One of the biggest challenges a firearms instructor encounters is the student who lacks confidence. This student has already convinced himself or herself that they will not be able to properly shoot a firearm at a certain skill level. Fortunately, if you use the right tools, it is not hard to get these students to overcome their lack of confidence.
Every firearms training course should begin with an icebreaker. The instructor and students should take a few minutes to introduce themselves, state their previous experience if any, and what they wish to accomplish in the class. Students who lack confidence can usually be recognized at the beginning of the class when they introduce themselves. It is not tough because they usually state that they are new to shooting and will sometimes even disclose that they lack confidence. Now it is your job to turn these students into confident shooters!
Get Them Involved
The NRA Training Department requires its Certified Instructors to practice the TPI, or “Total Participant Involvement” instructional method. This means that it is the instructor’s responsibility to elicit 100 percent class participation. Although an instructor must ensure that everyone is contributing to the lesson at hand, he or she must identify those in the class who need additional attention.
A student in your class who lacks confidence is going to need almost constant validation. This should not be done where it looks like you are singling them out, and should not be done at the expense of the other students’ experience. Encouraging each student to ask questions is one of the best ways to get your students involved. When a student asks a question, I always follow up with, “Good question.” By offering feedback and encouragement, hopefully this will continue to engage the anxious student and keep them asking more questions. It is very intimidating for an individual who has little confidence to ask questions during the class, especially if others in the class are more knowledgeable of the subject.
Only after confirming there is no live ammunition in the classroom, the instructor should perform a demonstration in the classroom to show how common firearm actions work. By this time, you should have identified those students who need special attention. When the instructor is demonstrating how to work different actions, this is a great time to get those unconfident students up in front of the class and get hands-on experience. In all the classes that I have taught and used this technique, I find that the students appreciate the special attention and that they seem to become more confident in their ability.
Many of my students want to continue along their training journey and become NRA Firearms Instructors. This technique of engaging hesitant students and involving them in hands-on activities benefits future instructor candidates because they are seeing first-hand how to teach a student that is lacking confidence, and how to build them up.
This is also a great opportunity to allow these students to work with individuals who are new to the shooting sports. In turn, the students who lack confidence feel less intimidated by others in the class because now they have a connection with each other.
Instructors should always be positive—in their teaching techniques, how they answer questions, and while conducting live-fire exercises. When you are on the range, after every shot, regardless of where the round falls, you should tell your student, “Good shot.” If they look at you and ask “how?” (because they missed the target), point out something that they did right. Remember, you have five fundamentals to choose from—aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control,and follow through.
You always want to direct or model the correct action or behavior and avoid describing the incorrect behavior. For example, avoid saying, “Do not put your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot” while placing your index finger on the trigger as a demonstration. By demonstrating the incorrect behavior, your students may only remember you with your finger on the trigger and think it is the correct behavior. Instead say, “Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot,” while demonstrating keeping your trigger finger indexed above the trigger along the frame. Leave them with a correct image in their minds, not an incorrect one.
Always keep your feedback positive and do not get frustrated if your student has no confidence, especially if this lack of confidence is hindering the learning process. Avoid becoming frustrated yourself! If you stay positive, your students will stay positive, and this makes for a much better learning environment.
Use Different Techniques
Success equals confidence. There are many tools that an instructor can use to foster success. The best tool you can use is a small caliber firearm, such as a .22 LR, for a beginner shooter who lacks confidence. This allows the student to concentrate on the fundamentals of shooting instead of fighting a gun that has a larger recoil. I have found that most beginners seem to be relieved when they see I start them on an easy-to-handle .22 LR. I even start experienced shooters on a .22 LR so that I can see if they are properly handling the firearm. After all, if you cannot get a decent grouping with a .22, you probably will not get a decent grouping with something larger.
You should also start a hesitant new shooter with a relatively large target at a fairly short distance. Instructors should place a 9-inch target with 7, 8, 9, and 10 rings at 10 to 12 feet from the shooter. Bullseye targets are less intimidating to a new shooter, making it easier to obtain their proper sight alignment and sight picture. The short distance also helps the beginner to concentrate and helps the shooter with their shot placement.
If I am still having trouble with a new shooter and their confidence is still at a low level, I will put up a blank target. I use a blank piece of paper and make a one-half to a 1-inch dot in the center of the page. I instruct the shooter to focus on the dot with every shot, ignoring where their bullets hit. It always amazes me how a beginner who started out having difficulty in shot placement with their shots, suddenly has a good grouping! Sometimes a beginner who lacks confidence and is intimidated by anything that looks like a target becomes calm when there are no rings on the paper.
It is very important to incorporate recognition in the training process. According to the NRA, recognition in the training process encourages efforts, rewards proficiency, encourages participation, and it motivates the students. This is especially true if have a group of individuals from the same organization. These could be Boy Scout Leaders, members of A Girl and A Gun, or even work employees such as realtors who work in the same agency. Recognition makes the learning process fun and more effective.
As an instructor, you can purchase small awards relatively inexpensively. Visit your local Dollar Store or other discount stores, or search online retailers for awards in bulk such as small trophies, ribbons or gun-related items like cleaning supplies to give out as prizes. You can even go to the internet and download personalized certificates for the best shot, most improved and so on. These little items mean a lot to participants, especially the ones who were lacking confidence.
A know a Boy Scout that aged out and is now a leader at 21 years of age. He was about 15 years old when he won a shotgun competition at a summer camp. The shotgun instructor took a handful of spent 12- and 20-guage shotshell hulls and knocked out the primers. He then took a foot-long length of paracord and ran the ends through the head of the hull and out through the crimping. He tied knots at the ends of the paracord and pulled them through, so he had a length of cord with shotshell hulls dangling from it. He presented it to the scout and hung it through the shoulder epaulets of his uniform. The scout still proudly wears this no-cost award on his adult uniform today!
The challenge of having an individual who is lacking confidence in your class can be difficult, but not insurmountable. Take your time and be patient with this type of student. If you are a successful instructor, you will have successful students. Incorporate different teaching methods and learning tools to ensure the student’s needs and goals are met. It is very rewarding to take a student who has no confidence in his ability to safely and properly use a firearm and turn him into become a competent and confident shooter by the end of the day!