Dr. John J. Picone, MYSSA Board Member
Competition takes many forms for the youth of today. From football to debate club the spirit of competitive rigor helps sharpen skills and drive a desire for self-improvement. Target sports can benefit from the rewards competition has to offer as well. The focus of the discipline requires more than a simple “win at all costs” attitude however. Participation in a shooting discipline opens up a door to a tradition of character building that is unparalleled by other youth activities.
Target sports require a degree of mental focus and self-awareness that few other disciplines demand. Be it clay shooting or archery target sports are truly a game of inches (and often less than inches!). Preparation of technique and muscle memory require athletes within these disciplines to remain physically fit and mentally fit if optimal performance is to be achieved. In order to reach peak performance a target sports athlete needs to have a clear mind at the time of operation. I was once told by a fellow coach at a trap shooting clinic, “Most kids miss by 2 and a half feet. Their two feet and the 6 inches between a kid’s ears.” The point he was making (without the use of such poetic language) is that good technique has to be accompanied by focus if a person is to reach his/her potential at a target sports event. There is no room for worrying about what someone else might be doing or how others are performing.
This focus on self-improvement has always provided target sports with an advantage in terms of sportsmanship. While competitive drive takes the front seat in competitions such as football and basketball, self-evaluation and reflection are primary to the target sports athlete. Because of this more regard is given to the target sports athlete’s conduct in general. While other disciplines may touch on sportsmanship and individual conduct, their essential focus is team dynamics and physical improvement. Mental mechanics while essential is not primary to achieving their goals. This is the exact opposite of target sports preparation. In fact winning is very often a byproduct of self-improvement on a mental as well as physical level. In this regard the longstanding traditions of polite conduct, character sportsman like conduct and support for fellow participants that are associated with target sports serve to promote self-improvement and reflection on a very basic level. Thomas Jefferson gave testimony to such tradition in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr on August 19th 1785. In the letter Jefferson expounds, “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” It is this exact mingling of mind and body that make target sports such an enduring part of our American tradition.
In short the traditions that make target sports so popular are the traditions that make them a positive tool for character building. Target sports athletes must build on the principles of mental and physical prowess in conjunction with self-reflection. As a result target sports continue to provide a way for young Americans to grow not only as athletes but as sportsmen.