There were a lot of matches this year, from locals to Section Championships, and Area Championships to Nationals. In all of these matches, there is, or should be, a common goal–getting it right. Most do, some don’t. Activated targets, poppers, start positions, angles of fire, specialty props, and written stage briefings all need to be closely examined and done right, otherwise, the match loses credibility, competitive equity is lost, and both staff and competitors are unhappy. Let’s look at this effort at all levels, from competitor to Range Master and Match Director.
First, Match Director. This is the person responsible for organizing the entire match, from registration to final results. This means paying attention to staff, stage design, props, food, awards, and prizes. It also means constant communication with your staff and helpers. Obviously, this is a big job, but if you are well-organized and willing to delegate to competent people you trust, the burden is less. I see a lot of Match Directors who are not good at delegation, either because they don’t trust the people willing to help them, or because they are afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, and if you have competent people, trust them to get the job done, without micro-managing them the entire time. Send someone to get spikes; paint lines on the floor of the bay and mark them for walls and poppers and targets, and let the helpers stand them up. Assign someone to handle connecting activated targets and the prop that activates them. If the setup folks don’t get overzealous with the spikes, it’s not hard to move things around for finalization. Delegate the job of getting a caterer or delivering food to the range. Have someone else arrange shirts, or trophies, or targets, or handle the sponsorship duties. You just need to be able to tell them what you want done, and leave the how up to them. Keep an eye on things, though–communication is the key, and remember, don’t expect what you don’t inspect. Finally, don’t get married to your stages, because something is probably going to change.
Second, Range Master. The RM is the person responsible for safety and rules on the range, and is in control once the match starts, at least for the operation of the stages and proper application of the rules. He is in charge of the staff at that point, all the stages, and the competitors, and his main job is to ensure safe, fun, and fair practical shooting. If you are going to be the RM at a match, you should make every effort to be there for setup, or as much of it as you can. You should at least be there a day early for final setup and stage walk-through. Pay attention to safe angles of fire: 2.1.4 tells you all about that. Also, test and observe any activated targets; taking a video of them being activated several times is a best practice and will help determine if something changes during the match. Take video of the activating mechanism as well, be that a popper, a door, a stomp pad, or a rope. Encourage the staff members to take pictures of their stages prior to the first target change, so they have a reference, and ensure that all target sticks are witness marked to identify the initial target location. Check the poppers for defects or damage, and repair or replace as needed. Review the WSB’s for accuracy and legality, and make changes as needed. Calibrate the steel, and make sure you shoot your calibration gun and ammo over the chronograph. Is chronograph set up correctly, and do the chrono officers know what they are doing? All of this can be referenced in Appendix C of the current USPSA Competition Rules–you have a current copy of that with you, right? If you just show up on the day the match starts or the staff starts shooting, you have basically abdicated the job. During the match, the RM must be observant and watch stages for issues, either with targets or with staff, and be prepared to correct any problems. It’s not all sitting around on a ride–put some effort into it. And, again, don’t expect what you don’t inspect.
Third, Range Officers. This is basically where the rubber meets the road. Chief Range Officers and Range Officers are responsible for safely and equitably running the stage they are assigned. Being aware of the total stage, how competitors may shoot it (hint: it won’t always be the same stage plan), anticipating problems, and observing everything is key to running a good stage. The CRO is in charge of the stage, should read the WSB and be the only person answering questions about stage procedure. The Range Officers, including the CRO, supervise safe competitor action, score the stage, and ensure that it is reset correctly and thoroughly. While untaped targets are not an automatic reshoot, in many cases they will result in a reshoot, wasting time and effort, and all because the targets weren’t inspected. The same goes for activated props that aren’t set correctly. Here’s where organization comes into play again–the CRO should organize the stage team so that everyone has a job to do every time, and rotate jobs throughout the match. One person should not run the timer the entire time–everybody needs a chance to do that job, as well as keep score, check the stage, or rest. Be observant: watch the competitor, but also watch the targets, especially activated ones, and look out for other competitors or spectators getting in undesirable places while someone is shooting. Work efficiently, but don’t run just to make up time, and always be professional and courteous. If a competitor brings up an issue, and you can’t solve the problem or don’t know the answer, walk that up the chain to the CRO and then the RM if necessary. Any time a competitor asks to call the RM, the RM is called. No questions. The same goes for overlays. If the competitor asks for a hit to be overlaid, then pull them out and overlay the hit. There are three opportunities to review a hit before the score is final, and the competitor is entitled to all three. The one caveat to this request on scoring is if the competitor requests to “pull the target”. That’s not the competitor’s call–it’s up to the RM and is always a simple matter of timing and the RM’s availability. It is helpful to note when calling the RM to score a target to state whether the target can be pulled. That will help prioritize the RM’s call list. One important item: radio procedure and etiquette. When calling for someone to attend your stage, such as Mr. Fixit or the Range Master, it’s crucial to state what you are calling them for. With the exception of a disqualification, always state the reason for the call, e.g., “Mr. Fixit, Stage 9. I need a cable repair”. That way, the right tools and equipment show up in a timely fashion. Likewise with the RM–stating the nature of the call helps prioritize, and that generally goes like this: Popper Calibrations, Target Scoring, Disqualifications, and Gun swaps or competitor questions. Popper Calibrations and Target Scoring will hold a stage up until the RM can get there, and while he can always request the target in question be removed and replaced, not so for Poppers. Lastly, pay attention to your activated targets. If something isn’t acting right, let the RM know as soon as possible. Mechanical things can break or change over time and change is inevitable, but it’s how that change is managed that makes the difference.
Own your stage; treat it like it’s your own, take care of it, be responsible for it, and do it right.
Fourth, Competitors. Show up on time for the Written Stage Briefing, and pay attention. That document is to inform you of the parameters of the stage, so that you know how to shoot it correctly and without penalty. If you don’t understand something, by all means, ASK.
Help reset. This is a volunteer sport, and help is always appreciated. Stages run more smoothly and efficiently when the stage is reset correctly and swiftly. Pay attention to the scoring pattern and don’t get ahead of the RO, but do be ready to tape a target as soon as it’s scored without protest. Have the gear you need on you when you approach the start position when it’s your turn to shoot. Follow along as the targets are scored, or appoint a delegate to look them over if split or early scoring is being used. Someone besides the RO should have eyes on the targets, whether that’s you or your delegate. Speak up if something is amiss: I hear many tales of competitors not wanting to be “that guy”, but if something isn’t working right, then the stage needs to be fixed (and as soon as possible after a problem is reported) or may end up being withdrawn. Pointing the problem out doesn’t make you the bad guy, even if the stage gets removed: better to remove a stage than to have it unbalance the results from one competitor to another. Many times we see comments on social media about how a stage was not activating consistently, or inconsistencies with the start position, yet the person bringing these issues up never mentioned them to any match official. If you notice something is amiss, say something; you may be saving a stage. We should all be interested in doing it right.