Performance Tracking

13-Aug-10 – 14:04 by ToddG

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but some are quicker than others.”

Becoming a better shooter involves a great number of things. You have to learn proper technique. You have to cultivate a good mindset. You need to practice. Do all those things and over time, you’ll get better.

But just how much better, and how quickly, also depend in part on doing your homework. Part of that homework involves taking careful, detailed, and honest notes about your training routine and performance.

Tracking your shooting performance over time has a number of benefits:

  • provides clear, statistical data on current skill level
  • gives clear evidence when a plateau has been reached, with skill level being maintained but no real improvements being made
  • identifies specific skills or techniques which require special attention or extra practice
  • motivates the shooter to put real effort into small incremental improvements

In a nutshell, performance tracking tells you where you are today in comparison to where you were yesterday, and gives you the information you need to be better tomorrow.

How To?

First, simply tracking the number of rounds you fired isn’t enough. That will tell you how much you practiced, but it won’t tell you what you practiced or how well you performed.

Performance tracking requires taking notes… a lot of notes.

Track how much time you spent during a given session. If half of that time is taken up with conversations with buddies or sitting on your hands during a cease fire, note that. Track how many rounds you fired.

Take note of the time of day, the weather, and anyone that was shooting with you. This will allow you to discover the differences between shooting early in the morning versus midday, how rain or cold impact your results, and whether sessions with your pal Jimmy Jo Bob Billy somehow lead to poorer results…

You do not have to write down the results for every single drill you shoot. For example, I’ll often track simply my best time on something like 1-R-2. My notes might say “1-R-2 at 7yd, 8in circle, 20 reps, best time 2.76, best draw 1.08, best reload 1.56.” However, if I’ve specifically identified a weakness I need to address, such as reload speed, I will write down each and every reload time along with notes for specific runs such as “fumbled mag insertion” or “great mag access from under shirt.” For some examples, see the page from my shooting journal, above, and the notes I made about my shooting on the move (SOM) exercise that day.

For more comprehensive drills, like the F.A.S.T., I write down every bit of data: overall time, hits, draw speed, 3×5 split, reload speed, and the three 8″ splits.

Another piece of the puzzle that I would highly recommend is the use of a cold drill. A cold drill is simply something you do consistently as the very first drill each time you practice. It should be easy to set up and easy to recreate identically wherever and whenever you shoot. The F.A.S.T. can be a good cold drill. When I don’t have the targetry available (i.e., left the 3×5 cards at home) I’ll run a simple draw-and-shoot drill against a PAR time, and see how many hits I can score within a tight time limit. The benefit of a standard cold drill is that you can immediately see whether you’re improving over time.

Recording

Of course, measuring all of that stuff doesn’t do you a bit of good unless you actually keep records and review them.

Most shooters use a simple spiral notebook or bound journal and take hand written notes. This has an advantage in that you can easily jot down diagrams or sketch out a course of fire that you shot. The disadvantage is that you can quickly accumulate a library of notebooks, and it can be very difficult to cull through all of those pages for specific information.

I use an iPad app (pictured above) for my range journal, but obviously that might be overkill for a lot of people.

There is a happy medium, however. You can use a spreadsheet or simple database program on your computer to record the pertinent data from your journal. I use a program called Bento (available only for Mac):

It has fields for each of the regular pieces of information (where, when, who) as well as specific entries for certain drills or skills I measure on a regular basis. Some of those fields may be blank for any given range session, but over time I can look at, say, all of my recorded draw times from concealment.

There are also comment areas for goals (which should be filled out before you go to the range… mine is blank above, bad Todd, no cookie!), areas that needed improvement, things I did well, and general notes.

One final note on recording your results: Be honest with yourself! Record your mistakes. Don’t make excuses that prevent you from writing down actual results. Don’t fudge. Writing down that you did a drill twice as well as you actually can doesn’t impress anyone and only sets you up for failure down the road.

Use the Data

You’ve gone to all this trouble to write down your drills and scores and then record it intelligently. Probably makes sense to do something with all those notes and numbers, huh?

First, establish a baseline. Pick some drills that test all of your basic skills such as draw, reload, strong- and weak-hand only, accuracy, and speed. Record your results for 10 runs of each. Take special note of your best run on each drill, and your average run on each drill.

Next, look over the numbers. What stands out as excellent? What stands out as poor? Begin tailoring your training regimen — both dry fire and live fire — to put more emphasis on the weak areas. If you are consistently shooting 0.20 splits but can’t hit a 3×5 card weak hand only at seven yards, it’s time to take a break from speed shooting and focus on your WHO accuracy. A major benefit of performance tracking is that it helps break the natural human desire to practice what we’re best at, when we should be practicing what we’re worst at.

Every few months, reshoot those drills you used to establish your baseline. You should see improvement in those areas where you put the most effort. That doesn’t mean you’ll go from amateur to world champion in three months, but you should be seeing improvement.

  • If you are seeing improvement, reassess where you should be focusing the bulk of your training effort. It may still be the same skills you’ve been drilling hard for the past three weeks, or you may discover new weaknesses.
  • If you are not seeing improvement, you need to reassess your general training approach and your actual technique. Finding a plateau isn’t a bad thing. It’s a signal that you need to make some changes. Maybe it’s time to experiment with a different stance or grip, maybe it’s time to stop practicing with Jimmy Jo Bob Billy.

Again, keep in mind that we are looking for incremental changes. Taking a quarter second off your draw or reload is a more realistic goal than taking two seconds off. Going from a 45 to a 55 on a 10-shot bullseye drill is a major accomplishment… don’t expect to be shooting in the 90’s after just a dozen or so practice sessions.

By following this approach, you will actually see your improvement instead of just wondering or “feeling” that you’re getting better. You will identify your strengths and weaknesses. And you will have a concrete in-your-face motivator to get out and practice! You can certainly become a better shooter without keeping a training journal, but you will achieve your goals more quickly, with less effort, and with less expense if you establish a good performance tracking habit.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 16 Responses to “Performance Tracking”

  2. Quite the write up. It is actually kind of inline with what I intend to do. I am hoping I can compile enough of my notes from earlier this year to show the drastic improvements I feel I have made. I do know my recent tracking has been much better, just not enough shooting overall.

    By Tom (orionz06) on Aug 13, 2010

  3. You know I love data tracking – how have I not been doing this before?

    By Caleb on Aug 13, 2010

  4. Excellent article Todd. Thanks for writing it. I really enjoyed reading it and will use your suggestions for sure. I use my targets to keep track of my shooting and file each session’s targets in manila folders so I can look back at the physical targets as well as my time. It’s often easier for me to see an improvement on the paper target in relation to times and I just started using the shot timer so I’m getting used to it. After reading your article though I am going to transfer my times to a spread sheet and graph my times to hopefully see an improvement.

    By Christian on Aug 13, 2010

  5. Perhaps a Pistol Training app for Iphones/Ipads? Or even better, Blackberry?
    Great article and it highlights one of the mistakes a lot of people do, practice what they are good at and not what they suck at. I know I’ve been guilty of it in the past.
    I also have to admit that tracking my data is something I have stopped doing. No idea why, I really need to start doing it again. But to be honest I have so little to get out and shoot for practice these days, taking any time away to make notes seems counter productive.

    By Rob E on Aug 14, 2010

  6. Thanks Todd yet another great idea.

    By Nick R. on Aug 14, 2010

  7. Great info, and good timing. Thanks Todd.

    By LOKNLOD (Josh) on Aug 14, 2010

  8. Tood, thanks like always for share your knowledge.
    Inspiring to get better. yeah! what about a Pistol training app
    I support the idea from Mr. Rob E, Happy Sunday everybody.

    By svega on Aug 15, 2010

  9. I’ve been tracking all my shots in my recent practices: I use my iPhone’s camera to document the results of my attempts to master the Dot Torture Drill, and then the Surefire shot timer and Saul Kirsch’s IPSC Lite apps to track results of my runs thru the El Presidente, and then I put it all into a spreadsheet when I get back from the range.

    So far, even with my modest practice schedule, I can see how my splits, reloads and draws are all improving. Tracking each shot in a training session is DEFINITELY worth it.

    By ExurbanKevin on Aug 15, 2010

  10. There is, in fact, a shooting journal app being developed for the iPhone/iPad with input from pistol-training.com. It’s far too early in development to guess at a possible release date.

    By ToddG on Aug 15, 2010

  11. This is a great write-up. One of the things I, personally, struggle with is practicing with consistency and purpose. This can really help if I do my part. Thank you very much.

    By Erik on Aug 15, 2010

  12. Todd, how do you tag your drills and such so that you can go back and review them? I have a lot of data but no real way to correlate it all.

    Any suggestions for a database program that will handle this type of purpose for a PC?

    By Aaron on Aug 17, 2010

  13. With Bento, I just have different fields for different drills; searching those fields is a simple, built-in function of the program.

    I cannot suggest a similar program for Windows, though perhaps another reader has some ideas. Barring that, you could easily do it with Excel or a similar spreadsheet program; each column is a drill, each row is a date.

    By ToddG on Aug 17, 2010

  14. That’s not a bad idea. I just did some research and came across “Evernote” … it’s somewhat like onenote on MS office, however it has the uber bad assness that all the data lives in the cloud, and there are client apps for android, iphone/ipad, etc. You can tag everything in there and also search through it. I’ll probably look to doing that..

    Now on to the bigger task – figuring out what to practice from my data :)

    By Aaron on Aug 17, 2010

  15. Check out a site called Range Log (https://www.rangelog.com/Default.aspx). They have a free account that allows you to track training sessions. Cool stuff.

    By Mac on Aug 17, 2010

  16. Any chance you would share your Bento database (blank) with the rest of us iPad / Bento users? I have also starting looking at Rangelog.com.

    Do you need help / investor for your iPhone IPad app?

    Email me if you do.

    By Dan on Aug 22, 2010

  17. I think the Bento database is a bit more flexible re customisation and on the other hand, you can keep all your data privat. It´s not always necessary to share data from all your guns with a unknown subject who hacks the online database.

    Frank

    By Frank B on Aug 22, 2010

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