Thursday, February 10, 2005


Sometimes you meet people on the Internet that you would never get to know otherwise. Once in a great while, you can learn things from these New Friends.

My IP (as you may have noticed from my email address) is AOL.
This is both A Good Thing and A Bad Thing.

It's a Bad Thing because the browser sucks, when you're using it (as I do) as your IP and connecting via modem, the local phone lines is all-too-frequently overburdened, and it has some screwy features that I don't always like very much.

The Good Thing is that a LOT of people use AOL, and it's very easy to 'connect' with one another. The Instant Message (IM) thingie particularly is often abused by spammers who try to connect with you for the sole purpose of channelling your internet access to their money-making website. Frankly, I'm not terribly interested in seeing Hot Nekkid Teenage Girls and Their Farm Animals Lovers. If that's your bag, please don't waste your time and mine.

On the other hand, sometimes AOL denizens who know my SN (Screen Name) notice that I'm on-line, and take advantage of the opportunity to IM me. Usually, these are members of The Unofficial IPSC list. Usually, they're "Lurkers" -- people who don't typically post letters to The List. But often they have something to say, and even if they don't they are reaching out to share experiences, or just to say "howdy!"

For the past couple of weeks I have, from time to time, been IM'd by someone who I will refer to as Carl. He hasn't had a lot to say, just wanted to talk about IPSC, and seemed an agreeable sort of person.

Last night he IM'd me and announced that he was going to change his division. He had plans to get some new equipment to support the switch (I'm being deliberately vague here, as I will continue to do ... I don't want to embarass Carl) and I offered some light-hearted comments about the downfalls of his new chosen division.

He immediately changed his mind about switching divisions.

I asked him if he had discarded his grandious plans because of something I said. He admitted that was so.

"Carl, you can't live your life based on what the last person you talked to said! Why don't you decide what you want to do, and then just do THAT?"

We talked for a while more, and it turned out that Carl was in the 9th grade, and had just recently competed in one IPSC match. From the things he said, I gather that he enjoyed it.

We talked for a while, and he told me that his father, an experienced IPSC shooter, was taking him to IPSC matches and would continue to do so. Also, his uncle was an IPSC shooter (although he hadn't gone to a match for over a year). Both of these men had taken Carl to the range to learn the game, and finally his father had taken him to an actual match.

But Carl had a LOT of questions, and rather than discuss them with his father or his uncle, he was asking me -- a total stranger -- for advice.

I asked Carl how long he expected to continue shooting IPSC, and he replied "for as long as I live".

Wow. I can understand this, but I didn't understand why Carl wasn't asking these questions of someone in his family.

As it was revealed, his father seemed (to Carl) to be more interested in his own match performance than his son's, and Carl's uncle wasn't there.

We talked for a while about the concept of "mentoring" a new shooter. Carl understood some of the idea, saying that a Mentor was a knowledgeable person you respected. But he wasn't really sure who he should ask to mentor him. Finally, we decided that his father was the most viable candidate for the job, and that he (Carl) should discuss it with him in terms of being a "coach" rather than a "mentor".

We didn't get to complete our conversation, because it was a school night and Carl had to go to bed. (Well, so did I; I'm old, and need my rest) But something crystalized in my mind, and I would like to discuss it with you.

I've seen a lot of guys bring their sons, daughters, wives and sweethearts to pistol matches with the obvious intent of encouraging them to accept the sport as a "fun activity" which they could share.

It doesn't always work out that way. In fact, I brought my own son out after training him: my son competed in one match, wasn't terribly interested in competition shooting, and decided he would rather play DOOM on his Sony Playstation. Well, that's his choice. On the other hand, I brought my sweetie, SWMBO, to matches for THREE YEARS before she decided this was an 'okay' thing to do, and decided to learn how to shoot so she could share the weekends with me. I've talked about this before.

You never know when someone is going to catch the IPSC bug; the best you can do is to make the opportunity available to them, and if they like it (and if they like the people they meet there) they will come back again and again. If they don't like it, they won't. It's as simple as that.

But after your 'new shooter' decides that he (or she) likes it, you have an obligation to support them in their new activity. There are a lot of wrong ways to do that, and a few right ways. That's what I want to talk about.

Carl's situation was that he had a single introduction to the sport, and he loved it. But he wasn't getting the encouragement and support that he craved.

His experience is a bit different from other father/son pairs I've seen. (I'm using "father/son" as an example, but the comparisons apply to other relationship combinations.)

Usually, the father tries to 'coach' his son during the match. Worse, the father is standing on the sidelines, yelling such disparaging words as "You're Limp-Wristing the gun! Get a Grip!" This is embarassing to the new shooter, who is usually aware that he is having trouble and only wants to get through the stage so he can go hide for a while.

On the other extreme, you have the father who will not say a word to his son during a stage, and only offers condolences, if justified, after the stage has been completed. He will will ALWAYS encorage his son, carefully avoiding any hint of criticism. Most important, if the son wants advice during the match, he will ask his father.

Hmmmm ... on the one hand: disparaging words. On the other hand: encouragement. If you were a new shooter, which would YOU want to hear?

Sure, it's not a bad idea to walk the stage with your son (if you were in this situation) before his turn to shoot it, and perhaps point out some of the potential pitfalls. Understand that he usually won't LISTEN to you, but that's okay. Later, he will recall that you mentioned whatever it was that got him into trouble, and perhaps the next time he will pay closer attention to your 'comments'.

The most important thing is that you make this a fun experience. He may have thought he was going to set the world on fire, and it's not your job to disabuse him of this common conceit. Your job is to buy the gun and equipment, reload the ammunition, teach him the rules, get him to the match, pay the match fees, and then ... just shut the heck UP!

Eventually he will realize that he could use some advise, and when his lack of experience becomes painfully obvious to him, he will ASK you specific questions.

You can answer his questions, but don't assume that this gives you permission to dump every random thought that crosses your mind. Think 'laconic'. Tell him what he wants to know. If he wants more information, he'll ask another question.

The time for coaching is during practice. Oh yes, you will take him to the range between matches. You even get to suggest the outing. If he decides not to go, you go anyway.

It helps if you take another experienced shooter with you once in a while. New shooters will often listen to unsolicited advice from a third party which they will consider intrusive coming from their significant other (father, husband, boyfriend, whatever). That person should be someone who your son respects for his demonstrated skills. It's not that he respects your friend more than he respects you; it's just that he respects your friend in a different way. And your friend isn't as much an authority figure as you are; there's a reduced incitement to rebel against authority.

If your friend is willing to spend some time specifically devoted to coaching ... find someplace you have to be. Go to the bathroom, discover something wrong with your pistol that you want to check on over at the safety area. Any reasonable excuse you can conceive to move away, so you can't see or hear what's going on in that shooting bay, is perfectly acceptable. They don't want you hanging around. Deal with it.

The bottom line is that the father/spouse/boyfriend/whatever is the last person who should be coaching a new shooter. Give up some of your privileges for the sake of your son. Just get out of the way, whenever you can.

Eventually, your son will discover that you have a few good ideas as well, and you're not nearly as dumb as he thought you were.

You'll be the mentor, you'll gain respect for your mature ability to recognise your son's natural reluctance to look like a 'dork' in front of you, and you may even discover that you and your son are able to be natural friends.

It's not good when your son has to askInternet strangers for advice. You can do it all, and your son won't feel he has to go to outside the family for help, if you just take an interest ... but not TOO much.

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