The youth shooting sports demographic has changed in a positive way over the last several years, moving from a predominantly male sport to a greater balance of male and female shooters. There continues to be, however, a significant lack of female shooting coaches across all shooting sports disciplines. This is totally logical, in my opinion, as the usual time progression for shooters moves from youth shooter to adult shooter and, possibly, adult coach. I believe there is an untapped resource out there to change this pattern, as waiting for our many young female shooters to become coaches and mentors does not need to be the only way to increase female shooting coaches.
How do I know this? As a 42-year-old widow and mother of three youth shooters, I was asked by their coach to try the sport, just for fun. I declined twice but, being a good Minnesotan, politely accepted on the third offer and shot two out of 25 clays on my first round of Trap. My score was bad, clearly, but a spark was ignited in me and I was hooked on both the sport and shooting competition! Within my first year I logged in over 10,000 targets in practice and competition, completed the NRA Level 1 Shotgun Coach class, and started helping the coach who first introduced me to the sport.
Was I, initially, afraid to try and, more accurately, afraid to fail, especially in front of my children and everyone else at the club? Absolutely. Ultimately, though, it was the encouragement I received from coaches, parents, fellow shooters and, especially, the pride of my children and my love of the game that propelled me forward. Now, as an NRA Certified Level II Shotgun Coach and a member of the National Shotgun Coach Development Staff, I train, mentor, and encourage women to take their own leap of faith to become shooters and coaches. I encourage you to reach out to mothers, sisters, aunts, female friends—these are just some of the many women in our shooters’ lives who have the potential to become influential, impactful coaches and mentors.
In Minnesota I mentor several women coaches who, like me, had never shot a gun before adulthood but are now positively influencing hundreds of youth as successful coaches. Coaching doesn’t stop with our athletes; it extends to finding those who can impact positive change in our disciplines and coaching them towards success. Mothers of youth shooters are some of my favorite people. Granted, that may be because I started out as a mother of youth shooters before becoming a shooter myself and, ultimately, a coach. But mostly it’s because there is something very powerful about a woman committed to a shooting program. Many of my hardest workers, organized and dedicated volunteers, and most passionate coaches are women. Several did not start out this way and, in fact, did not want their children participating in shooting sports at all! A few tips, choice words, and education usually help even the most cautious, protective parent to view shooting sports in a more constructive light.
As a coach I am particularly tuned into all attendees on registration day, with youth shooters usually very excited and parents in tow. In my experience, I find parents with reservations, usually mothers, wait until the paperwork is done before asking questions regarding safety, procedure, or expectations. This is a crucial time and one not to be brushed off. The question you are really being asked is, “Will my child be safe?” Know that it is not enough to simply tell a parent that yes, everything will be fine—it is your responsibility as coach to prove safety is first and foremost in your program.
Part of the requirement for all our shooters, from new shooters to our national competition squads, is to attend our 30-minute safety class annually. No exceptions. We also require parents new to our program to attend, followed by a new shooter orientation, which is another 30-45 minute class outlining expectations, responsibilities and the basics of our sport. During this time I see the biggest change in parent attitude as, most often, fear is predicated by a lack of information.
We follow this with a question and answer session, and end with a request for adult volunteers! I am always struck by the number of women who previously expressed concerns but, after attending the safety and procedure classes, they become our biggest support system. In fact, many of our shooters’ mothers/aunts/friends have asked for instruction. Some have even started their own league at our club!
Education and participation through volunteering is the key to helping cautious parents become comfortable with all disciplines of shooting sports. If a parent expresses concern, rather than being dismissive or flippant, invite them in to be a part of the program. You will be surprised how inclusion can improve and grow your program, change the dynamics of your club and, ultimately, solidify the future of shooting sports. My challenge to you is to encourage women to step forward, ask them to become coaches, and have our coaching teams reflect the same, changing demographic of our shooters and everyday life. It’s a good thing.
About the Author Stevens is working on her Masters in Sports Psychology and is a mom/step-mom to eight kids and nine grandkids. She is a Level II NRA Shotgun Coach and a member of the NRA National Shotgun Coach Development Staff. She has won the 2009 Minnesota State Ladies Handicap Championship, 2011 Heartland Grand Lady Singles Championship, 2012 Ohio Lady Handicap Championship, captained the 2014 Minnesota Lady All-State Team and the 2014 Minnesota State High School League Clay Target Champions. And it all began with that first 2/25 Trap score.