Stairway to Performance

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“When the time for performance has arrived, the time for preparation has passed.”

– Thomas B. Monson

The difference between shooting skill and performance, is best illustrated by champion shooter Rob Leatham’s timeless quote “Shooting well requires a level of understanding, a level of skill and a level of performance.” In a nutshell, performance is one of three stairsteps leading to optimal consistency in both competitive and defensive shooting.

The bedrock is your “level of understanding.” It is the essential foundation of conceptual familiarity, where you “get it” intellectually but have not yet made it part of your physical skill set. You cannot pass “go” without first mentally grasping exactly what you are trying to accomplish.

The next step up from level of understanding is your level of skill. Here is where you attempt to manifest your understanding physically by first gaining a basic level of hands-on familiarity and comfort with the initial concept.

At the top of the staircase awaits your level of performance. Here is your ability to perform a physical skill on demand with optimal consistency. At this step, you can meet your performance objectives almost every time regardless of condition or circumstance.



The concept of bringing stability to alignment makes sense to you intellectually. You clearly understand that if you can stabilize the gun, align your muzzle with the target and break the shot perfectly without disturbing the physical orientation of the muzzle, then the round will hit the target exactly where you want it to go.

It’s a remarkably simple concept and you say to yourself “Yeah, I get it, it’s simple. Anyone can do it!” You are correct in its simplicity and that anyone, given the right amount of training and experience, can do it. However, it cannot be accomplished without converting your intellectual familiarity to physical skill. You may understand it as a simple concept, but building the skill to pull it off physically, comfortably, and repeatably is a completely different story. Simple yes, but not easy.

Take the classic sport of golf. The concept is simple: whack a golf ball with a club in such a manner as to place that ball in a hole in the ground hundreds of yards away. Simple enough concept, right? Now go out there and do it. Suddenly you realize that there is much more to the physical process than there is to understand it mentally.



The very same golf stairstep of intellect to physical applies to shooting, which is essentially golfing with gunpowder. The distance between the intellect step (level of understanding) and the physical step (level of skill) can be steep and as such requires motivation, discipline, and commitment.

When you first set out to accomplish this task, you will, and should, experience more failure than success. It may initially feel frustrating. However, keep in mind that failure is the crucible that turns experts into professionals and is the preferred training tool of the masters.

Anyone in the professional shooting community long enough knows that the master level shooter has failed more times than the novice has even tried.

With perseverance you can develop foundational skill and competence where you will be able to make good hits under par. What you are working toward is the development of physical capability at the very edge of your skills envelope.



If someone asked you to step up to that ten-yard line and guarantee “A”-box hits in the center of that target and under a certain par time, then you would not reach for the very edge of your skills envelop. You would instead default to that fundamental skill level where you felt the most comfortable. Here, well inside your comfort zone, is where you can guarantee those hits on demand.

A guaranteed hit means that you can comfortably and repeatably make that shot every time. When asked to do it again ten times in a row and you can perform this task with hardly a miss, you have then identified your level of performance which, because you will default to your comfy zone, is always lower than your level of skill.

The step between level of skill and level of performance is a quantum leap. Although this distance cannot be removed altogether, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to reduce the gap between your level of skill and level of performance similarly as you did with the gap between your level of understanding and your level of skill.

Proper practice including multiple repetitions, plenty of failure, meeting challenging but attainable goals, and accepting measurable gains are all part of the magic performance enhancement formula.



Many institutional (federal and state agency) firearms instructors working throughout the defensive shooting community, have found that the distance between skill and performance can be quantified. Keeping skills development records and comparing them to qualification records, the variance was found on average to be approximately twenty percent.

Tier-one government assets such as special operations personnel, asymmetric warfighters, and the like, who are held to higher performance standards and participate in far more robust training regimens, are measured at about a ten percent variance.

First and foremost is establishing your level of understanding in exactly what you want to do. Next is to build your skills up to that level, and lastly develop them to at least 120% of your end-performance objectives. If you want to raise your shooting performance commensurate with your consistency expectations, then your most direct path is this stairway to performance.

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