Inside Events: USA Shooting
20 Apr, 2016By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Bob Mitchell, CEO
USA Shooting is the National Governing Body for the sport of shooting. The organization implements and manages development programs and sanctions events at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, USA Shooting has a full-time staff dedicated to furthering the sport and supporting athletes and members of the organization. The organization has a USA Shooting News magazine publication, as well as public and member-specific web sites.
Sports Destination Management: It’s an Olympic year, which means the sport of shooting will get some extra attention. Does USA Shooting have anything special planned?
Bob Mitchell: We are doing a couple things. It’s important to remember we don’t get the awareness the big sports, including swimming, diving, gymnastics and track & field, do. However, we have created a special promotion and it’s applicable to anyone who shoots: “Shooting is my Olympic Sport.” We’re encouraging people to follow the team if it’s their sport, and to be a part of our fan club and we’ll keep them posted on everything. That has really been our push this year: to create a following and an awareness. We’re also trying to keep people informed and let them know when shooting will be televised.
Shooting has a lot of disciplines, but it also has a lot of followers through allied sports organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk and many others. They all can have an association with the U.S. shooting team because in many respects, we have the same goals: accuracy, marksmanship and safety. We’re not a political group. Firearms are sporting equipment. In some cases, that helps and in some cases that hurts our following. Frankly, we’re all about the things that are good about guns: teaching people about sportsmanship, safe handling, young kids learning about doing things right.
SDM: Shooting is an aspect of biathlon in the winter Olympics as well as modern pentathlon in the summer Olympics.
Mitchell: Biathlon will get more coverage, though, because there are only 11 winter Olympic sports, as compared to 28 in the summer Games, so it’s much more challenging to get airtime.
SDM: Shooting sports are on the rise at the college level. Do you find that feeds into the success at the national level?
Mitchell: We are indirectly involved with NCAA’s rifle sports. It’s an outstanding training ground for our team members because the pressure to win at the NCAA level is very high. When athletes go through the college system, we find they are well-prepared to shoot in the international competitions. Teaching people to shoot is not hard; teaching people to win is the tough part.
SDM: It’s growing in popularity at the high school level as well; in fact, a lot of non-traditional sports like bass fishing and archery are getting more popular.
Mitchell: Shooting is a learned skill. It takes concentration and practice and a very focused effort, as well as good visual acuity and fine motor skills. It’s mentally challenging as well. Something we’re seeing is that good students make good shooters, and good shooters make good students. It’s the ability to dedicate yourself to something and put in the time and effort. Everyone wants to know the magic bullet, as it were, that it takes to win, but really that’s all it is: hard work and discipline.
SDM: There is no one physical build that works better for the sport.
Mitchell: No, there are no physical restrictions for it. You don’t have to be tall the way you do for basketball, for example. You can be big, small, thin, tall – it doesn’t matter as long as you are willing to put in the time. What’s interesting is that we’re getting a lot of participation through the homeschool associations – kids whose schedules are a little more flexible.
SDM: Do you find that kids gravitate toward shooting because they come from families where others practice the sport?
Mitchell: Our supporters and followers come from a variety of backgrounds. Many people take up the sport because of family or because of schoolmates, either at the high school of college level. There are millions of competitive shooters in the U.S., although we are an Olympic body that has about 5,800 total.
SDM: When you’re looking for a city to host a competitive event, what are you looking for?
Mitchell: One of our challenges is finding cities with ranges and appropriate facilities. Unlike, for example, wrestling, we need a shooting range which is very specific. It needs to be large enough to accommodate 50 shooters and we now shoot at electronic targets. We need facilities that will accommodate people who are competing in pistol, rifle and shotgun, and those are not always easy to find. We really only have national competitions at four or five places. Of course, we also need a lot of the things other sports need, like transportation, good hotel rates and enough volunteers.
SDM: Is there a volunteer base available through local clubs?
Mitchell: USA Shooting has about 300 local clubs across the country. Our club base largely consists of people who belong to other organizations as well. They might have NRA affiliation, or if they shoot trap, they may belong to the American Trap Association.
SDM: What are your expectations for the Olympics this summer?
Mitchell: We have great aspirations of winning in Rio. We will consider it not at all successful if we don’t win at least four medals. We’ll take about 20 athletes, and we’re looking forward to some good success. We have a well prepared team.
SDM: Who’s the USA’s biggest rival in shooting?
Mitchell: Oh, China. We work on a budget, so we were curious about how much other countries spent. At the Beijing Olympics, we asked someone in the Chinese shooting program how much money they worked with and they said, ‘Nobody has ever told us no when we asked for money to do something.’ They have more coaches than we have athletes. They screen students for potential at a very young age and they put them in sports programs if it’s appropriate. Central Europe also has a very strong shooting community. What’s interesting is the Middle Eastern countries – they might not be able to put together a soccer team or a basketball team, but they’ll put money behind a shooting program and they can have some success. There’s actually a very broad participation base worldwide – the Scandinavian countries, for example, are participating as well. In American, the competitive base is getting stronger, but it’s not very deep. We need to build a better base.
SDM: Shooting will also be in the Paralympics.
Mitchell: Yes, we are also the NGB for Paralympic shooting. The athletes there compete the same way ours do. What shooting requires, to a huge degree, at any level, is self-analysis. It becomes a matter of mental discipline. If you’re not doing well in a competition, you have to be able to focus and figure out what is going wrong and then correct yourself. Being able to make that analysis and get yourself back on track is what separates a good competitor from a champion.