Checking on progress with the RIKA

So tonight became a session with the RIKA to check to see (objectively) how the hold has improved, with some nice results.

Started off a bit late as work ran on, got into the kit, hooked up the RIKA and started dry-firing to get settled, then some warm-up shots to cernter myself, then fired some calibration shots for the RIKA:

RIKA Calibration shots

Then we covered the screen of the RIKA (so I wouldn’t be distracted) and shot a few ten-shot strings:

RIKA String 1

My head was *not* in the game for that one 🙂 Took a few minutes, centered myself a little, and continued on:

RIKA String 2

And of course the RIKA didn’t capture that string properly (for some reason the software only recorded seven of the ten shots). So back to the line and put in another ten:

RIKA String 3

Not as good as the second string, but it did turn out to be instructive – you can clearly tell on the RIKA trace that that 7 is from the trigger, not the hold:

You can also see from comparing with earlier RIKA traces that the hold has gotten much, much better. For example, this was last night:

RIKA Trace Composite 18.08.11

Okay, it’s a bit easier to see with just the trace from a single shot. So here’s a single average shot from last night:

RIKA Trace x-y graph

And here’s one from three months ago:

RIKA Trace x-y graph from 25.05.11

The amplitude of the vertical wobble is about the same, but the left-right wobble is much less and so is the drift (the longer-term wobble caused by sway and other large position problems) – and that earlier graph was the best I could find from that session, but the one from last night was average – there were better ones than that last night:

RIKA Trace x-y graph

I mean, that’s nearly textbook, right there. Now, to get that to happen every time…. 🙂

MQS 2 – this time it’s not a fluke

Back to training after the UCD August Open, and started with Matt and I having a talk about what went wrong in the Open. With the few days rest between the Open and tonight, there was a bit of perspective and we both came to the conclusion that while there are still small technical things to work on (like my trigger finger alignment), the main problem is a complete lack of proper mental preperation for the match.

Thing is, y’see, we’ve never really worked on mental prep before. Logistical planning for matches, yes; technical training, intensively yes; physical training yes; but mental training is the next thing for us to learn how to train in. When I started shooting air back in ’98, we didn’t know how to train people to shoot properly. Safely, yes – we weren’t exactly lax in the safety department at any time – but we just didn’t know how to train people. We’d show them the rifle, show them how to safely shoot, and then just let them repeat that until they got good or went home. We practiced, we didn’t train, and there is a very significant difference. Some individual shooters would go off and get coaching from outside the country, but that rarely works, if ever. At the time, we had a contract with a coach who’d come over to train the national squad once every 4-6 weeks, and he went blue in the face saying this over and again – you can’t train properly through this “masterclass” approach. You need to have your coach there on a far more regular basis, to see you progress, to see the failures, to see you under pressure and relaxed, and to figure out what route is the fastest from where you are to where you want to go.

Dirty little secret in target shooting – while good kit is important, you gain more points per euro spent if you spend the euro on good coaching than on any other possible outlay.

Which is why people drive hundreds of kilometres to get to WTSC – it’s not the range, it’s Matt and Geoff’s coaching.

However, we’ve spent the last decade going from not knowing how to train to knowing how to train physically and technically and how to do logistics; how to train mentally has always been the next step to take, but until now, we’ve never really been ready to take it. Now, we are, and now we’re taking that step. That’s going to be the next phase of training for me and Paul and Ashling and all the other WTSC shooters.

Though we will be fixing my trigger finger alignment too 😀

Anyway, after that rather productive chat, I kitted out and we just started shooting. Nothing specific, just shoot so Matt could watch the trigger finger again. Almost immediately, I could tell the difference between Sunday and tonight – my hips weren’t moving as much when they came forward at the start of the shot routine, and I noticed that that DURC dance (face the wall, hips square to the wall, then swing your hips from left to right repeatedly. It ain’t catchy, but every DURC airgun shooter seems to do it…) wasn’t happening because I was naturally moving my hip right slightly to load and then left properly to mount the rifle. In UCD, I’d had trouble with that – perhaps my stand wasn’t as well placed as I’d thought.

Some dry-firing to start, and after 20 mins or so, ten shots to check the sights:


Matt didn’t say anything, so I just kept on shooting, but I kicked it over into the first string because I’d moved the sights and wanted a clean target.

String 1
String 1
String 2
String 2

Matt still hadn’t said anything by this stage and I just figured what the hell, I’d shoot a match. Wasn’t planned or anything, and it didn’t feel like my position was as rock-solid as I’d like, but I wanted a baseline after Sunday’s mess.

String 3
String 3
String 4
String 4

At this point I had to take a short break for five minutes – my right knee was in a fair amount of pain (I couldn’t bend it) and my feet were going numb. Unfortunately, this was the point where I noticed the score, and between that and the physical fun, things just went downhill fast…

String 5
String 5

And at this point, I’m thinking “Feck. Just shoot another 95/96 here and I’m looking at a new PB in the mid-70s” which is of course, the stupidest thing in the world to be thinking. It wasn’t helping that my knee was now telling me that it was formally considering seceding from the rest of me and filing for independent recognition with the UN on the grounds of inhumane treatment (I hyperextended that joint rather badly a few years back and it’s never really forgotten or forgiven me for that). The next nine shots got progressively harder and more disappointing, and the tenth was pretty much everything I had to give…

String 6
String 6

So there we go. Another MQS, under rather imperfect circumstances physically. Kindof proves Matt’s point – I was far more rested and in far less pain on Sunday, but my head wasn’t relaxed and centered and so my performance was dire; tonight I was in agony at the end, hungry and tired after a long day of work, and I still managed a 70 despite two tail-end strings that were ridiculously bad.

Talking about it with Matt afterwards, we both agree that even with the ridiculously bad suit and shoes I’m using now, there’s a 580 there for the taking. Going over the actual shots and looking at the scores, there’s a good six or seven 9.9/9.8 type shots that just squeaked out, and an 8.9 at the start – that’s not even counting the falling apart shots in the last strings. So there’s a new goal – get that 580 in the current suit. Once I do that, and change up to a proper new suit, well, that should be another few points of a jump 🙂

So bring on the mental training!

UCD August Airgun Open 2011

First match since the holiday and the rust is showing…

UCD August Airgun Open 2011
UCD August Airgun Open 2011

My balance was all over the place, and things just refused to settle down. Anxiety levels were high, but it’s that annoying kind of anxiety that you can’t see as anxiety when it’s happening; think of it as just a generally heightened level of mental tension rather than anything specific – like the way you sometimes realise your shoulders are so tense that they’re touching your earlobes, but you didn’t have any one specific muscle in pain?

The sight picture problem from the July Open was completely gone though, thanks to the efforts of the UCD folk who spent the morning installing new lighting, and to moving to a new firing point (the ones in the center have more ambient lighting than the ones at either end because of the difficulty in mounting lights safely downrange). So that was a welcome relief, but it did just highlight the poor hold in the position 🙁

End result was that despite good logistical prep, despite decent time management, despite taking a break to talk with Matt and Geoff half-way through, despite lots of dry-firing and settling at the start, things just refused to calm down and settle into place the way they’ve done in training.

UCD August Airgun Open 2011

UCD August Airgun Open (Relay 1) 2011
UCD August Airgun Open (Relay 1) 2011

Matt says it’ll come, and so does everyone else, and I know they’re right – it’s just that knowing it’ll happen doesn’t make waiting for it any easier 😀

On the upside, Ashling set a brand new PB of 375 (that’s the ladies MQS, which is a nice result after such a short stint of training with Matt), and Paul blew everyone away with a new PB of 589 (up from 577 in less than a month – proof that it does come when you train long enough…) And Emma is coming back to training as well, and will be coming out to WTSC to train with us on Friday nights, so the WTSC gang is getting better and getting bigger again, which is nice to see after a few years of a lull…

The gripping hand…

Last night’s training was a bit of an exercise in knock-on effects and chaos theory in a way. Matt had noticed a while back that my trigger finger alignment with the trigger is just completely awful, with the finger coming in on the trigger at a significant angle instead of coming in onto it so that the finger is at right angles to the trigger shoe, which – for those readers who don’t already know – can cause you to flick shots out of the ten and into the nine when pulling the trigger.

So tonight, Matt moved my pistol grip, rotating it so that instead of it being vertical relative to the rifle when sitting on the bench, it was vertical when the rifle was in position (so it’s canted over to the left side of the rifle by 10-15 degrees or so). The effect on the trigger finger was perfect – right angles to the shoe naturally. But the effect on the rest of the position was enormous – suddenly everything felt off and I had no confidence in the rifle’s stability and it felt like the rifle itself had physically broken at the pistol grip. End result was a looser group despite the better triggering. So we unwound the change and went back to the old setup for the moment (we’ll have to fix this eventually, but there’s a match in UCD on Sunday so breaking stuff now would just do more harm than good).

After resetting the change, the groups came back to normal:

Final practice group

Back to training…

Took a fortnight off training over the last two weeks (and time off work for a holiday as well), mainly to catch up on sleep – my training schedule was seeing me leaving WTSC so late that I wasn’t getting home till after midnight on a work day, which isn’t the best thing in the world for your sleep cycle or your health. So after a week of sleeping a *lot* to catch up, and another week of general R&R, it was time to go back to the range.

I was expecting much rust, and there was some – but less than I was worried there might be. The position Matt, Geoff and I have built up over the last while is a fairly solid one both physically and technically, and getting back into it was a short half-hour of stretching and dry-firing. I switched over to live firing at that point, but everything was a bit loose. I hadn’t noticed (though Matt spotted it quickly) that my cheekpiece was now too low by a few mm; easily fixed. The grouping was still a bit loose though.

Matt stopped me shooting at that point, seeing how I wasn’t settling, and we spent a few minutes talking through my mental game and my approach to the shot. I spent a few minutes visualising and working on my mindset (well, not exactly mindset, but English has a desperately inadequate vocabulary for describing mental processes), and once I had found my place again mentally, shot ten shots:

Training series

Not a bad result. The 9.7 was a technical error (sight alignment was off but I didn’t spot it at the time), and the 8.7 was my one flier (probably to do with the sight alignment as well, but I’m not sure). The rest were quite solid shots though, so I’m happy enough with that. We’re going to continue working on the mental approach as our main task for the next while; if I can physically shoot like this in a crappy ill-fitting jacket and trousers and old boots, then the problems I’m having in matches aren’t to do with my position, but to do with my mental state.

And possibly my sight alignment on UCD’s range because it’s not really all that well-lit at the targets so you can get an asymmetric sight picture that makes sight alignment a pain in the neck (but I have a technical gadget-based solution to that in mind for later this month…)