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Kids and Guns: Four Reasons to Start Competitive Shooting

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Instructor Tommy Thacker working with junior shooter RJ Breese on the principles of shooting long range rifle. (Photo Credit: Todd Overland)

Introduction

On the surface, competitive shooting looks like it’s just about having fun and putting lead down range, but there are many, to use a popular phrase in schools around the country, “teachable moments” in shooting sports!

Lessons on time management, critical thinking, independent learning, dealing with peer pressure, functioning under stress, and learning what it takes to make things happen “in the real world” are all taught in competitive shooting, which is why it is so perfect for youngsters.

With that in mind, here are four reasons to get your kids shooting competitively.

The Kids and Guns Series

1. Learning From Failure

A hit on a steel target at 400 yards doesn’t lie, nor does a miss. The shooter knows right away whether he or she was successful.  That’s one of the great advantages of shooting sports.  Instant feedback.

When you fail in shooting sports, you know it.  Plus, scores are kept for a reason.  To separate winners from losers.  For whatever reason, we’ve moved away from distinguishing between winners and losers in our schools.  Nowadays, everyone’s a winner.  Everyone gets a trophy simply for participating.

Another way that shooting empowers youth is that with engaging instruction, kids learn that hurdles and challenges are things they can overcome and master, and they can take that positive experience to other parts of their lives. Here instructor Ashley Rheuark helps Gracie S. with her pistol skills.

As psychologists Lipkin & Perrymore have suggested in their book on Generation Y, the “everybody’s a winner” ethos is problematic because it inhibits a student’s productivity, personal drive and ability to cope when things don’t go their way.  In a nutshell, it is creating a generation of wussies!

The beautiful thing about getting children involved in shooting sports is that they will fail.  They will lose.  And they will know it.

But that failure is where the growth comes from.  From being accountable for the results, from comparing yourself to standards, from seeing where you fell short and where you need to put in more effort.  It’s the best way to learn and achieve in life.

As Churchill famously quipped, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

2. Tough Competition

One of the things I love about competitive shooting is that it doesn’t treat kids like children. Kids compete against the “grown-ups.” Not fair?  Neither is life.

Shooting teaches them to take on a challenge that others would give them permission to give up on because “it’s not fair” or “it’s not a level playing field” and to embrace it and figure out ways to solve the problem.  It teaches kids to really gut it out, to push forward despite all obstacles.

Interacting with adults as well as shooters of all ages and abilities – a very diverse peer group – is one of the great perks of competitive shooting. (Photo Credit: Todd Overland)

I’ve seen young shooters emotional because while their heart is there, their bodies are not.  One stands out because his kid-sized body was telling him, “Dude, let’s be realistic here!” as he hefted his rifle after running 50 yards shooting pistol and shotgun.  But he had fight in him.

And that is really what a parent hopes a child learns from his or her sport. Grit and determination.  Enough fight to see them overcome the difficult things in life, enough spirit to say, “Not today.” If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, Google that one – best kid character in a long while there – Aria.   Definitely not a show for kids, but as adults, we can recognize the tenacity, wit, and persistence that helped her literally survive to live another day.

Competitive shooting creates opportunities for kids to realize there’s always another day, another perspective, another way to tackle something and it teaches them to do that in real time against stiff competition, with people watching, sometimes shouting range commands and correcting them as they take correction on the fly.  It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

3. Learning from the Best

One of the best aspects of competitive shooting is that it’s a small, close-knit community.  Compare it to other sports, like soccer or baseball, and one gets a sense of just how tight everyone is.  For example, when’s the last time you saw Michael Jordan or LeBron James teaching children at an NBA game?

That’s what I thought. Unless it’s a staged event to promote Coca-Cola or Ford or one of the big NBA advertisers, it doesn’t happen.

Instruction from professionals is something that you don’t find in other sports to the same degree we see in competitive shooting.

Meanwhile, the legends of our sport, e.g. Jerry Miculek, Max Michel, can be found instructing and talking to little people on the range all the time.  Why is that?

This outreach springs from the recognition that it is our duty to help the newbies.  See, our sport is more than just a sport, it’s an expression of our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  It’s a celebration of the Second Amendment.  Beyond the fun and the competition, shooting instills a firm sense of what it means to live free and what it takes to defend that freedom.

So, while it’s okay for your kids to look up to NBA players, you should know that there are athletes in shooting sports who may not be as rich or as famous as M.J. or King James, but they are every bit the role model.  Pro shooters really care.  Not just about the sport, but about our history, our Constitution, and the preservation of our fundamental rights and freedoms.  I don’t know about you, but those are the kind of people I want my children hanging around with and learning from.

4. Quality Time and Heavy Stuff

As parents, as a family, you’re free to sign little Bobby and Suzy up for whatever sport you want.  My boys have competed in swim team, triathlons, wrestling, running, Tae Kwan Do, and more types of shooting and hunting than I have room to list.

The beauty about getting involved in shooting sports is that you really get to see the good old US of A because the matches are spread across the country.  On the way to matches, we’ve seen more National Parks, Monuments, and Battlefields than most people would ever try to see.  We’ve slept in the car together, braved storms, shared stories, sang songs, and pushed through to make it home to work, and our children have seen that even the fun things in life have to be balanced with work.

Freedom is balanced with sacrifice, we can’t play unless we can pay the bills.  We can’t win unless we put in work training.  These are more life skills that kids need to see in action.

Best Competitions For Your Kids?

Summer shooting camps, like 2A Heritage 3 Gun Camp, offer youth shooters opportunities to learn about competition skills and firearms safety under professional supervision. (Photo Credit: Todd Overland)

The best place to start looking for competitions is online. Start with local matches, league nights, maybe a Steel Challenge match, a smallbore or air rifle league, or a USPSA league night.

Find a relaxed-paced event to dip their toe in safely, and then let them run.  USPSA and IDPA have such vast rule books that competitors from other disciplines make fun of them, but starting in one of those disciplines is ideal for that very reason.  Those rules not only make one a disciplined shooter but a responsible and safe shooter as well.

There are also junior camps for introducing kids to shooting competition.  From pistol only to 3 Gun, to trap and skeet camps, there are many options for youngsters to find a niche they fit in.  There is 2A Heritage Junior Camp, MGM Targets Junior Camp, USPSA‘s junior program, high school trap and skeet programs, Izaak Walton League and other youth programs that cater to the kids.

Whatever you decide, just go do it!  Start local, have them bring a friend, and odds are, they’ll find a sport and people they genuinely enjoy and want to be around for decades to come.

Conclusion

We are often asked if our boys love getting up at the crack of dawn to spend two days in a car en route to a match.  The answer is “NO!” We don’t always like mornings, we don’t always like the work and research that goes into accomplishing our goals, but you have to put in the time to get what you want.

Hard work, sacrifice, and commitment are necessary if you want to succeed in competitive shooting.  Nothing comes easy.  Nothing comes free.  Nothing is handed over.  You need to learn from failure, you need to learn to gut it out when the going gets tough.  Those lessons and the quality time with the family will help your kids succeed not just in the sport, but in life.

I can’t think of a better discipline for children, can you?

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Kb31416 April 9, 2017, 7:35 pm

    Many state rifle associations have junior high power programs. Illinois has the Hard Dogs, and of all places, California has the Grizzlies. Several years ago, the Grizzlies won the National Trophy Infantry Team match at the national matches at Camp Perry, beating every other team, including all of the service teams.
    It is truly inspiring to see teenagers shooting their personal AR15s at 600 yards.

  • Paul O hicks April 7, 2017, 12:52 pm

    The Cowboy Fast Draw Association teaches you people all about safety, skill, and competition. Young people should look up the site on the internet and contact their respective group. A lot of fun and knowledge.

    • Becky Yackley April 9, 2017, 12:30 am

      Thanks Paul! Another good organization sharing their love of the 2nd Amendment and American heritage with kids!

  • LIVIT April 7, 2017, 6:39 am

    Becky and Tanya well done ladies, good to see ya here. NA another statistic for the uniformed. Most children who are injured or killed “accidentally” with one of those “deadly weapons” are children who have never been exposed or taught about how dangerous a supposedly unloaded weapon is. Those adults and children involved in the shooting sports have a better understanding of the dangers if not handled properly than you and the other uninformed ever will. I work in Law Enforcement and have seen first hand the stupidity of the uninformed.

    • Becky Yackley April 9, 2017, 12:35 am

      Livit, Agreed! Education is really the hurdle so many face in understanding firearms. They’ve been taught to fear, but not educated about what firearms are for. We education kids about motor vehicles, swimming pools…teach them not to stick forks into electric outlets or play in the highway. Guns are statistically less dangerous than cars, but we allow 16 year olds to operate one without an adult present. And people who are uneducated will have misguided fears as long as they only hear one side of the story. Firearms education in schools would definitely help this situation!

  • RCinTX April 5, 2017, 10:49 pm

    “Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, to teach the young idea how to shoot” James Thompson 1700 – 1748

  • NA April 5, 2017, 10:34 am

    Teaching children to “have fun” with deadly weapons is not normal.
    There is something wrong with adults who do this.
    I don’t think these adults really understand the concept of “deadly.”
    They shouldn’t be around children.

  • Tanya Stewart April 4, 2017, 11:20 am

    Amazing article Becky…and SOOOOO true!

    • Becky Yackley April 4, 2017, 9:50 pm

      Thanks Tanya! And thanks for what your family does to promote shooting sports too!

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