Is Competitive Shooting Good for Youth?
Competition in sports is a world-wide practice that dates back centuries.From ancient Greece and the birth of the modern Olympics, to sports youth can participate in at school and through local clubs, we see opportunities to develop everything from skills of strength to skills of dexterity, grace, and agility. Competitions where the athlete uses an object like shotput, pole vaulting, javelin throw, as well as modern biathlon and pentathlon are all Olympic sports that develop a person’s skill with a tool vs. just raw strength or speed, like weight lifting or running. We see volleyball and soccer as team sports that develop interpersonal skills alongside physical speed, strength, and agility. Competition shooting is a sport that develops such a wide range of skills that it’s potential to build young athletes can often be overlooked. I’m going to share a few ways competition shooting can help build your youngster into an athlete.
First, competition shooting has a very wide variety of disciplines. There are action-shooting disciplines, such as USPSA, IPSC and 3 Gun. Then there are disciplines that are more about maintaining balance, breath control and bodily awareness like smallbore rifle, precision pistol, and long range rifle. Young people go through awkward phases - a growth spurt can mean abilities or inabilities. Sometimes young bodies mean physical weakness (even though they have bodily awareness) or conversely having little bodily awareness. However, mental fortitude can be frustrating. Shooting offers so many options that you can cross-train in multiple disciplines and nurture or bridge whatever phase of growth your young person is in.
For our family, our agile and mentally on-point eldest son began competing with fierce attention to detail. He has mastered and perfected the smallest of physical movements. In doing so, he has attained a high-level of success across multiple shooting disciplines and is a world-ranked shooter.
Compared to him, our middle and younger sons, whose focus wasn’t on the same specific goals, have been helped by participating in a sport that allows them to stretch into other areas that they had a knack for. Sean is a fierce trigger puller. His fear of failure is very low - he’s not afraid to pull out all the stops and push speed and power. He’s not the technical shooter Tim is, but his raw power and speed are formidable. The youngest has the benefit of seeing those two styles, and learning to pick the things he sees in each and learn from their mistakes and/or success. He’s been smaller, and less physically able to attain the same things, but his mental game has been nurtured for much longer. The mental game has grown strong as the result of both competing with his brothers, but also helping out at events instructing other youth. He’s learned to work with his strengths, to admit his weaknesses and to tailor what and how he works through a stage or event to get the best results. These are skills many adults have not mastered in life.
All forms of shooting require some sort of breath control, but the action-based disciplines require much more awareness and control. You might sprint 25 yards and shoot through a pistol segment, then unsling your rifle and run up a tower to go prone and shoot out to 400 yards. That takes physical power and control of fine motor skills. It takes work building your body to do those things with running, weights, or other exercises.
Learning to build strength and overcome one’s weaknesses are skills that shooting sports offer to young people. Not only do these opportunities effect one’s physical well-being, they build young shooters into confident and aware adults.
After the physical benefits of competing with firearms and the knowledge, strength and maturity inherent in that, there are some great social skills to be formed in competition shooting! Kids who compete interact with people across a very wide age-range. They interact not just the kids their own age and ability as most team sports segregate children into, but they also interact with adults and other youth. It’s much more about learning to work with everyone, not just other kids. There is a level of advocating for one’s self and understanding more than just the rules of a particular “game,” but how people work together in life.
So when your kids say they’re tired of soccer or don’t really want to play baseball, consider Steel Challenge or one of the other disciplines that require very little gear. Check out places like your local Isaac Walton League for a youth shotgun clinic or your local range for a youth event. See what shooting competitions have to offer yourself and get out to the range!