As regular readers of pistol-training.com know, I’ve written repeatedly about the need for an organized plan when shooting. “I’m going to the range today” just doesn’t cut it for anything beyond recreational activity. Part of that plan has to involve an honest assessment of what you can accomplish given your goals and resources. Are you going to learn something new, improve what you’ve learned, or simply keep the edge on the skills you’ve already got?
Learning is pretty straightforward. You’re working on some skill or technique which is new to you. For example, if you take a class and you’re taught a new method of gripping the pistol, you’ll need to spend time on the range learning to do it habitually. During the learning process, you may actually shoot worse than normal. You’re sacrificing a practiced technique for an unpracticed, unfamiliar one. That can be a difficult pill for some to swallow because it feels like you’re getting worse instead of better. But if you don’t slow down and work through it, you’re wasting time and ammo.
Skill building is what most people think they’re doing most of the time they’re at the range. The idea behind skill building is also straightforward: you’re trying to hone your skills so you’ll be faster, more accurate, less prone to mistakes, etc. The important thing to remember for skill building is that you need to push yourself. If you want to be a more accurate shooter, your skill building has to push your current abilities. You don’t just shoot at a bullseye every day and say, “Hey, I scored an extra point… I’m getting better!” Skill building tends to require a lot of time and, depending on what you’re trying to improve, a lot of ammo. The more refined your skill is, the more resources you’ll need to devote to improve it further. You need to track your progress and constantly evaluate whether your practice sessions are having the desired effect.
Maintenance isn’t something we normally think of, but it’s far more common than people realize. Shooting is a perishable skill, especially those facets that are based on speed and operating beyond a deliberate, conscious level. You may switch to maintenance mode for any number of reasons: lack of time, lack of ammo, lack of interest, or simply lack of knowledge about how to improve further. The important thing to understand about maintenance is that it needs to be just as well planned and executed as skill building. What skills degrade the fastest? What skills are most important? Prioritize based on what you can afford to maintain.
There’s obviously room for some overlap between these different “modes” of practice, but at the same time it’s important to understand what we are actually accomplishing on the range. As mentioned above, people often want to skip the meat of the learning phase and move right into skill building, trying to shoot a “new” technique better than their well practiced “old” technique. Other times, someone with only the resources for maintenance will nonetheless devote those limited resources to skill building in one narrow area, which in turn leads to ignoring other important skills and an overall degradation of skill.
Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking every moment of every range session has to fall into the exact same training mode. Think about attending a class. At the beginning of day one, you may be taught a new way to reload your pistol. During that lesson, you’re in the learning mode. You’ll continue to work on that technique throughout the rest of the class in skill building mode. By the end of the class you’re working on a new lesson and not really putting a lot of focus on improving your reload, but you’re still performing reloads and trying to make sure you do them properly, which is the hallmark of maintenance mode.
Train hard & stay safe! ToddG