How To Be Great At Anything

From SFC Jake Probst

I wanted to share a few training tips as the competitive marksmanship season kicks off (even here in Wisconsin). Feakonomics radio recently had a podcast titled “How to Become Great at Just About Anything”. K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor who studies deliberate practice was interviewed. His research is where the idea of the 10,000-hour rule originates. The rule states that world class success, in any activity, can be achieved by 10,000 hours of practicing a skill correctly.

This idea is one that is one that resonates strongly with me. When I entered the military back in 2005, I struggled with marksmanship a great deal. Upon returning from Iraq in 2007, I attended the squad designated marksmanship course, put on by members of the USAR Competitive Marksmanship Team. On the first day, they had us complete the Army Rifle Qualification, where I scored 10/40 shots. The lowest passing score is 23/40.

Fast forward to 2015, I became the Wisconsin State Service Rifle Champion.
What changed? Well, I practiced a great deal in between. I had experienced mentors (CW4 Brian Wood, MSG Jack Pardy, SGM Neil Dickey, and several others) giving me training tips, and helping me triage what I should work on next.

Here are some of highlights from my training plan that relate to deliberate practice. I pick one “thing” per position or stage that I am going to try to execute perfectly for each training session or match. Additionally, I identify a few conditions that may occur during a match that I mentally and physically rehearse my response. One example would be a magazine not seating properly. I practice “realizing” the problem, followed by an endorphin release, then correcting the issue, and returning to the target. In practice, when one of these events occurs in a big match, I am actually more calm and focused than most of my other strings.
When I finish a match, I evaluate my performance on the tasks that I deliberately set out to do well. Regardless of my score or placement, I make the mental commitment to feel good if I was successful in executing those tasks. Since the tasks tend to be focused on things that I did improperly in the past and that lost me points, it usually follows that I also have a solid score. This is why I am not usually able to tell people my scores without looking in my data book. The score becomes a distraction in a match. Scores do not win matches; the proper execution of shooting processes does.

Natural ability is far less important than the commitment to self-improvement. My intention in writing this is not to showcase my own abilities – I still have several areas I am improving. Rather, I hope to inspire others to pursue excellence and self-growth.
Good Luck this season!

SFC Jake Probst

Resources and influences:

How to Become Great at Just About Anything

One comment on “How To Be Great At Anything

  1. John Tate says:

    Thanks for the posting of Probst’s thoughts. There are two key sentences that have done me as much good in a match as any other themes: “The score becomes a distraction in a match. Scores do not win matches; the proper execution of shooting processes does.”

    To me, this is why a corollary to “the last shot doesn’t matter; only the next one matters.”

    Now that’s only a partially true mantra. The last shot may tell you about a wind change. The last shot may tell you about a loose sight or gas plug (M14) or some other MACHINE malfunction. But as far as your own performance, concern over the last shot is only a damaging distraction from where your mental focus needs to be – ON THE NEXT SHOT.

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