Deliberate Practice – How to Get Better at Anything, Such as Firearms Proficiency
Casual plinking is not deliberate practice and does not help obtain mastery.
Many people own and carry firearms believing the firearm itself is enough to take care of any situation the world may throw at them. Unfortunately, that is very false – and that’s something many people don’t want to accept. A firearm is most definitely a fantastic tool for self defense, but all tools require practice in order to use effectively. Sure, a jackhammer is better at breaking concrete than a sledge hammer, but it still takes practice to use a jackhammer to it’s maximum efficiency.
Owning and carrying a firearm is a huge responsibility, a responsibility a lot of people don’t take seriously. We need to practice with our tools in order to best use them should the worst happen and we need to use our firearm in self defense.
It is important to note, casual range sessions do not count as practice. Casual range sessions are fun and aren’t bad things, they simply don’t count as deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is critical to obtaining proficiency in a skill, let alone mastery.
Here are some scientifically proven ways to practice deliberately to obtain mastery.
Define success & drill deliberately
Setting goals is critical towards progressing towards proficiency. Without goals, time gets wasted on things that don’t help us towards our goals. Within the firearms world, goals can be easily defined such as consistent hits within the center ring at 20 yards, or achieving a sub one second draw time, or achieving a certain classification in a shooting competition format.
Plan, reflect, and take notes
When pursuing a college degree, students pick a specific degree and what classes they need to take to get that degree. They don’t just take random classes and hope they eventually get a degree. The same goes for the firearms world. After picking a goal, decide how you want to get there. What firearms classes do you want to take? What drills help you towards your goals? After each training session, take time to reflect and figure out what you are doing well and what you need to focus more in the next practice session.
Limit your sessions to focus
When it comes to practice, over practicing has significant diminishing returns. One hour of practice a day for a week is better than seven hours of practice in one day and no practice for the rest of the week. If one hour a day is too much for a busy lifestyle, go with fifteen minutes a day. If obtaining firearms proficiency is important to you, setting aside fifteen minutes a day is very doable. It’s even better to change what you practice between practice sessions. Instead of doing the same drill every day for a week, pick a different drill for each day of the week.
Maximize practice time
If you plan to practice for fifteen minutes a day, actually practice for those fifteen minutes. Unlocking the safe and setting up a practice area does not count towards actual practice. Only count dedicated practice towards practice time, and don’t let distractions throw off the practice. Going to a room with a closed door is a great way to keep distractions and interruptions away.
Track small intervals of improvement
Long term goals are very important to maintaining self accountability. But long term goals are useless without short term goals. If you have a goal of a sub one second draw time from concealment, that goal can take a long time to obtain if you’re just starting out. So instead work towards a sub three second draw time, then sub two second, then sub second and a half, then sub one second. Without short term goals, completing a difficult goal can seem impossible, and get discouraging quickly.
Emulate practice, not performance
If you watch professionals perform, they are incredible at what they do. It’s easy to watch world champion Jerry Michulek blast away and even break world records and get discouraged. Thoughts like “I can never get that good” are easy justifications to not even try. Jerry Michulek has been training hard for years, so don’t bother comparing yourself to people like him until you’ve also been training for years. Instead, watch how people practice and instead take queues from their practice sessions, rather than their performances.
Repetition makes perfect
To obtain mastery, scientists have concluded it takes years of practice and millions of repetitions to perfect an action. So don’t expect mastery after a month of practice, and don’t get discouraged if you’re not as good as Jerry Michulek after a year of practice. Keep working hard and eventually you’ll get there.
Remember, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing something incorrectly simply creates bad habits. Be careful and deliberate in practice sessions in order to obtain mastery.
This is where dry fire training is such a powerful access for practical pistol shooting. Training becomes free and can be done at home.
Routine is powerful
Practicing once a week for two weeks and then skipping for three weeks isn’t an ideal way to practice. During the break, skill will atrophy – particularly new skills you’re working on. Keep a consistent training schedule to achieve mastery.
Get a coach
All of this practice will mean nothing if you’ve been doing it wrong all of this time. Find a competent firearms instructor and go learn from them. While YouTube videos and other online resources are great ways to learn, they are no substitute for face to face coaching. A YouTube video cannot watch you and correct a handgun grip.
What’s your favorite deliberate practice technique?
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.