and scores fired.Still, the questions for many remains, how do I prepare for such a big competition?Last year I attended WAG to provide Gunsmithing support and as a Vendor, selling merchandise and discussing the many options available to young shooters today.I’d like to take a few moments to discuss preparing for and competing at large competitions- not from a Vendor/ Retail perspective, rather from a Shooter’s perspective (remember I was and still am a competitive shooter before a Retailer…).

I spoke to a lot of parents at WAG and Junior Olympics who had the entire trip planned out; get the gun fixed, get my shooter fixed and then test some pellets.The idea was that a junior is somehow going to show up on game day and perform better as a result of all the NEW Stuff.This just doesn’t work if you are trying to win.If however, this is the entire point of attending, by all means, use the resources available at the match.

The first thing to consider is your goals and expectations for the match.If you haven’t shot WAG or Junior Olympic before, you may not know what to expect from the range, surrounding, spectators, college coaches, the US Army Marksmanship Unit and Resident Athletes, vendors and Olympic Champions.Point is, there are a lot of unknowns to the first time attendee, so let’s talk frank about what to do, and what not to do.First, it is always better to arrive at the match, prepared to shoot at your best; sounds simple, but it takes a little planning to properly execute.To truly perform at your best, you need to set some realistic goals and expectations for the match, and decide just how you are going to prepare- I’ll talk about goals in another article.

For now, let’s discuss equipment, a very critical component to modern Airgun competition, and often the most overlooked aspect of the game.For generations shooters showed up to a match, and got their rifle “serviced” by whoever was there.So what’s wrong with that plan?Everything, everything from showing up with a rifle that can’t perform as well as the shooter, to “planning” on having someone (hopefully a competent gunsmith) work on your rifle when they have a pile of other guns to work on, leaving very little time for each service. So where does that leave us?Well, if you have a broken gun, you need to get it serviced before you waste thousands of dollars attending a major competition with a gun not capable of winning, or for that matter functioning properly.Simply put, if you train with a broken, inaccurate or poorly functioning rifle, you’re selling yourself short.You may be doing everything exceptionally well, training at a much higher level than your gun is capable, and getting frustrated as a result; showing up to a major competition having trained this way is not only tough, it is extremely hard mentally and usually leads to burnout or extreme frustration.

So when someone says to you, “have the rifle serviced at the match, get some coaching and test pellets” ask yourself, “why not do that ahead of time, so I or my shooter are better prepared?”Why not take the extra step to ensure the train-up to the big match is with a properly functioning rifle, with the best pellets or with the proper techniques?

Coaching at Matches is very similar to what has been coined as “Drive-by-Coaching.”Drive-by-Coaching is when someone solicited or otherwise, “Coaches” a shooter then walks away.This can take place at competitions, training camps or at your local club; depending on who does the “coaching” the shooter may decide to simply abandon everything he/ she has trained and try the new and improved technique.It has to work, Joe Dingbat said I should do it…Point is, if you are going to receive coaching at a competition, I strongly encourage you to do it after the match is over, that way, you or your shooter can focus on technique and performance during the match, instead of trying to learn something new on the fly when it counts.By no means am I trying to discourage coaching at competitions, I think there are some really good options, and if you have the means to work with a coach, I encourage it, just not before you compete.

Gun Service is a critical part of Airgun, so why shouldn’t I have my rifle serviced at the match?Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned time.A gunsmiths schedule and yours might not match up, so if you have a broken gun, get it serviced ahead of time.What about a “Quick Check?”Sure, I can do that, but what if I find the Absorber is out of Adjustment, or the velocity is low?Do you want me to correct it?To correct the issue, I might need to completely disassemble the rifle, and if there isn’t enough time to do it, then what?Now you know there is a problem with the rifle and you’re about to compete with it- not good for the mental game.Likewise, and more importantly, if I adjust the absorber and the velocity back to factory spec, what then?That’s right, what then?You now have a rifle that feels completely different, and shoots different as well.Let’s say the velocity was at 162 m/s when you brought me the rifle, and I adjust it to 175 m/s; that amount of change will likely be felt and your timing will be off as a result, leading you, lost and saying, “things just aren’t working.”There is a lot of truth in that statement- it isn’t you, it isn’t the gun, it’s the changes you haven’t had time to get used to…If you have your rifle/ pistol serviced during a break, you are more likely to return to the gun and be prepared to learn it again, and if something “feels” different, you have plenty of time to work on it.

Joe, you’re telling me all about the things not to do at a match, so what can I do…? 1. Remember why you are there, and what matches really are; matches are the reward for all the hard work you put in at the range, all the Friday nights and Saturday Mornings preparing, just trying to get a couple more points.This is the reward, you now get to test your skills against the best in the country, and it is your time to shine.2. Stick to your plan, you should have one, but if you don’t create one and stick to it.Too often, when things get tough, we abandon our plan in search of the quick fix or focus on the problem, not the solution.The solution 9 out of 10 times can be found right in your plan, yes, yours; no matter what your skill level, if you believe in your plan, you are more likely to accomplish your goals by following what you laid out as a path to success.Don’t ever let someone tell you otherwise.3. Have a healthy perspective and life balance with shooting.The results of the match don’t define you; you win some and you loose some, it happens.4. Be realistic, not positive or negative, about the match or results.Realism goes a long way, looking at something from either a positive or negative perspective only skews reality, and is not productive in formulating solutions or plans.Be positive about yourself- yes you, regardless of the results- results and self are two completely independent concepts.5. Get out and do something completely unrelated to shooting.Spending all day and night thinking about the match, previous or future, will only wear you out.Set aside time in your day for mental rehearsals, reviewing goals or whatever helps you prepare mentally for the match, but also set aside some time for you to get away from it.This is much the same as scheduling breaks in your match; you need breaks so your body and mind can recover properly.

Winning does matter, and if you are willing to stand up on the firing line and truly try to win, embrace how difficult it is.  It is easy to compete it is hard to win.

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