By Matt Smith
I have made a career out of coaching, mentoring, and training Special Operators. I take great pride in the fact that I am always training. I am either developing training for the future, actively training, or looking at ways I could have improved the training that I have just completed. It has been an endless cycle of self-improvement. Or has it?
When I first came into the military I looked at training as most everyone does. Select a discipline (let’s say weapons handling for the sake of this discussion) and commence the frustrating uphill climb to mastery. This will almost certainly involve much trial and error. After an undetermined number of hours practicing anyone should be able to achieve personal mastery of any discipline. If this is true how come so many people spend hours and hours on the range and can’t ever seem to develop confidence or accuracy?
I struggled in my early military career with weapons confidence and accuracy. Sadly I was unaware that I was struggling. I had relatively little experience with firearms prior to joining. I felt that I was practicing enough and even though I could see slight improvement there was no chance I was going to become a master of shooting. I could have spent years practicing and I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. This is because in my mind it was as simple as the old adage “practice makes perfect”.
Later in my career when I was selected for Special Operations training one of the marksmanship instructors approached me on the range following a mediocre performance to talk to me about what I was doing wrong. He said (more like yelled) something to me that stuck with me throughout the rest of my career as an operator and trainer. He asked me if I had practiced this shooting evaluation.
“Of course,” I said.
He inquired “What does practice make?”
My response was “Perfect.”
To which he exclaimed “WRONG!” “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
And then he proceeded to take me back through every detail of my shooting technique to examine every minute detail of what I was doing.
The lesson here was that I had never looked at my performance in laboratory conditions. Never once had I broken it down into its components to see it for the cascade of events that it was. I had been practicing for sure. But no amount of practice will ever help you to improve if it isn’t perfect practice.
That’s what it takes to be a Sheepdog. To achieve the level of confidence and accuracy you need to be a Sheepdog shooter. It requires a single step in the right direction. A hard, but liberating, look at all the fundamentals of your training. You have to ask yourself “Am I striving for perfection in every element of everything I am training to do?”
Shooting isn’t just the simple act of pulling the trigger and hoping for the best. It means striving for perfection at each of the fundamentals of shooting: Steady position, aiming, breath control, trigger squeeze, and follow-through. Each fundamental broken down and perfected to the best of your ability. This is the core of elite training as it applies to every discipline whether it is fighting, shooting, life-saving, situational awareness, or any of the elements of the Sheepdog lifestyle.
The great news is that once you have that eureka moment everything begins to fall into place. When someone with experience helps you break your training down and build it back up you immediately begin to see huge gains. Every moment following that commitment to perfect training you feel as though you are rocketing towards mastery. It is ultimately what separates Sheepdogs from sheep.