Anecdotes and Observations of a Sporting Perspective

(Why excuses are unacceptable)

I have been coaching sporting clays for several years and am constantly amazed at the number of excuses offered during or immediately after a poor performance.  It’s like we can’t understand that some days we do not have our best effort.

For instance, a kid who is a member of the Clemson Shotgun Team that I coach on sporting called me the other day and said, “Dan, I have had five great practices in a row andtodayI go out and can’t hit anything. Do you think my dominance has switched?” 

                “Are you kiddin’ me?” I asked.  “Where would you get some idea like that?” 

                “I donno…,” he responded, “But something’s going on”

                “Are you a machine that can never make a mistake unless you’re broken or are you a human who is capable of having an off day?” 

                His response was “A human I guess…”


I guess???

Anyway, we are all human and even the professionals sometimes stink it up.   But, as I have always said, “it’s not what happens to you in Sporting and in life, it’s how you handle it!”  Of course, the kid called back the next day to say all was well and he was back to shooting well.

The kids I coach are always coming up with excuses like: “My Dad cleaned the gun and it won’t shoot well.” “The course was set too hard.”  “I was tired from basketball practice.” “I think these new shells are not shooting in the same way/place the old ones were.” “I just broke up with my boyfriend [or girlfriend].”  “I don’t get along with my squad mates.” “Dad is watching me too closely.”  “They [my parents] always expect too much.” It was too cold or too hot or too windy or too sunny or…you get the picture.  And kids are not alone in this practice.  Adults have many of their own versions of excuses.

Why can’t we understand that we can all have a bad day? Get used to it… It happens. We are human.  On some days our focus is not there.  Sometimes, we just don’t have our mind on the game.  Something is taking our focus off the target and we are looking at the gun more than is needed. Sometimes a fundamental has slipped and we are not having a good mount.  Whatever the answer, remember we don’t need excuses!

Gil Ash, a nationally recognized shotgun coach says that “Excuses are the crutches of the untalented!”  I say sometimes we just don’t see the bird well!  When we don’t see it well, we certainly can’t shoot it well! 

One of the biggest things I see in youth shooters and inexperienced shooters is that they don’t want to look bad.  They will do anything or make any excuse to be released or distanced from a (perceived) bad score.  Often I will hear a kid or inexperienced shooter lament about the course and subject us all to myriad excuses for their score.  Then, upon looking at the score board (at the end if they are smart), finally understand they’ve won or, at least, placed in class.  All those excuses and their breath wasted!  What brings on this phenomenon?  In a word FEAR - fear of failure, fear of looking bad among your friends, fear of what others may think. Young people think that everyone has their score under a microscope and is dissecting their performance!  More experienced shooters know this is not reasonable and that no one cares what they shot.  Their skill set is their own.  They are competing against the target setter.  And, they know that they are going to have a bad day every once in a while.  They understand they are not going to have their top focus every day and they have a mental plan to deal with the uncontrollable.

What is controllable is how you deal with the days you don’t perform well? Will you practice your fundamentals (like your move and mount) next time you practice, or will you just go shoot a course with your buddies?  Will you solicit the advice of a good coach or will you listen to the top gun at your club?  Will you take advice from your Dad who doesn’t and hasn’t ever shot clays or will you continue to struggle and make excuses for a poor performance in lieu of getting a coach?  A good coach is someone who understands you and how you shoot - your goals, your methods, and your shortcomings (yes, we all have them).  And a good coach will be there to support you in your performances, both positive and negative. A good coach will inspire you to do better, filter out your excuses from reality and help you to improve your game.  If you don’t have a good coach, ask those who are doing well in their journey and see who they use.  I don’t believe certifications matter a lot.  I know some NSCA level three’s I wouldn’t give you a dime for, and a few level one’s  that I feel are really good.  It doesn’t matter what they charge, or if they charge you for their expertise.  Just find one who understands how you shoot and what your goals are for the sporting game.  Remember, in this game of sporting clays the only way to get better is to CHANGE!  The reason you are plateaued at a certain scoring level is that you have gone as far as you are able without changing some element of your game.  It may be a fundamental or it might be that you need more experience on certain presentations, but you must be able to adapt by changing something. A good coach will certainly shorten the learning curve!

Dan Paxton

NSCA Level Two Instructor

VP SC Sporting Clays Assoc.