We all started there…we were the “New Shooter” at some point in the past. For me, I still remember my first match in vivid detail. I went in with expectations of having fun and not DQing and, thankfully, I achieved both of these goals. I also made a bunch of friends that day and learned a TON. But let’s look at the other side of the picture for a bit. The veteran Range Officers faced with handling a new shooter. What should you do differently for these folks?
First of all, remember that we are allowed to safety coach new shooters per 188.8.131.52 at Level 1 matches. That said, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. What really needs to be done before that new shooter ever shows up at their first match?
Back in 2002 when I went to my first match I just contacted the MD and told him I was coming. He suggested I read the rule book (I already had) and when I arrived I was just another shooter. I wasn’t briefed, coached, etc. and in fact was called first to the line on the first stage. None of that is really wrong per the rules, but it is a bad idea from a competitor development/retention standpoint. I soldiered through and still managed to have a lot of fun. What follows is purely my opinion based on 18+ years in the sport.
- In my experience, the new shooter that has read the rulebook cover to cover is a rare bird. More often than not, they haven’t seen a live match, may have watched a few videos online or seen match video on TV such as Shooting USA and decided to give the sport a try. Sometimes they are coming out on the invitation of someone else at the match, sometimes they do not know anyone there. Be sure to recognize the new shooters and make them welcome. You want that person to feel welcome because you want them to keep participating and potentially become a member of your local club. You might just have met your newest shooting buddy with whom you will share many adventures to other matches and become lifelong friends. Don’t be standoffish.
- A person’s first experience in USPSA/SCSA competition where they will be drawing from a holster under the range commands and on the clock really should be at a new shooter orientation of some form. Even if that is just taking all the new shooters at a local match to a bay lining them up and having them go through the commands with a certified RO (empty gun stays empty, just pantomime loading) including the draw on the start signal through all the commands to Range is Clear. You might need to go through it a few times. Careful observation by the RO will generally show which people are comfortable with everything and which are trending toward cluelessness and need more education.
- IMHO, wherever possible, new competitors should start with SCSA. This mostly removes the movement component and a reduces a lot of the DQ possibilities. They also get to experience the range commands and drawing from a holster (unless shooting a long gun or rimfire) five times in rapid succession for each stage which helps them get comfortable with working under the commands and on the clock. After an SCSA match or two they will be much more comfortable with everything and will be more at ease at a USPSA match. At the very least, start them on a simple stage even if that is the classifier. Dumping a new shooter into a long and complicated stage like a shoot house or a memory stage just isn’t a good way to welcome someone to the sport.
- Many clubs offer “New Shooter Orientation Clinics” where they set up a few simple practice USPSA stages and a SCSA stage or two. After some orientation about safety rules and how the games are played they proceed to run each shooter through the practice stages; usually with a lot of coaching. USPSA/NROI is working on a more formalized New Shooter program and hope to release that shortly. Stay tuned.
- At the bare minimum, clubs really should be doing what is commonly called the “Safety Check” with new shooters. This takes many forms but what you are looking for here is does the shooter understand their firearm, are they safety inclined, and are they willing to learn. A shooter that isn’t willing to learn is going to be a potential problem. This doesn’t mean we turn them away; it does mean we counsel them and help them see reality. This is also a good time to talk to them about what a match is and what goes on. Help them start to get a feel for the flow of the match, invite them to show up to help with setup, talk about taping and painting and how this is a participatory sport, and so on.
We already mentioned the ability to safety coach so let’s dig a bit further into that. Again, what follows is my opinion based on experience, some of which was not good. First off, the coaching needs to be coming only one person and that should be the RO with the timer in their hand. Not from a third-party such as the partner/spouse or parent or both ROs. By the time a new shooter shows up at a USPSA match they need to be comfortable enough that they don’t need a familiar party coaching them. New shooters do get disoriented and we just really don’t need extra bodies down range and in the way. This also isn’t the time to have the videographers down range, for the same reason. They can video from behind the rear of the stage.
Do not force coaching on a new shooter. Ask if they want coaching; if they decline, don’t coach. Often, a new shooter will decline coaching at first but then decide a bit of help might be good. The idea with coaching is to help the shooter through the course of fire, help them not DQ or commit other penalties and in short, help them have a good time so they come back.
However, all that being said, there is no suspending the rules for a new shooter. If they commit an error that is a penalty, including a DQ, then they get the penalty. I collected several procedural penalties at my first match because my foot went behind the fault line in a kneeling position on a standards course; I still went back.
New shooters will, on occasion, DQ. DO NOT do the “but they are a new shooter, let them shoot” thing. The DQ rules are there due to safety concerns and it is important to impress upon new shooters that we all play by those rules at all times. It is VERY important to talk to them about what happened and what to do to prevent it next time. Usually the RM will take care of some of this but make sure the message is delivered: It happens to all of us, here is what happened, here is how to avoid it, and we look forward to seeing you at the next match. Reinforce that they are welcome to stick around (maybe not if it is a 10.6 or 10.7 DQ) and watch/help and that they are welcome to come back out at the next match. If your club has a group that does practice matches you might consider inviting them to those to work on skills in a lower pressure environment.
Remember, we were all new shooters once. How would you want to be treated if you were a new shooter today?