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American Handgunner March/April 2010 - Page 44
BETTERSHOOTING aSSocIaTE WITh WINNErS W ant to be a better shot? Hang out with good shooters. Practice with good shooters. If I had a young shooter to train, the first thing I’d look for is tough competition. Back in 1983 Rob Leatham, then 22 years old, came seemingly out of nowhere to win the US Nationals. Of course even though he wasn’t known nationally at the time he really didn’t just suddenly appear and start winning. He had already been competing at a high level for several years, mainly against shooting partner Brian Enos. Leatham and Enos spent virtually all their free time training. If they weren’t reloading they were shooting, and when it got too dark to shoot they’d find a coffee shop and talk shooting. They took nothing for granted. Every shooting technique or theory was tested. It made no difference if some technique or stance had been used by a previous champion. Arizona then (as now) had a lot of really good shooters. By 1981 Enos and Leatham were trading wins, finishing one-two in every match. Brian told me, “Some time in 1982 Rob seemed to take it up a notch. I just couldn’t beat him anymore. He totally dominated in competition. He didn’t just win every match — he won every stage of every match.” During the remainder of the 1980s Dave Anderson Jerry Barnhart (L) and Rob Leatham at the 1991 Steel Challenge shootoff. Shooters had to knock a can off a post, then draw and engage targets. Look how evenly they are matched. and early 1990s Enos won national titles at the Masters, the Bianchi Cup and the Steel Challenge. Leatham won Bianchi and the Steel Challenge in 1985, but concentrated on USPSA/IPSC shooting where his incredible record is unparalleled. Here he found another tough competitor — Jerry Barnhart. From 1983 through 1992 (the last year in which all firearm types competed together) Leatham and Barnhart dominated the Nationals. Some of their duels are legendary, with the margin of victory hanging on a single shot, a fraction of a second. It seemed they were competing in a world of their own. Over the tenyear span Leatham won six Nationals, Barnhart three. There was only one other champion, Todd Jarrett (1991). Shooters talk about how many titles Barnhart would have won if it hadn’t been for Leatham, or vice versa. Personally I think the rivalry between them was a major factor in their success. Leatham once told me (I’m paraphrasing), “There were lots of good shooters back then, and at every Nationals the odds were some of them would have trained and be prepared to win. But with Jerry there was never any doubt. I knew Jerry would be ready. I knew I’d have to train hard, be prepared physically and mentally. I knew I couldn’t slack off in Nice hats guys. Rob Leatham (L) and Jerry Barnhart dominated USPSA National matches for years. The intense competition between them made both better. This photo must be from the late 1980s as Jerry is still sponsored by Springfield Armory (he later moved to Colt). training, because Jerry wouldn’t. I’m sure Jerry was thinking the same thing. We made each other better.” I doubt Leatham and Barnhart ever trained together, except maybe for World Shoots. They lived in different parts of the country, plus they are very different personality types. But between them is a deep mutual respect, a shared knowledge of hard work and commitment, of knowing how it feels to do your best, win or lose. Maybe only Barnhart knows how great Leatham was in those days, and only Leatham knows how great Barnhart was. Not Book-Learned The Don’t equation hysical skills are best performed when they are so ingrained they become subconscious. The subconscious is learned by seeing and by doing. Ever teach a kid to ride a bicycle? You don’t say, “Here’s a good book on how to ride a bike.” You teach by showing how it’s done, then letting them try it. We see what we want done, and by repetition train the neural paths controlling the muscles until it becomes a subconscious skill. Here’s the thing about mental images — we don’t recognize negatives. The mind accepts whatever it sees or whatever pictures you compose for it. Suppose I tell you to think of a purple monkey in a tree eating green bananas. Or I do the opposite and say, whatever you do, don’t think of a purple monkey in a tree eating green bananas. In either case the mental picture is the same. 44 P W e might watch someone shoot and at a conscious level decide “good” or “bad” but the subconscious just watches. It pictures whatever it sees or whatever mental image we present to it. How many golfers have thought, “I don’t want to screw up. I don’t want to slice my drive into the lake.” The subconscious doesn’t get the “don’t” part. So we go to the tee with the image of failure firmly pictured in our mind, and the subconscious obediently carries out the steps required to hit the dreaded slice. If you’re going to watch other shooters, may as well watch ones who are good. Top shooters think differently in a lot of ways. Average shooters train at things they are already good at, doing things they like over and over. Top shooters work on things they still have to learn. Average shooters think “I can’t do that.” Top shooters think, “I can learn to do that.” Average shooters pack up and go home when weather conditions get tough. Top shooters think, here’s an opportunity to see how well I can shoot in the heat, or the cold, or the rain. When bad conditions occur in a match, and they will, top shooters know they’ve done it before. Top shooters don’t make excuses. Average shooters have their excuses made before the contest even begins. In shooting, or in golf, or in life, if you want to be a winner associate with winners. * WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • MARCH/APRIL2010