Taking It Personally in Competitive Shooting

COLUMBUS, Ohio (March 6, 2013)


Amanda Furrer, 2012 Olympian & USA Shooting National Rifle Champion, is on-site in Columbus and giving you an inside look at the 2013 NCAA Rifle Championships from an athlete's perspective. On Monday, she provided an overview of what fans should expect.  Today, she's getting personal with commentary on the individual nature of the shooting sports and how that translates when competing in a team environment.

You get to hear about the results of a match, how the shooter’s felt about their performance, what they look forward to in the future, and anything else dealing with competition and training. What you don’t usually get to hear about are the things that go on behind the firing line. Shooting is an individual sport, whether scores are combined into a team score or not. We all strive to be the best. You might wonder how this affects relationships on a team, with shooting friends, and on a more intimate level with relationships between shooters.

Perhaps Sarah Beard's toughest competition comes from her own teammate Sarah Scherer. Their friendship however has led them to two NCAA titles a 41-match winning streak and spots on the USA Shooting National Team. Being on a team, especially a college team is a unique experience in the shooting community. As Sarah Beard, shooter for the USA National Team and TCU, put it, “Shooting has taught me how to deal with all sorts of situations involving other people, from long distance friends to teammates to coaches. Through all of these, I have learned the power of putting others first when it comes to interaction, while still balancing that with pursuing my own personal goals.”

On a national level, we compete individually and are categorized by gender. In NCAA shooting, our individual scores combine for a team score and the men and women compete together. We spend countless hours with our teammates training, working out, traveling, competing, and then just hanging out. You almost become a family. Everyone brings something new to the table. Everyone comes from somewhere different, was raised differently, and had different experiences throughout their lifetime. You learn to love some people and despise some people, but no matter what, in our small community, you’re stuck with ‘em.

National Development Team member and shooter for UAF, Michael Liuzza, and National Junior Team member and shooter for USAFA, Tyler Rico, both agree that friendly competition can make for better performance. Rico mentioned that, “Being a competitive person with competitive friends, we enjoy competing against each other.”

University of Alaska Fairbanks teammates Ryan Anderson, Michael Liuzza and Tim Sherry.Everyone is in the same boat, and most of us are just as competitive as the next. If we all have the same goals and understanding, we can all get along on and off the firing line. Liuzza seems to have a good mental mindset as well saying, “I keep friendships separate from competitions with an understanding that we are all going to compete to the best of our abilities and we are all striving to win…If one of my friends does better than I do, I congratulate them and use that as motivation in training to improve.”

We all carry intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to improve. The extrinsic could be making the National Team, earning a spot on a traveling team, or winning a medal. The intrinsic for some people could include aspiring to shoot as well as somebody else, or beating them, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. It’s a commonality between all shooters and we all understand it.

Daniel Hermsmeier is a recent addition to the USA Shooting National Development Team and is a stand-out Junior for the Memphis Tiger Rifle program. Of course, everyone wants to win. We don’t spend hours every day training and dedicating ourselves to the sport for nothing. The trick is to fuel all of that time and energy into healthy competition. Daniel Hermsmeier, a Memphis shooter, said, “It's a competition, so there is always a drive to do better than your opponent. It is tough sometimes to perfectly blend your sense of friendship and contentment with them occasionally beating you, but in the end it is satisfying to see your friends win and do well.”

I think that wonderfully sums up how most of us shooters feel. Things need to be kept light on the range. “If it ever gets to the point of hoping that a competitor doesn't perform well, then you have taken it too far, because you're missing the point,” said Beard. “If all shooters were like that, our sport would quickly die out because focusing on the negatives erodes motivation.” I know that when I’m competing, I want to win, but I want to win knowing that the other competitors shot their best as well. Going into the game with this kind of mentality can only drive scores up and improve competitions.

I have met some of my best friends growing up shooting. I still keep up with some of the same people I met at my first USA Shooting Junior Olympic Championship when I was 13. Not all friendships have lasted, but that’s part of growing up. The greatest friendships remain. Shooter for Jacksonville State, Monica Fyfe, said, “Most of my friendships in shooting have been extremely positive. We are there for each other on and off the range…The shooting community is pretty small, but I like that aspect of this sport…everyone knows each other even if we are on different teams.”

Not all encounters turn into friendships though. An anonymous contributor claimed, “Drama is something that is with every team. Some have more drama than other teams, and sometimes you don’t get along with certain individuals.” In speaking on one of their past teammates, they said, “Unfortunately, one individual on my team always got on my nerves. They made everything about winning and would always say that they “let” the other person beat them. It’s amazing how your own teammate can’t be happy for you or another shooter. One individual can really suck the life out of a team!”

As you can see, all that time spent together doesn’t always turn out for the better. In a team setting, you need to accept that there are some people you won’t get along with and you just keep your distance. You won’t be able to change that person or control their actions, but you can control your own and carry on with your job on the range.

On the other hand, you might also discover that a love may bloom. A spark might form between two teammates, or maybe there’s a crush that builds into something more after seeing the same person from another team at different matches every year. One anonymous shooter said, “I've dated two shooters: one who also happened to act as an assistant coach, and then one from a rival team…If someone is dedicated to the sport, then the large majority of people they will be around are shooters, so it naturally follows that shooters date each other. If you know it will be a distraction, don't do it. However, from personal experience I know that if you keep your priorities straight, it can actually help, because you have always someone to discuss ideas and goals with.”

Shooting is very personal to every competitor. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people about your thoughts or worries pertaining to the sport. Being in a relationship with another shooter opens up doors for great discussion that can really help you in working out troubles you might be having. This also depends on what level of competition the two shooters are at. As another anonymous contributor said, “I think it's hard when one person has more commitment to shooting and a longer term perspective than the other, because life plans can become very different.”

One person might want to quit shooting after college, and the other might want to pursue an Olympic of professional career. There could be a lot of tension in trying to figure out where your relationship will go after NCAA shooting. JSU’s Fyfe also contributed here, saying, “Most shooters try dating another shooter at least once and, surprisingly, quite a few do actually end up working out. Long distance is always hard but adding competition to it can be interesting.” You can’t help who you fall for, but in our sport, it takes a lot of thought and effort to keep things healthy and productive for both people involved. 

Relationships are a huge part of our sport despite the independent nature. For the people that stay in competitive shooting for a long time, it is interesting to see how they evolve over the years. People change a lot, and you watch some come together, fall apart, or plain disappear from the industry. You might gain best friends, enemies, or even find a love interest, but one thing is for sure, the people involved in this sport are what will make you never want to leave it.