Hobby versus Sport

Been pondering that distinction for a fair while now. Up to now, you see, I’ve not been much of a plinker. I did plink once, back before I got drafted/dragged onto the DURC committee years ago. From that point onwards, I’ve been pretty much solidly committed to competitive shooting and I tend to go all-in on these sort of things. I’m aware I’m not the statistical norm in this (or as others have more succintly put it, I’m odd and a bit of a dry s***e). And with the exception of the colours team two years ago, I’ve tried not to demand anyone else get my addiction (and for the colours team, to be fair, they were all volunteers and I was putting my life on hold for six months to train them – and the results they got were more than worth it).

But of late, I’ve been plinking again. I still shoot air rifle the old way, with budgets for equipment and training plans and all the necessary bits and pieces. But air pistol was never intended to be serious – I’m a 500-level shooter with a cheap IZH-46M pistol and I’m happy to keep on shooting like that and let it build up on its own – the idea was to learn stuff from air pistol to use in air rifle (trigger control, for example). It’s a hobby, not a sport. And to be honest, I don’t ever see it going beyond that point. I just don’t have the interest in it. The same could be said for smallbore pistol. Probably not for smallbore rifle, that was too challanging, but I’ve not had the chance to shoot it for two years now (though that’s going to change now I’m back in TCD).

Recently though – and this is what got me thinking – I’ve been mucking about with archery. Ewan Oughton was one of our members before he ran away to the US to write computer games, and he got a few of us interested in seeing if the archery side of the club could take off like the airgun side did. And recently we found a useful contact in the archery world to help us get up and running, and now Geoff and Jimmy have done their coaches courses in archery and Geoff’s stocked a few basic recurve bows (wooden risers, composite limbs, all basic beginners kit) in the shop, and a bunch of folks have been plinking away on 80cm faces at 10m outside the airgun range to get a feel for it. That’s definitely a hobby – I might buy a basic bow and kit in a month or three, but it’s just purely for a bit of craic during the summer with the warm evenings. And it’s a bit of fun to do this on your first day:

And I did a little better this weekend:

Although Geoff’s just much, much better at this sort of thing!

But here’s the thing that has surprised me – it’s definitely a hobby, but I know in my gut that if I’d found Olympic Archery before I found Olympic Target Shooting, I would never have gone into competitive shooting. It’s just too much work to get to the line in shooting compared to getting to the line in archery. You need licences, gun cabinets, thousands of euros of kit, the clubs have for years been very reluctant to publicise themselves so they’ve become closed shops with lots of in-fighting and hassle, and there’s never been organised coaching and training paths to take someone from newbie to competitor. That last bit is starting to change, it’s true, but I still cannot take a total newbie and say “turn up at such-and-such a place and such-and-such a time, there’s a course on for total newbies, it’s an hour a night on thursday evenings and lasts for X weeks and costs X euros and at the end you’ll have a competency certificate and your own shooting glove and we’ll have an information pack for you listing off your local clubs, the name of your local Firearms Officer and a letter from us to him saying you’re sound, and the names of local clubs, and we’ll put you in contact with them, and the next follow-on course is in X weeks time and we’d love to see you there, and here’s what we’ll be doing then”.

But in archery, you can do that (though you don’t need the stuff with the gardai which is a major advantage for them – it’s possible we might someday get to where every other EU state is and have airguns to seven joules deregulated as well, and if we do the sport will get much easier, but for now we’re stuck).

It’s a sobering thought that if one little thing had been different (if TCD had had an archery club – it’s the only college in Ireland without one), then something that you’ve poured so much of your life into for so long would never even had happened.

It’s a more sobering thought to wonder what it takes before what is a hobby becomes a sport. In twenty years, I’ll still be standing on a firing line somewheres – I know myself well enough to know that – but will it be an Anschutz 2002 in my hands or a PSE X-factor?

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