I cannot really think of a sport wherein a coach does not have a place and, indeed, is not a critical element to overall success. It is the rare individual who manages to achieve any reasonable level of performance entirely on their own. “Coaching” in USPSA/SCSA comes in many flavors, let’s review them.
We aren’t going to get into coaching that occurs during what I would call “Performance Training” here. What we are talking about here is where “coaching” meets the other side of the timer and the rules.
Most of the time when we think of coaching in relation to the rules we are probably considering 8.6 and subsequent rules dealing with assistance/interference as well as the allowance for coaching new competitors at Level 1 matches. We have covered this previously for SCSA. Assistance during a malfunction was covered here.
There is also coaching we encourage for Range Officers, be they newly minted or maybe just “needing a little polish” and we covered that here.
Generally speaking, we often think of coaching in relation to the rules in a negative light. It’s a penalty, right? It certainly can be but this is not always the case.
220.127.116.11 allows for coaching of the competitor at Level 1 matches and also allows for “safety coaching” which is also mentioned in 8.6.1. Let’s take those in reverse order.
When we talk about “Safety Coaching” of a competitor we are talking about warnings of a safety nature when a competitor appears to be about to commit a safety violation but you aren’t sure enough to call STOP! and issue them a DQ. Maybe they have a finger creeping a bit too close to the trigger guard (Finger!) or are getting turned around to where they may break the 180 (Muzzle!). These are only given by the ROs actively working the stage, not the spectators and other squad members. This is allowed at the Level 1 (Local) match level but generally not used at Major matches. In my opinion, by the time a competitor is shooting at the Major Match level they need to have this sorted out for themselves and have enough experience to avoid these issues; or they are likely to be sent home early. For this reason I always discourage folks from making a Major their first USPSA match experience. Those friendly “Muzzle!” or “Finger!” calls at home, maybe even a polite chat after the run to explain what was being communicated, is all part of learning how to enjoy our sport safely. We have all been there and those are very valuable, if not somewhat less than comfortable, lessons.
Coaching shooters through a course of fire is a great idea, especially for new shooters who are suddenly immersed in a very different environment than standing in one place and punching paper, plinking at tin cans, or even hunting. A great way to start new shooters is in SCSA competition. This gets them past the mechanics of drawing from the holster (for centerfire handguns anyway), performing with the stress of the running clock, and gets them used to the range commands. This reduces a lot of the potential chaos and confusion at their first USPSA match by making some of these critical elements more familiar before they start needing to move through a course of fire engaging targets.
I always tell them not to run, just walk through it and get the concepts down. No one wins anything their first match out and everyone has been there. Finishing all the stages safely and learning more about this great sport is a win all of its own. And, new competitors that have enjoyed themselves and learned more about the sport are more likely to return and continue participating; that is good for the sport overall.
Alright, who should do the coaching? In my opinion, this coaching should only be done by the RO with the timer and maybe the assistant RO, although this should generally be limited to Finger and Muzzle warnings. Often we see parents or spouses wanting to do the coaching. Bad idea, in my opinion. This just adds to the number of people working down range and I’ve had more than one parent step between me as the RO on the timer who is supposed to be watching the gun and the shooter. I even had one parent start to step in front of the loaded gun (which was pointed down range) to get to the other side of gun. I prefer that only the competitor and the ROs are down range. I get that this is a proud moment and parents want to be involved. They also generally want to capture those moments on video and they are welcome to do so, from behind the rear fault line or the rearmost RO depending on the stage layout and the directions of the CRO. Everyone needs to be safe and there is no video worth someone getting hurt.
There is also the so-called “Coaching Penalty” in 8.6.2. This is really an “assistance/interference” penalty but somewhere along the line it got branded with the moniker of “coaching” and here we are. As ROs, when do we call this, and how is it handled?
Let’s take the common scenario of a shooter having left a popper standing and moved on. Someone in the peanut gallery yells “You left a popper up!” or words to that effect. Now what?
Okay, first off, the person that yelled is now guilty of assistance/interference and they may, at the discretion of the Range Officer, get a procedural for this added to their score for that stage. Yes, you can go back and add penalties to signed off scores per 8.6.2.
Do we also penalize the competitor? Short answer: It depends. The way we teach this in our classes is that if the competitor reacts and goes back and picks up that popper then they get the procedural. If they do not go back and pick it up and leave it standing then they do not get a procedural. If, by some chance that popper is also available later in the course of fire then we are left with the possibility that this was part of their plan all along and so cannot reasonably assess a penalty if they shoot the popper further along.
Sometimes you hear someone “coaching” but cannot tell who did it. Or, maybe you heard a number of people coaching simultaneously. These can get difficult/impossible to sort out. The best course of action, in my opinion, is to caution the entire squad. Get the RM involved, as necessary, and they can provide their words of caution.
We also see “coaching” from non-competitors, be they spectators unassociated with anyone on the squad to friends and family there to watch the show. These folks are just going to have to be cautioned that they cannot do that. If they continue after having been cautioned, then you really only have 10.6.2 as your last resort. None of us want to go there but it can be a competitive equity issue.
As an RM working a match, I want to know if these types of penalties are being assessed and to whom. This is partially because these are the sorts of things that can get all blown out of proportion later on. Plus, if the same people have gotten awarded a procedural for this more than once at the same match then it might be time to have a more serious discussion with them.
A lot of this is left up to RO discretion. In almost 20 years of working as an RO I have issued exactly one penalty under 8.6.2. I’ve had a lot of discussions with competitors, even whole squads, about this topic. Generally, I have found that people get so used to the casual atmosphere at a local match, where it isn’t allowed either, that they forget and end up doing them at a Major match. This is just another example of lax enforcement at the local level following people to majors and causing them problems.