The old saying goes, “Those who cannot do teach.” While there may be some validity to that, when it comes to coaching others, some of the best shooting instructors are those who have not only done it, but done it well. Consider professional sports leagues like the NFL and the NBA. Many of the most successful coaches are those who excelled in the sport when they were younger.
When we are talking about the shooting sports whether it involves rifle, handgun, or shotgun one of the greatest ways to give back to the sport you love is to be an instructor or coach for up and coming shooters. I know in the precision marksmanship game, the coach is an essential figure and factors heavily into the success of the individual.
Even the greatest athletes in the world have coaches. The coach is the one who catches those minute errors that you don’t realize you are making. The coach encourages you and helps your “keep your head in the game”. And, occasionally, the coach is the one who puts his foot in your backside to get you back on track.
Nearly twenty years ago I became a Rifle and Pistol Marksmanship Coach when I was in U.S. Marines. I was honored to be chosen amongst a group of expert riflemen for this duty. The Marine Corps has understood for decades that in addition to the Primary Marksmanship Instructor, the coach is a necessary member of the team.
Though my active-duty career is long over, today I am working with the next generation of American servicemen and women to improve their marksmanship skills and in a roundabout way show them how to become coaches for their brothers in arms. While being a good coach is largely cerebral in nature, there is also a gear factor that can’t be ignored. To be a good coach or instructor you should possess several pieces of equipment that will help you get your job done.
Before we dive into our list of miscellaneous gear we probably should have something to carry it all around in. There are a number of companies out there making high quality packs and Maxpedition is one of them. Right now all of my coaching/range gear is toted around in a khaki Falcon-II pack from Maxpedition.
In addition to multiple large and small storage compartments, the Falcon-II has a rear storage area for a hydration pack or water reservoir. I have had a great deal of success with the hydration products from Blackhawk. The current crop of BlackHawk hydration pouches are light blue and made of anti-microbial polymer material. This unit holds 100 ounces of drinking water.
This is a good time to mention proper hydration. Regardless of what container you carry your water in; the most important factor is to drink water at regular intervals throughout the day. Waiting until you feel thirsty is not the time to start drinking. If you feel thirsty you are already behind the power curve.
In addition to making sure you are properly hydrated, you need to ensure your shooter or shooters is/are drinking water regularly as well. Some shooters are so focused on precision that they neglect to drink water. Reminding them is part of being a good coach.
Though a bad day at the range beats a good day at work; your days can be long and tiresome if you aren’t prepared for them. Having a few thoughtful items in your pack will minimize the physical discomfort and help you focus on the important stuff.
In my pack I have both elbow and knee pads, again these particular ones came from BlackHawk. While I only use the elbow pads on occasion, when I do need them there is little substitute. Though a bad day at the range beats a good day at work; your days can be long and tiresome if you aren’t prepared for them. Having a few thoughtful items in your pack will minimize the physical discomfort and help you focus on the important stuff.
In my pack I have both elbow and knee pads, again these particular ones came from BlackHawk. While I only use the elbow pads on occasion, when I do need them there is little substitute.
As for the knee pads, I constantly find myself kneeling down next to a shooter to offer advice and encourage them. I don’t know about you, but I am too old not to protect my knees. If you are a young coach, start protecting your knees now. You will need them when you get older.
Another very useful and oft overlooked comfort item is a cotton scarf, bandana, or Shemaugh. The Tactical Shemaugh from the BlackHawk catalog comes in OD green or Coyote tan and is made of 100 percent cotton. The scarf is 44×44 inches and is great for wiping the sweat off your brow and face or covering the back of your neck to guard against sunburn. Of course, you can just spread it out on the ground to keep from losing those small parts and springs during cleaning or maintenance.
Eyes and Ears
Anyone that is involved in shooting sports needs eye and ear protection. If you are serious about the sport, you really need to invest in a set of electronically enhanced hearing protection. Among the many, I have had great success with the Peltor products. I own two different pairs of Peltor electronic muffs.
If you are coaching or instructing someone it’s always a plus to be able to hear them. Electronically enhanced hearing protection blocks out the bad noise and amplifies the good sounds. Like your knees, you will appreciate your hearing as you get older. Naturally, you will want to keep several sets of foamy, disposable ear plugs in your range bag for spectators, shooters who forgot theirs, and yourself.
Eye protection is another must have. For the last year or so I have been using the Sawfly™ protective eyewear from Revision. This set has dark tinted, yellow, and clear interchangeable lenses. Also, as I wear prescription glasses, Revision offers snap-in prescription lenses. The entire kit is contained in a padded hard case.
While on the subject of eyes and vision, no coach is should be without a set of quality binoculars. Yes, spotting scopes are valuable, but a five pound spotting scope is not something you are going to carry every day in your pack.
A few months ago I picked up a set of binoculars from a company called Carson Optics. Specifically these were their XM-832HD model. The binoculars are 8-power with 32mm objective lenses. HD stands for High Definition optics. The set is covered with a black rubberized armor coating, a nice option to have.
A central focus knob can be used with either hand and the eyecups twist down for storage as well as eye relief for those of us who wear glasses. This is great for the range as you don’t have to pull off your shooting glasses to look through the binos.
From a technical aspect, the XM-832HD binos use a BAK-4 prism, the lenses are fully coated for maximum clarity. The unit weighs 20.6 ounces, so they are not featherweight but they are considerably lighter that your large, full-sized binos. The XM-832HD binos are not large or small, they fall in the middle of the spectrum and they fit easily into my range pack.
Useful Shooting Gear
There are a number of other items a good coach should have in their pack, a cleaning kit with a range rod is one of them. I keep a Kleen-Bore kit with me. It has a multi-section cleaning rod, AP brush, lubricant and patches. The Peltor earmuffs and this cleaning kit can be had from the giant Brownell’s catalog.
Speaking of which, I picked up a really neat accessory from Brownell’s a while back. They are earmuff covers. Made from a soft cotton material, these muff-covers have an elastic band and fit over most any kind of protective muffs you can imagine. In the summer they keep the sweat off of your ears. In the winter they provide a barrier between your ears and the cold plastic muffs. Don’t procrastinate, buy a set now.
When you are out on the range you never know what screw is going to come loose or what will break. As I could rather not carry a ten-pound tool box around with me, I put a SpydeRench multi-tool from Spyderco in my pack.
Many shooting competitions, especially long range precision matches, have specific times limits. Your shooter needs to focus on shooting, you as the coach need to watch the clock. This means you need a good watch, preferably one with a chronograph.
I have two watches. My “outdoor tough’ watch is the “Alterra” digital watch from Highgear. This tool is more than just a wristwatch. The Alterra has a built-in Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, Thermometer, Chronograph, and, of course, a multi-function clock with alarm. If you abuse wristwatches like I do have no fear, the Alterra has a rubberized coating to protect it.
In the “other” column you are going to want to pack inexpensive but important items such as sunscreen and hand wipes. If you or your shooter has a sun-blistered neck, face or arms you aren’t going to be able to focus on shooting. Also, range work is dirty work, spend a dollar or two and get a package of pre-moistened hand wipes to keep in your pack.
Clothing is too big a topic to cover completely in this piece but I will say this; invest in quality clothing and footwear. If you are uncomfortable you will not be effective as a coach. Pick up a Gore-Tex™ rain jacket for those cool, wet mornings and afternoons. Most all of my range pants come from Tru-Spec. They fit well, are rugged and have tons of pockets. Tru-Spec items are way ahead of the old military clothing.
If there is any chance of the range being wet or covered in heavy dew I would wear water-resistant boots. Cold, wet feet are not happy feet. BlackHawk has new waterproof boots lined with SympaTex™. They even have new cushioned boot socks to keep you feet happy.
If you have a love for shooting and can do it well, I would highly recommend that you get involved in instructing and coaching. Everyday new shooters get involved in the sport and they need dedicated individuals to mentor and motivate them.
While it is true that attitude, knowledge, and skill are the most important attributes for a coach. There is no getting around the fact that the right equipment can make you a more productive mentor on the range. Until next time keep shooting straight and shooting safe.
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Professor Paul Markel
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I don’t know that I have a teachers patience to be a good teacher but I have tried to help a few friends as they begin the process…I still consider myself a beginner as well….I love taking training classes when I can as well…the learning process is fun and the skills learned and the friends made along the way are priceless