Get a Grip…

There are so many ‘fundamentals’, as the experts say, to shooting well. I have discussed some of the 101s, 201s, and Grand Master level theories. In a lot of my writings I discuss the mental side of the sport because it is often times overlooked. Today, I want share a technical tip, for some reason, I seem to relearn every time I shoot a handgun.
As a predominately rifle shooter, I love shooting my rifles!, picking up a handgun is fun with a lot of transferable techniques; IE eye movement, stage plan, etc. There is always one thing I continue to forget, GRIP THE GUN! This was a great reminder as I was working with a shooter on Steel Challenge stage Pendulum shooting Rimfire Pistol Open. As we have discussed in the past, your hits on the targets can tell you a story. In this session, the hits were all over the plate and some did not grace the plate with their presence. I then asked them how hard they were gripping the gun and they said loosely. With a handgun it is imperative to grip the gun hard. You don’t want to grip the gun too hard to the point you are shaking, but I would say around 80% of this pressure.

 

Then what happened next is what every coach or mentor would like to see, immediate improvement. They started to go ‘one-for-one’ on each shot making the wonderful sound of ringing steel! The next topic we discussed is hand placement. I try to grip the gun as high as I can and put about 60% of the pressure on the gun with my left hand(non-dominate hand). I want to only have 40% of the pressure from my right hand because I want to make sure my trigger finger moves freely and does not disrupt the front end of the gun. I also make sure my left hand is locked forward. This helps with controlling recoil and keeping my sight(s) on target. One other technique I use when shooting is to push slightly with my left thumb on the frame of the gun and it also helps stabilize the gun, thank you Dave Sevigny for this tip!. Make sure the palm of your support hand is pressing on the grip of the gun and cover as much surface area as possible.

 

Below is a picture of a left handed shooter with her natural grip she had been working on.

Before

 

 

This picture is of the same person with some of the grip enhancements I discussed above. With making these minor changes they were able to improve their Rimfire Pistol Open times by 11%. The change and results were immediate.

After.jpg

 

Something to think about the next time you are at the range.

 

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

It can’t be me… well, probably is…

There were times growing up in upstate New York where the winter months were nothing buy pure fun!  I remember times where we would get 2-3 feet of snow overnight and schools would close down.  There was nothing better than building snow forts for fun and shoveling driveways for money to purchase .22 Rimfire Ammunition.  Somehow my shooting habits even back then could not keep up with my wallet!

 

The best part was making snow forts. had a 6 foot snow bank at the front of our driveway. What else is better for making a snow fortress you ask?  My brother spent a full day making the nicest enclosure out of snow and ice – we used a little water to reinforce the walls.  We were proud of ourselves as we stood on top of the fort as if we just landed on the moon.  We jumped lightly to make sure it could take our weight and to our surprise it did.  After being so tired from our days adventure and work I went below grade to lay down in the fort.  My brother jumped up and down in amazement, still on top of the fort, and then it happened.  Everything what was once white was now black.  I felt a foot by the side of my face and it was my brother digging me out.  Maybe it was me and I should not have been down there, or maybe our design was faulty or maybe it was plain old poor craftsmanship?  I think this one was on my brother!  He drug me from the pile of snow.  As we were standing 10 feet back from the road in the driveway we saw an orange flashing light.  We heard a rumble and the ground shook with snow falling off the tree next to the collapsed fortress.  It was a snow plow!  As it raced past our house, the extended blade was out and took out half of what remained to our fort.  My brother and I looked at each other and our jaws dropped…  What if we were in there?…

 

Somehow things work out for a reason, whether it is our fault or not.

 

It was not too long ago I took possession of one of the most expensive guns I own.  I can’t even tell you how great of a feeling it was.  Taking it to the range for the first time was a little disappointing.  My win column is full of long gun accolades and a lesser amount of handguns, but still I thought I was a decent handgun shooter.  After input from the manufacturer and consultation and countless trials of projectiles I was stuck in a situation.  I had the gun of my dreams, but I could not get the accuracy out of it one would expect.  At 20 yards, some shots were dead on and others looked amateur at best.
An inordinate amount of time went by and passively the gun sat in the safe.  Every time the safe door cracked open I would at least look at it or frequently rack the slide.   Then finally, I shared the story of my gun after I found out the manufacture of the gun went out of business, doing so otherwise would be unprofessional as a Brand Ambassador.  One person lead to another and finally to the right person.  I was contacted by a long-term company I had done business with who specializes in barrels, KKM Precision.  After one short call with Luke McIntire my pistol was on its way to Nevada.

 

Last night, I anxiously opened the package from Fedex and pulled out my cherished 1911.  The gun felt slick and tighter than the day I originally took possession.  I could not help but admire the fit and finish of the barrel, there was absolutely no play in the lock up of the gun.  I took it out to the range and put one shot on the 15 yard stop plate for Accelerator.  I made sure there was documentation of this event.  The first shot was dead center as if I was a professional bullseye shooter.  The rush of emotion overcame me.  150 rounds later my wife called me back to the house for dinner.  This was now the most accurate and reliable centerfire handgun I have ever laid hands on.  A sincere thank you goes out to Luke and the KKM Precision team for giving me my confidence and investment back.

 

 

I share this story with you to never accept if you don’t think something is quite right, don’t let the snowplow take you down.  I had doubt based on what I heard from others and lack of confidence in my pistol shooting ability.  This time, it wasn’t me. There are professionals in industry who are here to help.  If you are reading this and you have a similar situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I can point you in the right direction for speed guns commonly used in Steel Challenge and Rimfire multi-gun events.

 

See you out on the range soon.
Steve

I’m just getting started…

I have been going through a lot of mental “ups and downs” with my shooting the last twelve months. There was a constant tug of my shooting life and my personal life. The nearest range was only 20 minutes away, but by the time I packed up my targets, drove there, setup the stage I wanted to practice, I would only shoot for an hour and then I would break down the stage, drive home, and put everything away. This 20 minute trip each way for an hour practice session would somehow turn into a three to four hour excursion. Instead of making these trips to the range I would go to matches to ‘practice’. I would be gone for 2-3 weekend days a month and when going to a match I could rarely go, shoot, and be home in 5 hours. Some ‘local’ matches were upwards of 2 hours away. Outside of the expense of shooting, the time was becoming more important of a commodity as my wife and I are raising two amazing young women.

 

It was just over a year ago my wife and I decided to move to the ‘country’ so my wife could have her dream of a small farm. Coincidentally, this would mean I could have a shooting range and what would take an ‘hour’ of practice would now really be an hour with a short walk to the range. This has changed a lot for me. The biggest thing that has changed is the time I am now able to spend with my family instead of being ‘gone’ so much shooting. Biding for my time was really turning into an issue for my family because when I do something I am passionate about, I am ‘all in’. I have already far surpassed my goals as a legitimate shooter in Rimfire Challenge and Steel Challenge. Unfortunately, unknowingly this was taking away from me being a legitimate father and husband. Even the best of us need to refocus on what truly is the ‘main thing’ in our lives.

 

Now, I am training with a sole purpose in mind and exploiting my weaknesses to be a better shooter. We all have them, we just need to identify them, work on them, and become better. What a lot of people don’t understand, it is truly work. Just because you get a ‘lucky’ 1.8 second string in Rimfire Rifle Open on 5 to Go does not mean when its match day you will be met with similar results. Now, if you can shoot 9 out of 10 strings at 1.80 in practice your likelihood of shooting a sub-8 second stage at the next match is going to go up.

 

If you put in the work you will see results you may not have expected. Working with top shooters in my sport has made me realize my conservative approach to shooting is not enough, although it was for a long time. I made a plan and shared it with a fellow shooter in how we are going to get to a sub 60. Within 6 weeks he almost did it. One of the stages on my plan to work on is Roundabout, something I have not felt comfortable in a while. I set it up and shot is as fast as I could. I started out hitting 3 out of 5 targets… then 4 out of 5 targets.. and then at my match this weekend I set a personal best of 5.49 seconds in Rimfire Rifle Open. I exceeded my goal on this stage and just like the last stage I practiced in this manner, Smoke and Hope, I will shoot it better going forward. I’m just getting started…

 

My message today is about hope and inspiration. In the game I shoot, Steel Challenge, if I can shoot a sub 65 major match time, you can too. Is it going to come without work? Heck no. You would not appreciate it if it was easy anyway. Make a realistic plan on how you are going to get there and put in the time and effort. From my personal experience, set a realistic timeline on when you want to accomplish your next goal and go after it. If you shoot a sub 65 second time at a match and this is your sole focus, you may not be fulfilled when you get to the finish line. You may have the accolades of your peers at your local club, but in most situations they are not the one you share your other good and bad times with.

 

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

A plaque can mean so much..

I have been truly fortunate in my life to have a lot to celebrate. I grew up in a time where people worked hard for their accomplishments and were rewarded. One of the most memorable experiences I had with putting in work and achieving something was when I was playing CYO basketball in upstate New York. We were an average bunch of kids ranging from 10-11 years old. There was absolutely nothing special about any of us. All were average height, average jump shots, but we all had one thing in common; we all worked very hard. Our season seemed to be the only single thing that was important to us. We practiced six days a week and for 2 hours a day. I remember these practices fondly or at least the leg cramps and feeling like reverse peristalsis was going to happen!

 

Despite the intense work outs we quickly realized an average group of young men were in better shape and more disciplined than any other team we faced. Some of the teams we faced could dunk and I am confident some went on to play Division One NCAA basketball. This mediocre team went out to win our first game by a seemingly small margin. Then the next. Then the next. At the end of the season we went 22-0, undefeated! Whatever words I write next will not do this experience in my life the justice it truly deserves. It was a moment in time that would help shape the rest of my life. It taught me if I put in the work, which others did not want to, I could reach goals others thought would be impossible to reach. That $10 plaque meant so much to me, more than those presenting it to me could comprehend.

 

The 2019 World Speed Shooting Championships was hosted in Talladega Alabama. Brian with Hunters HD Gold decided to host an appreciation dinner for some of his brand ambassadors. It was an amazing venue and he definitely went above and beyond! Brian stood up in the front of the room after dinner and mingling. He told his story in words of sincerity and appreciation. I was surprised when Brian presented me with the Hunters HD Gold Founder’s Award for being pivotal to the brand’s success as his first Brand Ambassador he sponsored. This was affirmation of all the one-on-one discussions and efforts to promote a brand I truly trust my performance to was recognized.

IMG_1029.jpg

I have been fortunate to be introduced to Brian through Larry Steeley Jr. Both of these men work extremely hard and give back to the sport more than many will ever know. They are both a case study of working hard and what materializes from it, just like my early basketball days. I am honored to work with both of them through this amazing journey. Remember, if you want something bad enough, make a plan and execute it. Your hard work will pay off!

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Tendency…

When I was growing up my parents would insist for my brother and I to spend time with our Grandmother on my mother’s side of the family. She was an amazing woman, but we did not see her as much because she lived 4 hours away from us. For as long as I can remember growing up we would spend 1-2 weeks with her during summer vacation. My brother and I saw it for what it was, my parents really needed a break from us kids during the summer!

 

My cousin lived with my grandparents most of his life as a child, at least, he was more in their life than my brother and I. So, when ‘Huey’, ‘Dewey’, and ‘ Louie’, as my uncle called us, got together you knew there was mischief right around the corner! My grandmother had a way of keeping us in check, somehow the sturdy wooden spoon would make an appearance and all the ‘good’ ideas we had turned ‘bad’. My grandmother had a tendency, whenever something broke or bad happened, she would always blame our cousin. It was awesome, my brother and I could do whatever we wanted and he would take the heat for it. Somehow we would smooth it over, but there was a life lesson in all of this somewhere.

 

As I purposefully omit any confessions, this topic came up recently in a training session. One of the people I was training with would shoot approximately 6 shots on every string of fire on a 5 target array, they were missing one of the shots and having to ‘make one up’. As I watched him shoot, it was uncanny, he would miss every single shot within a 1” variation just high of the target at 12 O’Clock on the plate. As you are training and you are not getting the times you feel you deserve, you have to first identify what your ‘Shooting Tendency’ is. You cannot fix something until you understand what it is that needs to be fixed or re-calibrated. As with my grandmother and her tendency to blame our cousin, the student was doing the same thing by shooting high.

 

The root cause is not as important as understanding we all have tendency when we shoot. Some are good, some are bad, but we all have them. The next time you go to range, think about what you are doing. What is your tendency? Do you shoot high? Do you shoot left? Do you take too long on the first target? Do you not have the same routine from string to string? Are you missing the same plate on every stage? Or when you miss, is it a certain plate?

 

For those who know me, I have to fight my ‘Shooting Tendency’ every time I get to the firing line. When I shoot fast, my fundamentals break down and I swing the gun away from my body with my arms instead of locking my upper torso as ‘one’. This is one of the main things I work every range session on to be a better pistol shooter. Once my upper body gets out of alignment, the gun is not where I expect it to be when I pull the trigger on fast targets.

 

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Just One..

There are many times in the course of one’s life where you give it all that you can and it is just not enough. Can you think of one? I have many. When I was younger, my older cousin was taller than the rest of us from an early age. We were at the local park playing basketball and I remember the first time he held up a basketball with one hand and he asked me to try and get it. Despite the nearly 2’ height difference, I could never jump all that high. After 23 attempts of jumping in the air, giving it all that I could, swatting at the ball, I accepted it was not meant to be.

 

The 2019 World Speed Shooting Championship was a very similar experience. I shot a near perfect match in rimfire rifle open. I only had to carry just one single pickup shot in the match. There were stages where I pushed my ‘Edge’ and others where I shot my 90-95% time with one stage being a 85% time (Roundabout). There is a lot that goes into match management. I have been shooting very well going into the match. Let me attempt to share some of my match management that lead to a World Record in Rimfire Rifle Open on Smoke and Hope and a 4th place finish overall; exactly 1 second behind the winner and new World Record total match time.

 

Showdown has been a good stage for me to start on, I have been shooting it well. When I walked up to the stage I knew this was going to set the stage for the match. I thought I needed to get things going with just one run. I then proceeded to do a mag dump after the buzzer went off with a 2.99. Then a shout from the crowd said, “When is Steve Foster going to shoot?”. I turned around and chuckled and then immediately posted a 1.69 and a 1.63. As I walked to the next shooting position I smiled and remembered to have fun and be grateful for the opportunity I have in front of me. I posted a 1.67 and then decided to shoot a quick one to build momentum into the next stage and shot a perfect 1.52.

 

Okay, not the stage where things can’t be won, but a lot can be lost; Smoke and Hope. After shooting a personal best of 5.25 at the 2019 Georgia State Steel Match I wanted to get a sub 6 second stage because this is something I have never done at a World Match before. Similar to Georgia, this just one stage could set the tone for a personal best overall time. Walking up to the line I was so pumped up you can see my legs bouncing ready for the buzzer to go off. When the timer first went off I was too hyped up and I was losing my sight picture so I made a slight adjustment and reacquired it scoring a 1.68. It was then I knew the exact zone I needed to be in. I shot a 1.56 and it felt effortless. It was the point where I was seeing the dot on every shot at an expeditious pace. I then said I have a little bit more. The buzzer went off and I knew it had a chance of being faster and I did not hear my time called out. I then though “oh no, did the timer not pick it up”? I turned around and asked for the time and the RO was staring off at the plates. She said “um, 1.51… she then said she could not believe I hit them all”. With a smile I said, “neither could I and let’s see if we could juice it up a bit”. I then posted a 1.47. An adrenaline rush came over me and I said I was going for it. The timer went off and I swung the gun hard and fast connecting one for one and I heard cheering in the background. I shot the fastest string time for the division of 1.42 and shot what looks to be a new World Record for RFRO at 5.96 seconds.

 

 

As I headed to Roundabout, with this in mind as I stepped up to my 7th stage I knew I had to keep the car between the ditches to score strong. I tried to squeeze in just one last practice session Thursday night prior to leaving for the match. For some reason I have not felt comfortable shooting Roundabout. Well, the truth is I feel that I should be shooting it quicker than I have and I have been innately pushing my past my Edge and panic has been setting in. This practice session was probably the worst practice session I have had in three years. So, I shot a 85% run or so of 1.65 seconds and it felt good! Then, I said I am going to shoot just one run of 100% and see what I could do to push the pace. Needless to say, it was a trainwreck at 3.21 seconds. It was then I knew I had to coast this one in and go one for one then shooting a 1.81. Okay, now we are back to a comfortable highway speed I slowly pressed on the gas and shot a 1.72 and it seemed effortless. Well, just one more string and I can reload and head to the finish line so I opened the throttle and shot a 95% run at 1.62.

 

I did not know exactly where my time was at but suspected it was in the 64-65 range I knew I had to have a decent stage to contend for first place. I walked up to Five to Go with a lot going through my mind. Just one more strategy to determine how things were going to end up for me this year. I decided to push the pace on the first string with the sun cresting between the 4th plate and the stop plate. Well, with three make-up shots and scoring a 2.82 was not what I had seen in my mind’s eye. I then calmly reset and shot a 90% string of 2.08. Now I have my confidence back in what I was seeing I said out loud, now I just have to do that again. Uncanny enough it was another 2.08. I then may a calculated risk to push a 100% sub 2 second run to have a shot at taking the title because I knew it was going to be that close and I had two make-up shots with a miss. For the last string of fire at the match I knew I was not going to go ultra conservative and shot my best time of the stage of 2.06 for a total of 9.04.

 

When everything was tallied I had shot a new personal best time in RFRO of 65.45 seconds. To reach this level of personal accomplishment at the largest Steel Challenge Match ever attended was a very humbling experience. This time ended up earning me a 4th Place finish overall which is something I am very proud of. Admittedly, I have had thoughts about just one less miss, just one less pickup shot, just one better stage management plan… But, my focus has changed to just one plan to be the first to shoot sub 60!

See you out on the range soon!

 

Steve

 

 

It seems too daunting

A couple of weeks ago my wife suggested we should ‘refresh’ the front of our house because some of the shrubs were overgrown.  Without thinking through the endeavor ahead of time, I said ‘yes dear’ and somehow it was at this moment I thought to myself what have I gotten into?!  The very next day, as I was getting ready for work, I found a Bob Ross looking sketch of the front of our house with our new landscaping plan.  I am still not sure how long this took her to draw, but I admit, it looked great.  Shortly after admiring the sketch I asked her who was going to do all of this work, those famous words came out of my wife’s mouth, “Sweat Equity”.  

 

I am not sure if any of you have actually tried to dig out a 15 year old juniper ground cover that has had an abundance of water over the years, but I had finally met my match.  The trunk of each of the shrubs was a full foot in diameter.  After an hour with a shovel and a pick axe and little progress from claiming my first trophy, I decided I had enough.  I grabbed a 30′ chain and my trusty Dodge Ram and decided to justify my manhood.  With two wraps of the steel chain and a slight pressing of the long pedal, the first one popped out.  This process proceeded to go on for anywhere between one to a couple hours a day for three weeks!  I lost count after 40 shrubs were yanked from the Georgia clay.  Somehow we left only four shrubs as a gentle reminder of where we started this mission.  

 

After five weeks from start to finish we put in the work necessary to get the desired results.  Some of the best shooting performances I have had lately have been a direct result from putting in the work, a little bit every day when I can spare a few moments. A year ago, if you would have asked me if I would shoot in the mid 60’s, I would have said it was not possible.  If someone asked me if someone could shoot Rimfire Rifle in the low 60s I would have said highly likely.  Just like the landscaping at the front of my house, what seemed to have been a daunting task took a little bit of work every day.  Before I knew it, I had reached my goal.  At risk of sharing the ‘secret’ to success, you have to get up and work at it a little bit every day.  If you are not, someone else is going to be at the top.

 

As I share this insight with you, keep in mind what your priorities are.  Life is short, keep your goals in sight, and work hard to get to where your potential will take you!

 

See you out on the range soon!

 

Steve 

 

 

Even the best of us needs some support…

I recall the moment as if it were yesterday. My brother, 6 at the time, and I was 4 years old. We grew up in the country and for some reason there was an abundance of left over wood from restoration projects. The benefits of growing up in a house that was always under construction. My ingenious brother always had some great ideas, at least to the 4 year old me. When he presented me with his greatest idea ever, I was all in. He said that we needed to create a fort made out of some left over lumber and doors. We were far from structural engineers, but we did not let this slow us down! Still, not sure where to this day, we scrounged up a hammer and some nails. I can still feel the first hit of the hammer on my left thumb. We assembled a cool looking structure, it was our first fort! The structure was very simplistic in design, it looked like a cuboid but without the two ends because we needed a way to get in and out of the fort. Our test of the structural rigidity was a gentle push with two hands as we have seen in movies, think Top Gun and bathroom scene. OK, now that we ‘proved’ the fort was solid, time to enjoy.

 

There was a light rain outside so I decided to take advantage of our new proud accomplishment and took a seat inside. I called for my brother and he said that he was going to stand on top of it. Even at a young age I had an astuteness for the obvious. When I heard those words I ran out of the fort to see what was happening. As soon as I exited our structural feat there was a loud bang and my brother was on top of what used to be our fort. Now, it was a pile of rubble made up of doors and spare lumber. If I did not get out as swiftly as I did, my brother would have become an only child!

 

It is interesting how life lessons have a way of applying to the fundamentals of shooting. I was out on the range a couple of weeks ago and I remembered the concept of the fort and why it met its demise, there was not lateral support. As a right handed shooter, below is my form from three different vantage points.

 

One of the things I noticed shooting Five to Go is I was waiting on the gun to settle a little on plate #3 and plate #4. When you are trying to shoot sub 2 seconds with a rifle, every tenth of a second counts. I modified my form to the below.

What I quickly found is the gun was far more stable at speed with a little bit more lateral support. Give it a shot the next time out on the range!

See you out on the range soon!

Steve

Here goes everything…

Have you ever had that moment in life where you push all of your chips in, you gamble on it all and hope it pays off?  Well, it is tempting to do in the shooting world.  This past weekend, I reached a milestone in my shooting career winning my 60thcareer major win at the 2019 Georgia State Steel Championship.  There were competitors from all over the US from at least 10 states.  At 321 entries, it will undoubtedly be one of the largest, if not the largest, level II Steel Challenge match in the country this year.  It was not long ago shooting below a 70 second time in any division was rare and a feat to be seen.  At this match, there were 7 entries shot under this watermark.  

 

As we entered the final day, a 66.25 was posted in the Rimfire Rifle Open division.  We have seen some times such as this in the past, but for a level II match it has been scarce to see this low of a time.  This time put me immediately into a defensive position, and I started questioning how I was ever going to shoot anything close to this time. I have never shot below a 67 at a major match and how could I possibly make a run at it?  I just put in a new trigger, from Powder River Precision, in my Tactical Solutions Xring and did some light testing the week before.  I had to come up with a game plan.

 

I could not remember where I squadded to start the last session of the match, and when I found out it was Smoke and Hope I was concerned.  I was concerned that I was either going to have a shot at a great match or I was going to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out.  After all, I felt more prepared this match than any other in the past by shooting six of the last seven days.  As I arrived to the shooters box, I had a level of uneasiness I have not felt in a while.  Then suddenly a calming sensation came over me as the ‘Make Ready’ command was given. I took my dry sight picture going through the stage fast but yet controlled.  I saw my Vortex Razor on every plate with a slight jerking motion of the optic as I often do when I push my limits of how fast I can shoot.  I vaguely remember the buzzer going off and the final shot went off, and it was quiet.  I then heard the time: 1.22.  I then realized I was in the zone, and my subconscious took over.  I can’t even recall seeing the dot on any one of the plates, but I did see a shot in the middle of the stop plate.

 

I proceeded to change mags and prepare for my next string of fire.  The buzzer went off again, but I forced the stop plate. I cannot recall if there was one or two make-up shots on the stop plate and a 1.64 was called out. I could hear some chatter from the gallery.  I quickly blocked out the background noise and prepared for my third string.  As I did, I reminded myself to let my training set in and to let it go—here goes everything.  As I pulled the last shot, my audible senses erupted and I heard a 1.20 and people talking in the background again.  A small adrenaline rush came over me, and I allowed it to subside and told myself.  I needed to do this one more time to have the fastest stage time I have ever shot.  Everything became very quiet… a familiar RO voice said ‘are you ready’ and then ‘standby’.  At this moment it felt as though everything around me disappeared, and the only thing I could hear was in my own mind. I heard the ‘b’ in beep of the timer, and I was on the first plate.  It was over. The sound rushed back and a 1.19 was called out.  I was confident I did not stop on any plate. I don’t recall seeing the stop plate, but I did see a 4thmark on the plate at 2 O’Clock where half of the .22 ELEY bullet had made a distinct impact.  I had done it, I shot 5.25 on Smoke and Hope!

 

As a good friend once told me, in order to achieve results you have never seen, you have to do things you have never have done.  I have never taken this type of risk before at a major match.  Not sure I will again, but sometimes you have to get outside your comfort zone and say ‘Here goes everything..’  This time it resulted in a personal best and one of the fastest times ever shot in the Rimfire Rifle Open division of a major match 65.69.

 

See you out on the range soon


Steve

 

Sponsorship to Brand Ambassador; insight from both sides of the fence.

As a shooter, sponsorship is one of the most sought after accomplishments in the shooting sports.  There is a sense of pride, legitimacy, and, if you are fortunate, a close-knit shooting family.  Some people look for sponsorship from companies for ‘free stuff’.  This is the complete wrong approach to working with a company.  Product and goods and services are a business cost to an organization.  Marketing personnel look to sponsor matches and people to increase awareness of their product offering and increase sales.  Occasionally, there are sponsorship decisions made to enhance company image or because they want to give back to the community so future generations can share and love our second amendment rights.

Where do these relationships go wrong?  There are no real surprises here:  just like any relationship, unmet expectations and lack of follow-through are usually at the core of the root cause.  This is why you see more and more contracts in the shooting industry between companies and shooters.  Unfortunately, these individuals make it more challenging for shooters who do fulfill commitment to obtain additional sponsorship.  Once bitten twice shy.  In my opinion, this is why we have seen the jargon change from sponsorship – implying a one way street to Brand Ambassador – implying you are a reflection of the company and ‘work’  for them in exchange for discounted product, free product, and possibly include other forms of compensation.

Let’s first look at Brand Ambassadors from a company perspective.  The reality is the majority of well known Brand Ambassadors in the sport are the best shooters in the world.  If you look at the top athletes in USPSA, most are company employees.  If you attend a level II match, you will see 75-85% of the competitors with a jersey on with logos from many companies.  The majority of these companies are providing discounts or free product to these shooters.  Some will say that discounts are not really giving money to a shooter, but they certainly are.  The shooter would have purchased the equipment anyway the majority of the time. At a minimum, the discount erodes margin from the bottom line of the organization.

Selecting these athletes is a carefully managed task.  One wrong move can have an adverse impact on the organization and lost sales.  As a Team Captain, I look for the following:

What market is the person in and do I have representation there already?
Are they established in the sport?
Are they on the podium?  (Not essential but a team needs a variety of talent.)
How many matches do they shoot, both local and major matches?
What is their reputation in the sport?
What is their social media presence?  What platforms?  Followers? Engagement? Reach?
What have they done for other companies? How do they give back?
And most importantly, are they approachable, relatable, and able to talk about the product?

The last three are the most important in the industry today.

As a company, you have to have a person who manages the team.  This person needs to help set expectations, offer direction, and help answer questions.  If you do not have expectations for your Brand Ambassadors, how do you ever expect them to meet them?  If you need content, ask!  We are in a digital age and everyone has a phone with a camera. This is the content your customers want to see.  It is one thing to hear the ‘corporate’ opinion, but customers want to hear from people who are actually applying your product or service.

The sport is filled with people from all different types of careers and employment.  Never assume your Ambassadors know what to do or how to handle questions about your product. This is your responsibility to train them. As with any company, the people are the greatest asset!  Train them to be the best!  If you have a great product, you need people to talk about it with people at the range, trade shows, etc.  People in sales have been using the next technique for years… let people try it!

The last point I would like to make, based on my experience, is streamline your method of communication.  The best resource I have found is to create a “group” on social media for your team and share important updates, product launches, recognition.  This helps create community, and it can help leverage your message.  Recently, I created a video which would have netted 250-500 views, but leveraging the team brought in over 4k views through sharing on their page(s)!

Now, let’s talk a bit about the shooter.
Just don’t take any sponsorship, if you don’t believe in the product, you will never be able to share it’s benefits to others. If you don’t believe in the product, how will you be able to develop a relationship with the company?  Don’t try to make it work for the sake of wearing a logo; those relationships don’t seem to work out in the long run.

The company you are working with has laid out some expectations. Your goal as a shooter is not to do just the minimum, it’s to bring value! If you are doing something with another company which yields results, try it! Mention it! Do it!  Outside of portraying a message to the fellow shooters, tell the company what people are saying. You owe it to the organization to give your all and help it grow.

Winning by itself is not enough anymore.  You need to stand out.  I met with a company at Shot Show, and we talked about how ineffective it is to wear a logo on a jersey.  They find zero value in it.  They have a product which is crossing many disciplines. Wearing a logo at a local match is not going to drive sales: social media is.  There is not a playbook for social media.  What I will offer is even though you don’t have all the answers, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Sometime you just have to kick the ball down the field.  See what your peers are doing and see what works.  You will find your way.  If you are not out on Facebook or Instagram, I would certainly start there.

As a company, what are you going to do different?  As a Brand Ambassador, what are you going to do different?  If you don’t change anything, nothing will change.

 

My intent over the past several minutes was to spur thought and initiate dialogue which will  hopefully lead to action.
See you out on the range soon!

Steve