Saturday, 30 November 2019

Why I do mental training

Readers of my FaceBook page will know that recently I have started putting a lot of attention on mental training. So why am I doing this, wasn't it already part of my training?

To answer the latter part first, yes it was already in my training, however I feel over the last few months something had changed and I felt much less confident about my shooting. Well to say something had changed is possibly understating it, almost all of my standing position has been changed and with all the attention being on the position I found my mind was being left behind.

As well as it being something I felt needed greater attention at the moment, it also is the part of training I can do independently. Unfortunately to actually go shooting I always need someone to assist me and so I am restricted to when someone is available to help. Even dry-firing at home is difficult, finding my standing position independently is almost impossible. On the occasions I have done dry-fire training at home, it was not about the position but rather familiarising myself with the EcoAims sound or doing trigger training, for which I could rest the rifle on a support rest.

Sadly many vision impaired people may know that books in an accessible form can be hard to find. Here are two suggestions of books I have got:

  1. With winning in mind by Lanny Bassham, can be found on Amazon Kindle.
  2. Bullseye Mind by Raymond Prior, you will need to email him regarding getting a PDF copy.
Another route may be to look for mental training apps. Certainly for those new to mental training I think it may be a good option as the interactive nature allows it to gather information about you and then make suggestions on what to focus on next. One such app is the Sport Psych app for Android.

The fact mental training can be done independently makes it even more important for a vision impaired shooter, you can do as much or as little as you feel is required. So if you are a VI shooter and you are not doing mental training, I would encourage you to take a look at it.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Reflection on 2019

With all my international vision impaired competitions done for 2019, it seems like a good point to review how things have gone this year and what I need to focus on next.

This year has had its ups and downs. The year got off to a fairly good start with me shooting at the British Open Airgun Championships where I put in a score better than the previous year's competitions despite having to move firing points within sighting time.

In May I had a change to my plan when there were problems in getting my therapeutic use exemption for one of my medications renewed in time for the International Competition of Hanover. This meant I had to withdraw from that competition and find a solution and to achieve my qualifying score for the World Championships out at the World Cup in Croatia.

This change in competitions meant the training plan needed to adjust as well. I had been going through significant changes to my standing shooting position and some of the time between May and the World Cup was used to keep making these changes. All these changes though started to get to me, with such a focus on only achieving the position and getting that right, I felt my shooting was slowing down. I was feeling detached from how I shoot in competitions and I started to worry about how I would shoot under the pressure of competition and the knowledge of having a time limit. My self image as a competitive shooter had been very badly damaged and whilst people were telling me that my thoughts would not be helping me and I needed to think more positively, I felt I was not getting support in knowing how to actually change the thoughts and the self image.

After the World Cup I was just relieved to have got my qualifying score for the World Championships. The silver medal in the prone was a very nice bonus, after the problems I had in getting started with prone and the significant pain whilst we were finding the correct position, it was nice to have something come from all that effort.

The focus then moved to the World Championships and being ready for that. I knew I needed to get myself back to a point where I would be comfortable and confident shooting in a competition. One suggestion I had from a club member was to trust myself and learn to just shoot through it. This felt like the best advice I was getting on how to get my mind back in the right place, so most of my standing training was spent shooting under competition conditions to reassure me that I could do it.

With prone still being fairly new to me, there was still much work to do on tweaking the position. Things felt like they were though improving. I was possibly starting to build the pressure on myself for the prone, if I could achieve a World Cup silver medal at my first competition, then what was the expectation on me for the World Championships?

At the World Championships I had nerves affecting me. For the prone there was that thought of what the expectation would be of how well I might do. My qualifying round was better than what I had in Croatia, but was still lower than may have been expected based upon my training scores. In the final I had some problems with the sighting and just could not settle after that.

After a disappointing time with the prone, I guess this meant I started putting more pressure on myself for my standing as it was the only chance remaining for me to show what I could do. I feel whilst my self image had somewhat improved since Croatia, it still had not been fully restored to where it had been back in previous years. This all added to my nerves and the sense of pressure to do well. It probably worked against me in the qualifying as I struggled to settle down. The result was well down on what I feel I am capable of and I went into the final in 8th place. The final was really the last chance I would have to show what I was capable of and yes the nerves were going and I could feel my leg shaking. However as the final went on and I realised I was doing reasonable, I started to settle down. The bronze medal was such a relief to win, I felt like I had really worked for it.

So enough of the reflection, it is only useful if I use it to take actions which should lead to improvements. Having had so much trouble with my feeling towards my shooting, this is why I started looking for a book to help with my mental training. The book I have ended up selecting is "With winning in mind". There are some things in that book which deal with how to change the self image and I will try some of those techniques. Another thing which the book mentions is over trying, something I thought I was possibly doing in trying to get the correct position.

Finally the other thing I am going to give a go is the performance journal. I had previously tried a shooting diary, but abandoned it when I found I was not recording useful things and also due to the difficulties I had in making the entries when I had the information fresh in my mind. In "With winning in mind" there is some details on how to structure the performance journal and may be with some of the technological developments since my last attempt I may be able to record the information better. I think it is worth trying it again as the performance journal can support almost all of the other aspects of training and make those more effective.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

An encounter with Kedok

Whilst out in Australia I met with Geoff Hunter who runs a shooting club for the vision impaired in Sydney. I got the chance to try out the Kedok aiming system. After having read about it for sometime, it was great to actually get my hands on one to test it out.

For those who do not know what Kedok is, it is another aiming device for vision impaired shooters designed by Wim Hager over in the Netherlands. It differs from other available aiming devices as all the design documents have been published online, so you could make your own and even modify it as you feel fit. One of the goals of the Kedok device is to make something which is much more affordable than devices like the ecoAims or the VIASS Pro.

Before discussing what it is like to use, I must note that it currently has not been approved for use in international World Shooting ParaSport competitions. So anyone wanting to compete internationally will need to use something else or apply to get their Kedok approved by WSPS.

Now for what i think about it. Unlike EcoAims and VIASS which use cameras to locate the LED, the Kedok uses a light sensor and so is more similar to the Swarovski device. This has the advantage that sampling of the sensor is much, much quicker and so the sound changes much more smoothly, however it does mean it is more sensitive to differences in lamp or LED set up. In fact when I tried it, Geoff had made a mistake in the set up and the device detected something was wrong when we were calibrating it.

Once the lamp was correctly configured, time to have a listen and shoot with it. As I noted the sound does change very smoothly, takes me back to the Swarovski scope although it does sound a little different. For me being used to the EcoAims sound now, I found the amount of variation in the tone was not really enough and I felt it flattened off too much in the middle. I felt the tone did impact upon my ability to shoot a good group and probably it was no where near what I can do with my EcoAims. I am aware that there are settings which can be changed, but I did not want to go and mess up someone else's aiming device so I left them alone. This though does mean I cannot judge how accurate the device really may be, so I cannot pass comment on accuracy.

Whilst on the topic of settings, it is nice to note how Kedok has speech prompts in the device which allows the shooter to alter settings and to warn the shooter of any problems it detects. It is good to allow the shooter to be as independent as possible. Also I like some of the prompts and how they give the device a bit of personality, such as wishing you good shooting after calibration, rather than just being very boring information only prompts.

Something which I am not so keen on is the separate processing unit which sits on the table. Having used a battery pack fitted to the rifle to power a Swarovski and now using the Ecoaims with its built in battery, I am used to only having a single cable whilst shooting. So it feels like a step back to have a cable from the scope to the processor and then a headphone cable from the processor. I think EcoAims have really set the standard here with the built in battery, so you don't even have a cable for a battery pack.

So in conclusion, I think the Kedok is a step forward from the Swarovski scopes by allowing calibration and customisation with voice guidance. When compared with the EcoAims it just does not do it for me. The problems I have about the sound being too flat might be possible to resolve either through settings or by tweaking the software. The external processor unit is a more significant issue to me and would need a more significant redesign. For those who want to do the sport recreationally or at national level, then this might be a reasonable option to consider if price is important. However for those who want to compete internationally, I would suggest save up and go for something like the EcoAims VIS500 or the VIASS Pro.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Medal success at World Championships

Now the World Championships is over and I have returned home back to normal life, time for an update here. Sorry its coming a bit later than I really would have liked, but things got rather busy out in Australia and I just never quite found time for writing a blog post. May be I need to alter my blog posts to be shorter but more frequent.

This was my first World Championships and nerves were a big part of what I was feeling. I felt I was fighting the nerves all the way through and I think they may have affected my shooting.

The first competition was prone. As I said nerves meant my score was not as good as I had been hoping and I entered the final in 7th place. Well enough to make the final and the score was better than my previous competition prone scores, so not all bad. Unfortunately I had some problems in the sighting of the final which disturbed me and meant I found it difficult to settle down. Not being settled meant my shooting was not competitive and so I ended in 8th place after the final.

After all the lead up to the World Championships and my success in prone at the World Cup, I was feeling a bit disappointed with my prone and I had to put my attention to the standing competition. Again nerves hit me and affected my qualifying score, with me getting through to the final in 8th place. With the reality of my performance being down at the World Championships and the prospect of not getting any medal, my mind was really focussed for the final and to make the most of it. Again the nerves were there and I could feel my hand shaking, so I was doing everything I could to help me calm down and relax. As shot 12 was taken and I realised I was still in the final, I started to relax knowing that I had at least gained a place in the final. This probably helped me on as I climbed to 3rd place. There was one shot which was really bad and cost me heavily, potentially meaning I missed out on 2nd place.

After the final I was so happy to have managed a medal place and relieved it was all over. Of course I wish I had done better but considering the nerves I think it is a reasonable result for my first World Championships.

Now the World Championships are over, time for a short break and planning for next year. Being a Paralympic year next year, there will not be any World Championships. It looks like the highest level vision impaired competition will be a European Championships to be held in Slovenia. There is a World Cup planned to be held in the UAE, however I am considering only doing European competitions and to make next year a cheaper year after all the expenses of this year with the change of equipment and travel to Australia.

Monday, 7 October 2019

In Australia for the World Championships

As the World Championships gets closer, now less than a week away, I thought it was time to write another blog post. Last week saw me take the longest flight I have taken up to now as I flew out to Australia. This is also the first time I have been outside Europe for shooting, so many new things for me. I had decided to fly out early so that I would have time to acclimatise.

The first couple of days were not shooting related, time to be a tourist and find where things are in Sydney. However by Sunday it was back to work at the shooting centre doing some training and to take my first shots on another continent. First up was training standing It was good to get going again and find out that everything had survied the flight and was working correctly.

After a break for some lunch and it was into training the prone. May be I started too soon after lunch as things weren't quite feeling right and I was feeling a bit sleepy. After a short walk around to wake me up a bit, back into the prone shooting and everything was back to normal again.

So all seems to be going to plan and I am feeling positive for the upcoming championships. So today I was back being a tourist, going on one of the access tours of the Sydney Opera House and then to the maratime museum. Both were very interesting and had things I could appreciate, well worth doing if you are in Sydney.

I plan to have a couple more training sessions before the championships begins. My first competition is prone on Tuesday 15 October. Keep watching here on my blog, my FaceBook page or my Twitter page for updates.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Changes in my prone

Since I started my prone back at the end of march this year we have made many alterations to my position as we keep learning things. I thought I would give a bit more detail on how my position has been evolving and why we are still changing things when there is only weeks to go until the World Championships.

Right at the beginning we started by trying to have me square on to the target facing down range, so my upper body was somewhat like the standard prone position. I just could not get on with that position at all,I kept dropping my left shoulder, the rifle never felt correct in the right shoulder, etc. Then there was the problem of the pain in my left hand, although that might have been related to the glove I was using.

The next thing I tried was to sit at an angle to the target. This brought my shoulders round to something closer to my standing position and I seemed to have much less trouble with keeping the shoulders level. Whether this was to do with the position being better for me or whether it was that it was just more familiar because of it being closer to my standing I am not sure. After changing the glove I had a position comfortable enough that I could start thinking about shooting a full 60 shot match.

I stuck with this position for a while getting used to it and it was the position I used whilst out in Croatia at the World Cup. The problem though was that the angles of my arms were quite low and so we had fitted a long extension to the butt plate. This made it difficult to reach to load with the rifle in position and the only way to adjust the sights was to take it out of my shoulder. This is when we started looking at a forend extension and reducing the length of the butt to bring everything back towards me. At first I was borrowing a forend extension from a club member, this did seem to help as it reduced the stretching when loading, I could adjust the sights in position and it moved the weight back a bit. The forend extension I borrowed had a height adjustment piece which unfortunately was getting in my way and so we looked at making a forend extension.

The custom forend was not going to be attached for long as last Friday we had Mike, one of the coaches at British Shooting, come to have a look at my prone and give us some help. His suggestion was to increase the angle of my arms, which we did by raising my seat. By bringing the arms up a bit means that they are better able to support the rifle and my hold seemed to improve when we did that. It also means my left hand is not as far forward and so we could remove the forend extension.

I may have joked about all these changes and how it seems like I have something different every time I go training. However I think now probably is the time to do all this as I don't want to get too attached to one position which might not really be ideal. We have much learning to do and we won't find things out unless we experiment. Based on how well I did in the World Cup, hopefully with these improvements, I should be in with a good chance at the World Championships and I am feeling quite positive.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Call for VI shooters

In the past I have mentioned about wanting other vision impaired shooters to take up the international disciplines. One reason is that I enjoy the sport and I want to share it with others so that they too have the opportunity to participate in the sport and to do it at the highest level they can. However this is not the only reason.

Here in the UK we actually have quite a strong domestic form of the sport with may be about 100 or more vision impaired shooters. The vast majority of these do support rest shooting from a spring stand, only a few in the UK actually shoot either of the international disciplines. Also the national vision impaired shooting competitions are all shot using the larger air pistol target where as internationally the air rifle target is the standard. In short I am the only vision impaired shooter from the UK who currently shoots internationally. There are times it can feel quite a lonely place to be as I don't feel like I belong to any team.

My local shooting club has been very welcoming and supportive, in fact I couldn't have asked for more. I have mentioned about going to national competitions and shooting against sighted shooters. It has been great going to those competitions with fellow club members and in some cases working to place higher in the results. However these competitions are only a fraction of what they do and over the summer there have been a number of outdoor competitions where club members have gone to which I cannot compete in. Then there are my international competitions which I am doing separate to club members.

Historically vision impaired shooting has been quite separate from the rest of disabled shooting in GB, probably partially due to the competitions being held separate. Even though I am now going to the same international competitions as the rest of the parasport shooting team, I still feel external to the team. At this point I have not done any training with the rest of the team and so when I am at the competitions whilst I may recognise some of the names, I would not say I necessarily know the other GB shooters. Also for all my international events I have had to make all my own arrangements for travel and hotels rather than being invited to travel with the rest of the team. This though does have its advantage as it gives me the freedom to choose what suits me better, such as taking a cheaper route to the World Cup and not being restricted to wheelchair accessible hotels.

So if we had a few more British vision impaired shooters doing international disciplines then may be we could have a vision impaired shooting team. It would be nice to have some others doing the same shooting as me who I could relate to and may be we could even look at competing for the team medals at international competitions.

So how do I see more people taking up the international disciplines? I feel that prone might be the way in. For people trying shooting for the first time you could start them doing 10m air rifle benchrest with a support whilst they learn the basics of shooting. If they started on the air rifle target then they could enter league competitions against sighted shooters from the beginning. As they get better the only thing which would need changing is the support for a sling. As they learn using the sling they could still enter the benchrest leagues and once they reach a standard where they could be considered for international competition they would be able to start shooting internationally. Standing is quite challenging and I accept fewer probably will take it up, but hopefully those capable of it would be willing to give it a go once they have had the taste of prone at international competition.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Does blindness mean darkness?

Although I chose the name "A shot in the dark" for my blog and FaceBook page relating to my shooting, you may be surprised to learn that being blind is not the same as seeing darkness. In this post I will give you my personal experience, however remember that it may be different for others. Also remember not all who are vision impaired are totally blind, some may have some sight and for these the amount of sight and how it affects them may differ from person to person.

So a little history about me. I have always had sight problems since birth. At first I could see a little bit, enough to see colours, basic outlines and with the help of very strong magnifiers I could even read some print. However my eye condition meant that my sight would gradually deteriorate over time, eventually ending with no sight.

One of the problems with gradual loss of sight is that the brain can be very good at filling in what it expects. This can make it very difficult to actually know how much you can see as you go about day-to-day tasks. It is not until you notice that you are missing things or when you get your sight tested before you realise that your sight has got worse. As an example this time last year I could just perceive light with my right eye but now I have no sight at all. I could not say exactly when within that year I lost the light perception, around April I started to notice I was making mistakes about whether a light was on in the room and at my sight classification in Croatia I had confirmation from someone else that there was no longer light perception. Even though I know I have no light perception, my brain still fills in seeing the light come on when I press a light switch in my house.

As well as creating sensible images to fill in for a lack of sight, the brain can come up with some really strange images as well. I have heard someone say that flying chickens is a fairly common image to get, although it really can be anything you could possibly imagine. This seeing things which are not there is known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Some can find this quite disturbing particularly if they do not know what is going on and why they are seeing these images. Fortunately I had a doctor explain this to me around the time I first encountered it and so knowing nothing is wrong I have just learned to live with it going on.

The brain can keep doing this for years after sight is entirely lost. I lost all sight in my left eye back in 2006 and I am still seeing a glowing colourful pattern in my left eye today in 2019. I do not think my left eye has seen dark in all the years since I lost the sight in that eye. So may be "A shot in the dark" is not an accurate description for me, however I found the title too tempting when I found available as both a web address and a FaceBook page.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Learning from training under time pressure

In the lead up to the World Cup I had been focusing very much on training and getting the correct position. This though meant that I had not given so much attention to the timing of the competition and I was feeling a bit detached from how I shoot under competition conditions. Whilst the time has not been a particular issue for me, it still caused some problems as the pressure of knowing I was restricted in time meant that I would sometimes rush a shot when I should have taken a bit more time. So I want to solve this in readiness for the World Championships so that I don't rush any shot.

To overcome the problem I decided it was time to start doing training under timed conditions so that it becomes normal. It would mean I would be used to judging how long I am taking and the time remaining, but also it would mean that in competition I feel I need not do anything different to my training.

The last week I have spent some time training the 5 shot series, those which come at the start of a final. My reason for this choice is that they are a medium length and so possibly the most difficult to judge. In qualifying competitions there is plenty of time ans so it is possible to check with my assistant about how long remains. In the single shots in a final the time is sufficiently short that I think I can judge that reasonably well.

The first thing which became clear is that when you cannot see the time available, you need a bit more than the 10 seconds warning which is given in a final. We think that may be a minute is about the correct amount of warning for a 5 shots series.

Today in training it became clear that whilst I can shoot very well in this timed condition, it is noticeable when I am getting tired or distracted. I was just shooting the 5 shot series, doing about 60 shots in total but leaving only a little gap between each series. As I started to tire the time I took for each series started to get longer and a few bad shots started to creep in. Once this became obvious I took a slightly longer break before the next 5 shot series and I then started to shoot faster and the quality also returned.

Whilst in competition I would never shoot so many 5 shot series, this training possibly has helped to identify when I start to get tired and when I really should be taking a break in my qualifying competitions. Finals are a bit different as they are shorter and you cannot determine the pace of shooting. Instead in a final you need to work out how best to use the time between shots to prepare for the next one.

Since doing this timed training I am starting to feel better about my shooting and more ready for competing at the World Championships. I think I will be continuing it for at least the next few weeks. Who knows what else it may teach me about my shooting.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Give your view on blindfolds in vision impaired sport.

In a previous post I gave my view on the topic of blindfolds in vision impaired shooting. It is now time for you to give your view on the topic.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

To see or not to see

To see or not to see, that is the question in vision impaired shooting. Whether it is fairer to require all to wear opaque glasses or not.

World Shooting ParaSport made provision in the international rules to allow them to designate competitions requiring all shooters to wear opaque glasses. Whilst no competition this year has been designated as such, there definitely is talk about enforcing it sometime soon. The thought is that it is obvious when watching vision impaired shooting to identify who has some useful sight and who has not. There is a thought that those with some useful sight are gaining an advantage through their sight and that it can make a mockery of the sport. The solution being proposed is opaque glasses to try and equalise the sport.

As you may imagine there are some who really oppose this idea. I am mixed in my views on this. My biggest objection is more from a disability ethics point of view, I feel it is wrong to make someone more disabled than they normally are. In no other part of life do we ever consider disabling someone further, in fact we normally try and encourage people to make the most of what they have. So why is sport different? I fully appreciate the need for creating an equal playing field, but why take such a negative approach, surely a more positive approach by creating adaptations and allowances for those with less sight would be better. As an example of a positive approach I would use blind cricket as an example where totally blind batsmen must have at least two bounces of the ball and blind fielders may make a catch even when the ball has bounced once. Admittedly creating positive adaptations and allowances is more difficult, they may be more complicated for people to understand and may not satisfy some that equality has been achieved.

So if we put the ethics to one side and accept that opaque glasses are a workable proposal, will they help create an equal playing field and give the correct image of the sport?

One significant objection is that those with partial sight are less adapted to life without sight and so the opaque glasses would disproportionally impact upon them. They claim that those who have no sight will be better adapted due to living with no sight 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whilst those with partial sight may train with the opaque glasses, this training time will never compare with being in the condition permanently. Whilst I accept this argument to an extent, it cannot be ignored that the totally blind person may have other disadvantages such as limited training time due to not being able to train independently, greater difficulty in learning certain sport concepts due to not being able to visually watch a demonstration and also not being able to use some visual training techniques such as position training with a mirror. Also for those who have been blind since birth, they may never have developed certain skills such as balance when they were younger as they never had the visual queues to help perfect the skill.

There is also an informational inequality within the sport. By this I mean those who can see the electronic target display are likely to have far more information than a shooter with no sight. The phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" comes to mind. As good as my assistant is, they cannot give me anywhere near the same information about the group shape, size, position, etc in a timely manner as a sighted person can by taking a quick look at the display. Also in a final where time is limited, it is much quicker to visually look at the time remaining, instead I would need to signal to my assistant I want to know how much time remains, the assistant needs to check the time and then communicate this back to me. If taking a positive solution approach, then one possible option would be to consider giving those with limited sight additional time to allow for the time it takes for the assistant to provide the detailed information. How practical that would be in competition I am not sure. The last thing to say about information communication is that those who cannot see the display fully rely on their assistant and must have full trust that the assistant has got it correct. If you can also see the information, then you can form your own opinion and decide whether to ignore the assistant or not.

So in conclusion, from a practical point of view I can see how using opaque glasses may equalise the sport. Whilst they may disadvantage those with some sight, we must remember that those who are totally blind may face additional disadvantages as well. When considered as a whole, based on reasoned argument I think it may actually result in something fairly equal, but it may be good if research could actually be done to confirm this. However the ethical aspect does bother me, making people more disabled does not feel like something which should be acceptable in this day and age, we really should be taking a more positive approach.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Experimenting by mixing the old with the new

For many years the Swarovski ZE-B618 was the most common audio aiming system for vision impaired shooters. The Swarovski system was a light based system requiring a bright lamp and a target with a white centre. However recent the international standard is the infrared LED based systems such as the EcoAims VIS500 or VIASS Pro. This means that many vision impaired shooters are going out and buying new aiming systems, quite a costly thing to do.

I was aware that the Swarovski aiming device although based on light, it does actually detect infrared as well. So I had the thought, can a Swarovski ZE-B618 be used with the infrared LED? If this is possible then it could save many people a lot of expense and also simplify vision impaired shooting competitions where the organisers want to allow people to continue using their old Swarovski aiming devices.

As I am currently having a slight break from training after the World Cup, I decided to do some experimenting to see how well the Swarovski aiming device would work with the infrared LED. First thing to do was use the white centred targets to check that my Swarovski aiming system was offset. I wanted to make sure that when I started my experiments with the LED that I would not hit shoot the LED.

Once I was certain the device was offset, it was time to point the rifle at a target fitted with an LED. The Swarovski was definitely finding the LED and giving me a change in tone. It did sound a bit different to using the target with a white centre, it was smaller and did seem to flatten off a lot in the middle. It was time to put shots down the range and see what sort of group I could achieve. To minimise error from myself, I was shooting using a support rest. Whilst there was a group, the size was much too big for me to even consider using it for competitive shooting, it was out to the 7 ring on a rifle target. May be I was no longer used to the Swarovski sound as I have been shooting with the EcoAims for some time now. Even taking this into account, I don't think the Swarovski aiming device with the LED could ever come to the same accuracy as the newer devices.

So sadly I have to conclude that the Swarovski days for international competition are over. There may be beginner or club level VI shooters where the Swarovski and a LED is more accurate than the shooter, but these would not be limited to using the LED as an aiming mark, they can continue using the target with a white centre.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Making travel plans for the World Championships

Now the World Cup is over and I have achieved my qualifying scores for the World Championships in both standing and prone, it is time to start making arrangements for going to Australia for the World Championships. I previously wrote about booking flights for a shooting competition. Up to now I have only ever flown within Europe and on direct flights. Normally in Europe laws are sufficiently similar and the freedoms of movement within the Eu means it is not a problem to take the air rifle.

Yesterday I was getting the flights booked for flying to Australia and there were a few more things to consider compared to normal. I will need to apply to get a permit for the rifle in Australia, but I also need to consider the requirements in countries I transit through. The flights which at first looked like the best were via Hong Kong. However as I looked into the requirements for the rifle, this was looking not as good as I would have to apply to the Hong Kong police for a permit even though I would only be in transit at Hong Kong airport.

With so many possible options on routes via different transit countries, I decided the best thing to do would be to get a travel agent to assist me with checking what the airline and airport requirements would be for the various routes. This may not be the cheapest option, but I think it is well worth it if you don't want to have to spend the time yourself checking every airline and every route yourself. In the end we selected a direct flight, where the plane only lands in Singapore to refuel, this seems to be the simplest on the paperwork.

With the flights now booked, it is time to get that paperwork done for the Australian gun permit. Whilst this admin stuff is not very interesting in itself, it though does make it all seem more real that I am actually going to the World Championships. I am starting to get excited about going.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Success at World Cup

I have had a great time at the World Cup and it is time to give you all an update on how I got on.

Friday was the standing competition. This was a very tough competition for me. The weather was hot and I was struggling to keep cool inside my shooting suit. As well as that, I seemed to have caught a cold just before departing for croatia and I think that was affecting my ears and balance. All I could do was try and keep myself calm and shoot as well as I could. My shooting was not up to its usual standard, but it was sufficient to get me through to the final. I was feeling quite exhausted after the standing qualifying, but after some motivational talk I tried pushing a bit more in the final. My shooting improved a bit, but I was still struggling and finished in 5th place.

As the prone shooting was not until the Sunday, this gave me a couple of days to recover. Also being sat down for prone probably means that balance is less important. I was actually feeling quite positive about my prone going into the competition. The qualifying match went fairly well, although still not my best, but good enough to make the final. At the beginning of the final I could feel my heart racing. It took me a little time to bring my heart under control and then my shooting started to improve. Throughout the final it was difficult to know who was going to win as the lead kept changing. As the final progressed I realised I was getting closer to achieving my goal of being a medalist, then we got to the point where 4th place is eliminated and I realised I was still in the competition. This gave me a little boost and after two more shots I found I was still in the competition meaning I would either be first or second. I managed to keep gaining on the leader over the next two shots, however it was not quite enough and so I finished in second place with the silver medal. I am so pleased with it, particularly when I consider how recently I started doing the prone shooting. The prone final can be seen on YouTube.

Both results are sufficient as qualifying scores for the World Championships later this year in Sydney, Australia. Now I have returned home, as I come of the high of my prone success, I will start preparation for the World Championships where I hope to have further success.

Finally a thanks to all who have helped me. Special thanks to Pauline my assistant for the many hours of coaching and training. However there have been many others such as those helping with equipment, training, financial donations through my GoFundMe campaign, as well as encouraging and supportive words. It all helps me do it.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Ready to shoot in the World Cup in Osijek

As you may know this week will see the WSPS shooting World Cup. I have already travelled out to Croatia for it and the last few days I have been busy getting the official things checked off before the actual competition which happens over the next few days.

As you may know, to reduce flight costs I decided to fly to Budapest in Hungary and then take a hire car to get to Osijek in Croatia. Some people seemed surprised about flying to Budapest as it is in a different country, however it is a similar distance from Osijek and was much cheaper for flights than it would have been flying into Zagreb.

I arrived in Osijek mid afternoon on 23 July, which gave me enough time to find where the range is. The 10m air range is in a sports hall, thankfully considering how hot it is here there is some air conditioning in the sports hall.

Yesterday, 24 July, was the day for getting all the official approvals done. First thing to do was get the shooting equipment checked. Sometimes this can be a really slow process if not organised well and if you go at the same time as many other people. Thankfully things seem to b fairly well organised for the equipment control here and it took not too long.

After a bit of lunch, it was time to do a small amount of training to just check that everything was working after the flights. Again no problems here, seems like our packing was sufficient to let the equipment survive the flight.

As sight classification was not until later on in the evening, this meant there was time to do a little shopping and relax having an ice cream. As you may know from this previous post about sight classification, it can feel a bit like a lot of bureaucracy. After the sight classifier looked at my eyes and did a quick sight test, I was pleased when I was told they were going to give me confirmed status due to me having no light perception. The confirmed status means that I should not need to go through the sight classification process again unless anything with my sight changes. For most athletes with some sight they will be given a status of review which means they need to have sight classification done again at future competitions.

It was quite a relief to have got all this official stuff out the way, now all that remains is to actually shoot in the competition. I will have a little bit of pre-event training this evening for my standing, then it is the standing competition on Friday. Saturday will be my training for prone, with the prone competition following that on the Sunday.

Friday, 19 July 2019

The bureaucracy of international competition

Yesterday evening at my shooting club I had a discussion with another member about the administrative tasks involved in competing at an international competition. I think they were a bit surprised at what is involved, you might be as well if you are not involved in international vision impaired sport.

Today I am just going to focus on the sight classification process. I possibly have a unique perspective on sight classification as I know what went into developing the sight classification system through my work in IBSA, but I have also experienced it as an athlete.

The purpose of sight classification is to minimise the inequality caused by the different levels of vision impairments of the competitors. You would not want it that those with the best sight always win the competition because their sight gives them an advantage. To solve this problem sight classification determines who is allowed to compete in the vision impaired form of the sport, it may split competitors into various classes depending upon their sight or introduce rules to mitigate any remaining inequalities. In shooting all competitors who are allowed to participate as a vision impaired shooter compete in a single class, mainly because the sport is so small at the moment and we need to keep the competition meaningful with enough competitors competing against each other. Shooting does have some rules to help mitigate the inequalities which may exist, such as allowing the assistant to provide information about where shots have hit the target to athletes who cannot see the target display. A number of vision impaired sports do use blindfolds, which is a controversial topic as some feel it is wrong to make someone more disabled than they are normally and there is the question whether this temporary additional impairment may actually disadvantage those with some sight by placing them under conditions which is not their normal. There is no evidence showing whether blindfolds really achieve the equalisation they are meant to. Interestingly whilst World Shooting ParaSport has made a rule allowing them to require the use of opaque glasses by competitors, this rule will not be enforced this year and they avoided terming it a blindfold.

Now you know the basics of why sight classification is done and what it is, time to discuss the administrative work of how it is done. The first thing for the shooter is prior to competing internationally, they must get their ophthalmologist to complete a form about the vision impairment and also provide medical evidence. From my experience in IBSA, many shooters claim they have trouble getting their ophthalmologist to complete the form in time and sometimes the ophthalmologist not being familiar with the sight classification process does not provide all required details. The next part is that about a day or two before the competition the shooter will be seen by a sight classifier, who will check the medical documents submitted and see whether it is consistent with what they observe when examining the eyes or doing eye tests. The sight classifier will then determine if the shooter is allowed to compete and what sight class will be assigned.

Unfortunately there is no short cut through the above. Sight classification must be done by an international sight classifier according to the international sight classification system, so a national sight classification will not help. Thankfully for those where it is very clear they lack sight and there is no possibility of variation in sight, a sight classifier may assign the shooter confirmed status which means they need not go through the process again. However for the rest, they will have a review date set on their classification for when they will need to be classified again. The review date may depend upon how likely their sight is to vary over time, in the worst case someone may need classifying before each international competition.

This sight classification thing may seem like a load of bureaucracy, as an athlete I know how it may seem excessive. However I guess there will be people who may try and cheat so the system needs to be as water tight as possible. Is the system perfect, no I don't think so and I hope World Shooting ParaSport keep it under review as more people start competing and thus more data and evidence becomes available.

So that is the short explanation of sight classification. Now remember sight classification is just one of the administrative tasks. There are things like anti-doping, making sure medications are permitted and if not applying for a therapeutic use exemption. I also have to arrange all my own travel and hotels for these international competitions. Its surprising how all this adds up, there is more to it than just going and shooting a rifle. There are times when shooting feels like the easy bit.

Monday, 15 July 2019

A refreshing break before the World Cup

Last week I took a break from my shooting, instead going yacht sailing for a week in the Solent. This was part of the south coast blind sailing week. There were 22 Yachts and just over 50 VI participants. This year I was sailing with the same skipper as last year as well as his wife, but the other crew members I had not sailed with before.

After joining the boat in Lymington, the first place to visit was Bembridge. For those who do not know the area, it is only possible to sail into Bembridge close to high tide. At low tide there is very little water and you would be surprised you could ever get a yacht in there.

Requiring sufficient water to get out of Bembridge, it meant a 5:00am start, may be not quite the relaxing time I had intended. However being a morning person as well as it giving us time for a good long sail, we headed off round the south of the island and past the needles.

The next few days were spent sailing around, finding quiet spots to stop for lunch. One such place, which possibly is my favourite in the area is on the Beaulieu River.

As the week came to an end I had the chance to go on the Wetwheels power boat. I had not done this before and so was quite keen to do it. However I seemed to be at the back of the queue and so I had some time to relax on the yacht at anchor in Osborne bay. The wait was well worth it. The Wetwheels power boat has twin Sazuki 325 HP engines and is capable of going at 40 knots. This is probably the fastest I have ever been on water and then also to have the chance to steer the power boat as well. After that the last day of sailing on the yacht felt very pedestrian, although I think there is much more to feel on a boat under sail.

This brings me to the end of the sailing week and today I was back at the shooting doing some training in preparation for going to Croatia next week. May be the week break from shooting and doing something else has helped as I achieved a personal best league competition score. Its all looking good for the World Cup.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Booking flights for a shooting competition

In the last week I got the flights booked for me to go to Croatia for the World Cup at the end of this month. Those of you who are either not a shooter or are a shooter but have never competed internationally may have wondered about what is involved in flying to a competition with an air rifle. In this post I will discuss the process of booking the flights and arranging carriage of the air rifle. It is a simple enough process when you know what to do, but there are certainly things to watch out for.

The first difficulty is to find an airline who carries firearms. In general the low-cost airlines do not and the national airlines do. There are some exceptions to that rule so its always worth checking specific airlines before booking. This can affect the route taken. For me flying to Croatia, Zagreb is the most logical airport to fly to normally, but when you remove the airlines who will not take the air rifle the flights are expensive and/or involve multiple flights. Also it is worth checking what fees the airline charge to carry the air rifle, these can vary considerably. I have even once come across a flight which was a codeshare between two airlines, yet one airline charged much less for the rifle than the other. So if cost is important remember to add the additional fees to the ticket price.

I started to look for alternative destination airports. The most promising with a choice of cheaper direct flights with airlines who would carry the rifle was to fly to Budapest. Whilst the drive from Budapest will be a similar distance as it would be from Zagreb, it does mean we will be in another country and so need to check the laws of that country in relation to the air rifle. Within Europe this normally is not to much of an issue for match air rifles such as mine as it is of a low power. However typically there can be some confusion when discussing it with officials not realising what it is and so asking to see the gun license. After a bit of discussion they realise its a low power air rifle and then things are fine.

From this point on it generally starts to become simpler. In one case I was able to book the air rifle on the airline website at the same time as making the flight booking. However in most cases you need to phone the airline to add the rifle to the booking. I normally book myself as a blind passenger when booking the tickets, so I have always wondered what the person taking my call thinks when a blind person is adding a rifle to their flight booking. I have never recieved a comment or question about it, so either their training says to not ask such questions or they just don't notice or link the two facts.

After all this everything relating to the flights is now arranged. All that remains is to turn up at the airport and actually do the flight. I will write another post about that part around the time when I fly to the World Cup.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Improvements in prone shooting

Yesterday evening I was doing more prone training. We had made some adjustments to try and solve the cant problems and stop the rifle dropping in my shoulder as I shoot. Whilst up to now my prone scores have been good, we have always needed to watch out for these things as they can lead to my shot group moving across the target and out of the 10 ring. In prone as things are so precise, any error could make all the difference.

So did the changes to the rifle make a difference? I think they might have.

Photo showing target when shooting prone

A score over 614 is a new personal best for me, so I am pleased with it. There were some really good groups in that, somewhere in the middle I had a string of 23 shots in the 10 ring. By the end I was tiring a bit and I made a few mistakes and it is possible to see this in the shots. Overall I am quite pleased with it, even if there are a few things to work on for further improvements.

Monday, 10 June 2019

All go for the World Cup

Frequent readers of my blog may remember that I had to withdraw from the International Shooting Competition of Hanover a week before that competition was due to start. The unforeseen circumstance which meant I had to withdraw has now been resolved. This means it is all go now for me for the World Cup which will happen at the end of July in Croatia.

This will be the first time I will have had to fly with my Walther air rifle. Whilst I am familiar with the process when dealing with the airline, the question is more about making sure it will fit in my Peli case. Also it will be the first time I will be flying with the table and seat I use for prone. We designed them to collapse very small but again the proof will come when we try to pack it into suitable cases. It will be good practice in readiness for flying to Australia with all the equipment.

As I had got a certain amount of the admin work out the way when preparing for Hanover, things like the paperwork for sight classification, there is much less admin for me to do in preparing for Croatia. This should give me more time to focus on my shooting and training for the competition.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Continuing with training

Well its been longer than I intended between updates. It was feeling a bit of an anticlimax after all the build up to Hanover only to have to withdraw from the competition the week before. However since then I have still been doing plenty of training. Those who follow me on facebook may know that yesterday was my birthday and I did not even get exempt from training on my birthday.

The prone is coming along really quite well. I have had a couple more training sessions where the score was very high. If I can achieve similar scores in competition to what I am doing in training, then there is a good chance I could be competing for a medal in prone. It has slightly caught me out how quickly things seem to have come together once we found a combination of position and equipment which does not cause me pain. Within just over a month my goal has moved from just achieving a qualifying score for the World Championships to actually thinking about competing for medals.

We should not forget about my standing, I am still doing training for that. However as I am much more experienced with that the jumps in performance are much more gradual. In fact I am possibly at a point where I am just pushing a little too hard at trying to improve things and so just applying too much pressure. It may be time to just let me relax and shoot naturally for a little time and then review what needs to be improved based on that.

It may be a slightly quiet time in my shooting year, but I will try and get back to posting more frequent updates.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Time for plan B

Next week will be the International Shooting Competition of Hanover. Unfortunately I needed to make a last minute change of plans as due to some unforeseen delays in preparations I was not able to get everything ready in time.

The problem related to the fact that World Shooting ParaSport only approved vision impaired shooting as an official discipline in their programme back at the end of February this year. Whilst the competition had been announced for some time prior to that, there were certain things which could not be started until WSPS had officially accepted VI shooting. It was always going to be tight and unfortunately I encountered some unexpected delays. So as everything was not going to be ready I made the decision I would have to withdraw from the competition.

This change of plan should not cause any problems in the grand scheme of things for the year as I still have the World Cup at the end of July which I can use for qualification for going to the World Championships. The few extra months should be sufficient time to get everything ready. In fact this had always been the plan B.

One advantage is that this will give me more time to get settled with my prone shooting before going to a qualification competition. Whilst based upon what I am shooting in prone, achieving the qualification score should not be a problem, but may be by the time of the World Cup I will actually be competing to be in the final. That would probably have been a bit of an ambitious goal for Hanover.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

ESSU competition report

Today I was shooting at the ESSU competition at Bisley. It was an early start, leaving home at 5:00am. Being so early on Sunday morning there was little traffic and we arrived around the time we hoped. My assistant was going to be shooting prone rifle on the first detail at 8:30. As my call to the line was not until 10:00, I went to have some breakfast in the meantime.

Once my assistant had finished shooting, time to start getting me ready to shoot. We knew it was going to be tight and in the rush I forgot to do some stretching exercises.This combined with the rushing and nerves, meant at first I was not quite as settled as I would have liked and there was more movement than I wanted. Unfortunately this did show itself in my scores, with the first 10 shot series being the worst. As the competition went on I started to settle and things started to pick up. The nerves did seem to be impacting upon some of my technique, I just need to find a way of keeping relaxed in these competitions.

My score was 550.0, which is lower than I had been hoping to do. As it is possible to see how my scores improved as I relaxed, I am sure that if I can learn to control my nerves a bit better my score will improve. Also as we have some video of me doing my competition, we should be able to learn quite a lot from this competition. So it has been useful for training even though I would have liked to have done better.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Pre-competition thoughts about the ESSU

Tomorrow I will be shooting in the ESSU competition down at Bisley. Again another competition shooting against sighted shooters. This will be my fourth competition against sighted shooters since my first of these about six months ago. Contrast this with VI specific competitions where I have only done two in the last year. It is this relatively low number of VI competitions which lead to me starting to shoot against sighted shooters so that I could gain much more competition experience. As I noted before, I think I put myself under greater pressure at these sighted competitions than the VI competitions, so hopefully it will be doing some good in preparing me for high pressure competitions in the future. The only thing these are not giving me is experience of shooting in a final, unfortunately VI shooting scores are that much lower that there is little chance of me making a final when competing with sighted shooters.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Improvements in prone

I thought may be I was going to have a little break from shooting over easter. My coach was going to be busy on the Monday when I would normally do some training and I had not been sent home with my rifle or any other training to do at home. However this morning I noticed a text message from my coach saying she would be up at the shooting club this evening so did I want to do some training. So this evening I was at the club doing some more prone training.

It was a good training session this evening. I am not sure whether I quite got the correct position fully as it was not as comfortable and it was starting to hurt by the end. However we were trying out some new equipment as I had been borrowing some at the training camp last week. Well in the end my score for 60 shots was better than my previous attempt and it also was possibly a bit more consistent. I had been getting a bit concerned before last week that it was getting closer to the dates for going to Hanover and not really having a prone position sorted. Since last week I am now starting to feel more confident about it, my prone does seem to be coming together now.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Training camp report

Firstly I want to start by saying sorry to my blog readers for not writing an update over the last couple of days. As you may know I was away at the British Shooting training camp and whilst the hotel did have internet it was extremely slow and so it was difficult to post updates. Well I am back home now and time to give you a full update on the last few days.

Monday started with an early morning start to travel down to Stoke Mandeville. Dispite the early start, we hit some traffic on the road which meant we arrived a bit later than originally planned. After being introduced to who was there, it was time to start doing some training. We decided that may be start with what I know and do some standing so that everyone else could see how my aiming equipment works. One of the coaches commented on a few things I could look at changing, so I focussed only on the standing on the Monday leaving the prone until Tuesday.

So Tuesday arrived and after my early morning go on the rowing machine in the gymn, it was time to get on with doing some prone shooting. We had watched some of the other shooters in wheelchairs doing prone from a table and had some ideas of what may be I could try doing. However whatever I did I just always seemed to be in significant pain and I was getting very close to giving up. However we tried changing the glove I was using and things seemed much, much better and I did a bit more until the end of the shooting time. Now things seemed comfortable in prone, or at least manageable, we said that Wednesday would be time for me to do a trial match in prone.

Wednesday started in a similar way, the early morning go on the rowing machine for 12km before breakfast and then onto the shooting. A quick few shots to check that I had found my prone position again. After a short wait for the electronic targets to sort themselves out, it was time to start my 60 shot match. All started good and after about 35 shots my assistant asked me if I wanted a break. I was feeling reasonably OK and wanted to see how far I could go until the break was necessary, so I decided to continue without taking a break. A short time later I had finished my 60 shots and it was time to review how it had gone. When looking at the scores you could see that I probably should have taken a break as there was a significant dip around shot 35 and with the score returning for the last ten shots. Overall it scored 601.2, which for a first prone match is reasonable. There are things I need to work on and I need to learn when to take a break, but it has made me more confident that I will be able to compete without trouble in Hanover and that I should be able to qualify to do prone at the World Championships.

After doing the prone, it was a return to standing. After making a small adjustment to the rifle, it seemed to be sitting better in my shoulder than it previously had been. After all this shooting which is more than I normally do, it was time to start packing up and heading for home. I think we have learned a good amount over the last few days and it possibly has turned my prone around to a point where I am at least prepared to continue with it for now.

Tomorrow I will be going to my local club for a normal shooting evening. However after so much hard training, it will be time to just go and shoot and try and let it happen as naturally as I can and enjoy what I am doing without the concern of trying to do everything perfect.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Would I take full sight if offered it?

Today a non-shooting post, rather a post about vision impairment. The question of whether if I were offered full sight, would I take it?

This question comes up for me from time to time. The question is a theoretical question in my case as at the moment there is nothing out there which could actually do this. However it is still an interesting question.

Many think the answer would be obviously a yes. There are times when life can be difficult as a vision impaired person, when being able to see would make the task so much simpler. So why when I think about the question do I feel it is not that simple and possibly my answer would be no.

I have always had a vision impairment since birth. This means that the lack of sight feels like it is part of who I am and it has probably has made me who I am today. This probably is explained a bit through some examples of what I mean.

  1. As you may know I work as a software developer. My real interest in software was triggered back when I was studying physics at university and was having trouble getting mathematical documents in a format I could read. The software out there at the time was simply not good enough and so I started to write some software for my own use. As I felt the benefit of the software I was writing, it made me realise what a difference software could make. If it had not been for this experience, would I feel so strongly about wanting to write software and that software should be accessible to all? Possibly not and my life may have taken a different direction.
  2. Likewise my vision impairment possibly has lead me to shooting. I got into shooting when I was at school, it was a school for the blind and they had a shooting club actually at the school. I decided to try shooting to see what it was like and ever since then I have been hooked. Also as you may know, vision impaired shooting is not yet a paralympic sport, although there has been attempts to develop it to that point for many years. So when the IBSA shooting chairman asked for help back in 2011, I stepped forward wanting to help develop the sport I enjoy so much. If I were not vision impaired would I have even tried shooting and would I have got involved in the sport development and governance?

The other thing is that having a vision impairment is normal for me as that is how my life has always been, full sight would be totally new and strange at first. That raises questions of how I would feel about it, would it change how I view things and may others change how they feel about me? Also would I be able to cope with it and learn to use it, or would it just overload me with an excess of confusing information? It is not really possible to answer these, but I cannot believe that at least some of this may happen.

Finally I am fairly comfortable with who I am, life is quite good, a job I want to do, a sport I enjoy, etc. Yes there are things which may be difficult, but with the right tools and help these normally can be overcome. Remember with my shooting I can hit a spot 0.5mm in diameter at 10 meters distance, so surely there must be solutions for the more every day things. I do get mixed feelings about research for cures, I don't want to be cured of who I am, I just want help to be able to live my life.

I must point out this is my views. Other people with a different life experience, in particular those who have had full sight and lost it, may feel quite differently.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Wobbly training

After doing prone on Thursday evening, today was back to standing. I think the plan is that this will be my routine for training now leading up to Hanover in May.

The difference today was I was going to work on stabilising the position, which involved doing some dry firing standing on a balance board. The balance board I am using is a board placed on top of a number of squashy balls.

The training started off with me just doing shooting as normal for the first 20 shots. After this I then was moved to be standing on the balance board. It wasn't feeling too much different to normal, I am not sure I could feel much more movement although I have been told it was possible to see the movement. However I settled down and it turns out my trace on Scatt was becoming shorter than the shots I took earlier. I made the joke that may be I need to shoot my competitions from a balance board if it makes my shots better. Then to finish off it was back to normal shooting without the balance board. Well it must have done something as these shots were better than the shots at the beginning of the session.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Sad news for VI shooting in the UK

Earlier this week I learned of the death of Ken Nash. Ken was a significant figure within shooting and in particular vision impaired shooting. Ken has been involved from the beginning of vision impaired shooting as it is now in the UK, from the time the Swarovski acoustic scope made its way over here back in 1994. Since then Ken promoted VI shooting amongst shooting clubs and grew the sport to what it is today. He also organised the annual British VI championships and the VI leagues. Also around the late 1990s through to the mid 2000s, Ken organised a team of VI shooters to go and shoot at the Dutch open Championships in Apeldoorn.

Back in 2013 as part of the disabled shooting project, I presented Ken Nash with the award for outstanding individual contribution to disabled target shooting. It was a great honour for me to present him with the award and acknowledge his contribution.

I would like to finish this post by saying thank you Ken, you will be sadly missed. My condolences go to his wife, family and friends.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Over to you, what do you like

I know I started writing my blog years ago, but I started to commit to giving frequent updates only more recently. Its all part of me wanting to raise my profile ahead of the World Championships later this year. Also if I can get others interested in the sport and may be even taking it up, even better.

So its time to ask you, my readers, what items do you like reading? Are there some topics you want more of or are there things you would like me to go into more detail. Do you like reading about me and what I am doing, training, competitions and even things outside my shooting, or would you prefer more detailed technical items? Is there anything I haven't talked about yet which you would like me to discuss.

So now over to you, either give me your feedback in the comments or if you would prefer to send it privately use the contact form to email me.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Another competition in the calendar

This week I have got my entry into the ESSU Championships confirmed. With these championships coming about a week before I go to Hanover, it should be a good training competition to prepare me for the first international of the year. I am not sure which I prefer, whether to have competitions coming up close together like this in clusters, or if I would prefer them to be spread out a bit more evenly throughout the year. I am sure when I get back from Hanover I will be trying to catch up with other parts of my life. Why not give your view in the comments.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

CTSA league results

Today the results for the final round of the Cambridgeshire Target Shooting Association rifle leagues were available. I finished in a solid second place in the first division. One thing which was very pleasing to see is that my average for the ten rounds is 272.4. This is significantly higher than my entry average which was 263.8. It is always nice to see improvement in your shooting and for me to have such a large improvement is a really good start for the year. Now to keep up that good work in readiness for my international competitions later this year.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Training without pellets or sound

Earlier today I was at my shooting club doing some training, but I never fired a pellet or even turned on the sound from my aiming device. Don't worry I haven't gone mad, there is a good reason for this. Those of you who are shooters may be familiar with the concept of dry-fire training, but what was the no sound all about?

As my shooting has improved, getting the position correct to ensure everything is fully stable has become more important. In the last couple of weeks we have done some work on getting the position correct. However when I hear the sound of the aiming device, it is too tempting to let that drive me to work at finding the centre of the target, rather than feeling my position and letting the position naturally settle. So we kept the sound off today so that I would have to feel the position.

My assistant had Scatt attached to my rifle so she could see how things were moving. I have been told that things seem to be improving and I think I am starting to understand better what I need to do. I have been given some home work in the form of some exercises to help with strength. May be next time I am at the club we can look at adding the sound back in.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The equipment I use

For those who would like to know what equipment I use, then you may be interested in the new page I have written which lists my current and previous shooting equipment. Read the my equipment page here. I have left out items which I feel are less significant, however if you are interested in those then contact me with your request.

On that page I have mentioned where I have received support with the equipment, but one I think particularly deserves to be highlighted is that of the boots.

Back in 2007, fellow vision impaired shooter Morag Morrison sadly died of Parkinson's disease. Morag's family wanted to give her shooting equipment to people who would make good use of it, I was asked if any of it would be useful to me and fortunately my feet were the same size as Morag's and so I inherited her boots. Morag's boots continue to serve me well, I thank Morag's family for giving me these boots and I hope they feel I am making good use of them.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Article in the Melton Times

There was a nice piece written about me in the Melton Times this week. You can read the article here. It gives a good summary of my shooting career to date and mentions my hopes for the World Championships later this year.

In the past most media coverage about vision impaired shooting normally focusses on how it is done and/or is about a club getting the equipment. One thing which normally is lacking is any insights into the actual people who are the vision impaired shooters. I must admit I do quite like interviews and items which discuss the person. In my time of doing the sport I have met some great people. I really hope over time people will become more aware of vision impaired shooting and so there will be less need for the how it is done items and more time can be given to showing the personalities in the sport.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

British vision impaired championships

Yesterday was the day of the British vision impaired shooting championships. Due to the differences between this competition and how international competitions are shot, I decided not to shoot in this competition. However I still went to see what was going on, see whether there were any shooters who may be interested in the international disciplines and also to collect my EcoAims which I will use for prone.

The first thing which struck me was how quiet it was at the competition. Having gone to international competitions and mainstream national competitions, I have got so used to there being music playing and plenty of people talking. Seems like many in this country are still under the impression that vision impaired shooters need silence, rather than the shooter learning to cope with background noise or getting earphones with better sound isolation.

Another difference was the fact that paper targets of air pistol size were being used. This probably is the main reason I decided not to compete, all my international competitions are done using air rifle targets and with electronics, so the rhythm and score would not compare. Also I am not satisfied with the current solution used in this country for using the EcoAims with paper targets, they mount the LED on the wall above the target. This means any error in positioning the target in the target carrier will lead to an inaccuracy of the aiming system. At my shooting club we are so disatisfied that we have decided to look into developing a target holder with an LED which is loaded into the target carrier, thus ensuring the target and LED are always positioned the same relative to each other.

We had a bit of a conversation with one of the clubs from Cornwall. To my surprise one of them was someone I went to school with and had not spoken with since I left school in 2003. They seemed quite interested in the international disciplines and I hope that they do look into it further.

With the journey home to do I decided to head for home before the final results were announced, so unfortunately I cannot give details of those here. I hope those who competed enjoyed the championships and feel that they achieved their goals.

Finally before I go, I am sure some of you may have the question why I was getting a second EcoAims aiming device? The reason is so that we can set one up for standing and the other for prone. Also the EcoAims device I currently have is an older device and the adjusters do not have such a good feel when you move them, so it can be difficult to adjust it precisely, the newer devices have much better clicks in the adjusters. This possibly is one advantage the VIASS has with its electronic adjustments, providing you remember the values you can set the adjustments from a computer, which makes it much more suited to multi-discipline use.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Melton Times Sports Awards presentation evening

Yesterday evening was the Melton Times Sports Awards. As I previously blogged, I had been nominated and short listed as a finalist in the category of disabled sports person of the year.

The evening started with a meal and the awards were to be presented afterwards. There were a number of different categories and the disabled sports person award was to be the third to be presented. It was impressive to hear about all the finalists and what they have done in their sports, I can imagine there were some tough choices for the judges to select one winner in each category.

The moment came when the disabled sports person award was to be presented. All finalists were to go up to the stage whilst information about each finalist and their achievements were read out. I did not know whether I had won or not until the envelope was opened and the winner was announced. I am proud to say that the winner was myself. Fortunately for me, the winners of the previous categories did not give a speech and as I am not keen on giving speeches I followed their lead.

Me with my award

I would like to say a quick thank you to all the people have helped me, from those who work as my assistant, coaching encouragement, etc. Yes I might be the one who actually does the aiming and firing of the shot, but without your help I doubt I would have reached the level I have.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Life when not shooting

Being a vision impaired shooter does not mean you always pick up a rifle every day. For the last two days my rifle has stayed in its case. However this does not mean I am not doing things which contribute to my shooting.

I thought in this post I could give you a bit of an idea what I do when not actually shooting.

Probably most of my time actually is taken up by work. I work full time as a software developer. Normally this has very little overlap with my shooting, other than I do need to earn an income as there is currently no support for VI shooters in the UK. I have dabbled in mixing my skills as a software developer with my shooting by creating some apps to help me. The only shooting app I have published is VI shoot which allows you to configure your VIASS from an Android device.

My fitness regime is another significant part of my life. Some people think of shooting as a very static sport with very little movement, however you need a good level of fitness and muscle control to actually do it well. Normally I will be on my rowing machine for half an hour every day, core strength is very important for shooting. Tomorrow morning I will be going to do some yoga, again works on the core strength but also it should help my balance. I hope to get some pictures and/or video of me doing yoga for you to see.

Unfortunately being an international sports person does come with some administration from time to time. Over the last couple of days I have been getting together my forms for registering as a World Shooting ParaSport athlete as well as my medical diagnosis form for sight classification. This year probably will have more than usual administration as VI shooting has been adopted by World Shooting ParaSport and there is a new sight classification system as well. It does feel a bit of a nuisance but I guess its required and hopefully in future years there will be much less to do.

This is just some of what I do when not shooting. I will do posts like this from time to time to give you an idea of other things I do when not actually shooting.

Monday, 25 February 2019

British Open Airgun Championships report

I was silent here over the last two days because I was at the British Open Airgun Championships and it was difficult to find time with a good internet connection to be able to post any updates here. So here goes a full report of how I got on at the championships.

Saturday was an early start with a long drive to get to the competition. Fortunately my sighted assistant does the driving, so we arrived safely and with plenty of time to spare before my first match of the weekend. I was feeling a bit nervous as this was the first time a vision impaired shooter has shot at the British Open Airgun Championships. I think I apply pressure to myself in these situations as I want to show how well vision impaired shooters potentially can shoot.

I started sighters and all seemed to be going OK, until a minute before end of sighting time when the target failed to score shots. Fortunately we had set up a reserve firing point with a LED and so I was moved to the reserve space. After a few more sighters I seemed to settle in and moved onto competition shots. Considering the nerves and the disruption of moving to another firing point, I finished the first match with a respectable 556.1 which is better than my competition scores from last year.

Sunday was also an early start as my assistant was shooting in the first detail of the day, so breakfast was had at the shooting range. My second match was not until later that afternoon, so I spent most of the day trying to find non-shooting related things to do to keep my mind occupied.

Fortunately I had no technical issues in the second match, but it seems like I didn't quite get the initial set up of my position correct. Also quite early on my feet started to hurt from all the standing, people say it is due to the type of flooring in the shooting range. Things seemed very difficult and my scores were not what I would hope for, but I could just not work out what was wrong. Around shot 30 I made a slight adjustment to my position and things improved significantly and scores returned to normal. Due to the problems at the start my finishing score for the match was 538.3 which is much lower than I normally do. However I think I have learnt some important things from this match so its not all bad.

The competition I entered was the aggregate in class C, so the final positions are worked out from combining the two match results. Due to the low score in the second match I finished a long way down in the class, but I don't think winning was the main goal this year, I was doing it for competition experience and I think it definitely served that purpose.

Finally I would like to thank the NSRA for having the medical dispensation scheme and allowing me to compete in this competition. As well as giving me some valuable competition experience, I think having me at these increases the awareness of vision impaired shooting amongst the wider shooting community. I also hope that this will encourage other vision impaired shooters to move forward with their shooting and join me at some of these competitions.

Friday, 22 February 2019

History and development of vision impaired shooting

Today's post is probably of greatest interest to those either new to vision impaired shooting or have only seen it a number of years ago. I intend to give a little bit of history of vision impaired shooting and how it has developed over the years.

Firstly a quick summary of how someone with impaired vision shoots. The vision impaired shooter uses the same equipment as would a sighted air rifle shooter, with the one change where the standard sights are replaced with an electronic device which produces via headphones an audio signal to indicate the point of aim. The shooter also has a sighted assistant who may help the shooter locate the correct target and provide details such as where a shot hit the target. For more details please see this page about vision impaired shooting.

Back when I started shooting, around 22 years ago, the aiming device was quite different to the current system. The old Swarovski ZE-B618 was a light based system, where the target was the reverse of the normal target, it required a white centre and a black surround. It also required the target to be illuminated by a 50W halogen lamp. The sound produced by this equipment could be affected by many factors, the quality of the target, the brightness of the lamp and even other light sources such as sunshine through windows in the room. The general view at the time was that an air pistol sized target was the most appropriate target for vision impaired shooters.

Due to me starting shooting at a young age and the equipment available at my school's shooting club, I shot with the rifle supported on a rest. This is how the majority of vision impaired shooters were shooting then and many still do shoot using the support rest. However there were a few who were shooting in the conventional standing position without any additional support for the rifle. Soon after Holwell Rifle Club obtained the aiming equipment for vision impaired shooting in 2005, I started to shoot in the conventional standing position without the support rest.

The scores being achieved back in 2005 were much lower than they are now. For a vision impaired shooter shooting in the conventional standing position, the highest score achieved in competition was 570 integer score on an air pistol target. Over the years the standard has improved, to a point where I could achieve a 600 integer on air pistol targets. However in 2014 I could tell that internationally it was likely that there would be a changed to air rifle sized targets for vision impaired shooting, so with support from my shooting club I started to enter local leagues shooting against sighted shooters using air rifle targets. At this point I felt my shooting really could be compared against any other air rifle shooter.

Due to the target requirements of the Swarovski aiming device, it was difficult for me to get permission to go to any standard shooting competition. However once the newer digital aiming devices started to become available the situation began to change. The newer digital aiming devices only require a battery powered infrared LED to be placed near the target. Also these systems are not affected by differences in lighting condition in the shooting range. This makes it much simpler for competition organisers as the only alteration needed to let me shoot is to place the LED near the target. I remember the comment of how simple it was from the organisers of my first competition with sighted shooters.

Vision impaired shooting has really come a long way since vision impaired shooting of yesteryears and I now feel I can be treated like any other shooter. So when you watch me shoot this weekend, remember I am doing everything the same as all the other shooters, the only difference is I am using my ears instead of my eyes.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

First competition of 2019: British Open Airgun Championships

This weekend will see my first competition of 2019, the British Open Airgun Championships. This is going to be a big competition for me, it is the highest level competition to date shooting alongside sighted shooters and I believe the first time a vision impaired shooter has competed in this championships. Also this will be the first competition for me with my new shooting suit. I admit I am feeling a bit excited and nervous about this competition. It is strange how I seem to get more nervous about national level competitions against sighted shooters than I do at some international vision impaired shooting competitions.

I would encourage anyone who is at the competition to come and speak with me or my assistant if you want to know more about me or how vision impaired shooting is done. I will be there both Saturday and Sunday, so I should have plenty of time when I am not shooting to have discussions.

If you cannot make it to the competition, then you will be able to follow my progress as I intend to post updates on both my twitter account and also on my FaceBook page. Additionally at the end of the weekend I will write a follow-up post here on my blog.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

EcoAims sound curve details

Update: The original posting of this blog post contained a mistake on where curves B and C start to rise in tone, this is now corrected.

In yesterday's post about the EcoAims software I mentioned that the sound curves tab in the VIS500 setup tool has no description of the different curves. Daniel Walø sent me a message with some information about the different sound curves.

Graph showing different sound curves, X axis is distance from target centre and Y axis is pitch of sound.

The above graph probably is the simplest explanation for those who can see. The X axis is the distance from the target centre in mm and the Y axis is the pitch of the sound in Hz.

For those who cannot see the graph, here is a text description based upon the description Daniel gave me. Curve A is steeper than the other curves, with the tone starting to rise about 25mm from the target centre and most noticeably rising about 5mm from the target centre. Both curves B and C start to rise further from the target centre than curve A, and so do not rise as noticeably in the very centre. Curve B is steeper than curve C.

Even with this information, I think I would still suggest you try each sound curve and decide which you prefer or which works best. I don't think anyone has really done research into what would be the best audio signal for shooting, but my experience is starting to tell me it might not be quite what you might expect.

I also feel it would be good if EcoAims could add some more detail into their software to help the user select the curves. May be a text description of each curve, better still may be an audio sample which could be played.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

EcoAims software information and tips

After a few days of blog admin updates, back to information about shooting equipment. This post will be of particular interest for users of the EcoAims VIS500 as I will be discussing the EcoAims software.

Over the last couple of weeks I have helped a couple of friends with their EcoAims VIS500 aiming devices and the software. This reminded me about the situation with the software and I think it might be useful to give some tips here for everyone. There are two pieces of software for the VIS500, the training software and the setup tool.

The training software

The training software allows the computer to show where the gun is pointing and will estimate the score of shots. This means you can use your EcoAims VIS500 as an electronic trainer and do dry-fire training. Whilst this may seem like a nice feature, unfortunately in reality it is not of great value:

  1. The software is not really accessible with a screen reader and so those who rely on a screen reader will only be able to hear the shot score at the time of taking the shot. You will not even be able to configure software settings. To get the most from the software you probably will want sighted assistance.
  2. Sighted people tell me that even when you can see, the information available is very limited in comparison to what is provided in other electronic trainers, for example Scatt. When using Scatt, there is an amazing amount of statistics available, enough to confuse many people but in the right hands a really valuable resource to allow you detailed analysis of your shooting.
My recommendation is, if you want serious electronic training, then you will need to buy something else.

The VIS500 setup tool

Thankfully as it is more important, the setup tool can be used by a screen reader user independently, however this is still not entirely issue free as some of the labelling of the controls is not correctly read. If you know the order of the controls as you tab around the window, then you will be able to access everything.

Below is a description of the user interface for version 1.1.

IMPORTANT: Remember to press the read parameters button to retrieve the settings from the VIS500. When you have finished changing the settings, remember to press the set parameters button to save the settings back to the aiming device. Failing to press the button to set the values will lead to no changes in the device settings.

The sound tab
  1. On time edit box; the length of time the pulsed tone will be on, the length of the pulse.
  2. Off time edit box; the length of time the pulsed tone will be off, or the time between pulses.
  3. Off amplitude edit box; how lound the tone will be for the off part of the pulsed tone. Low values will be quieter and high values will be louder.
  4. Pulse region; whether you want the tone to pulse inside or outside the zone. Select inside to have it pulse near the target centre, select outside to have it pulse near the target edge.
  5. Pulse zone size slider; Select how large you want the zone for the pulsed tone to be.
Sound curve tab

This tab only consists of three radiobuttons to select between three different sound curves, A, B or C. A sound curve is how the pitch varies relative to the centre. I have not found a description for the different sound curves and I can only recommend try them all and select which you prefer or shoot best with.

Sensor tab

On this tab there is just one slider to set the sensitivity of the shot sensor. Lower values make the scope less sensitive and higher values make it more sensitive. I found that normally only one or two values works well for a particular rifle, correctly detecting shots whilst not incorrectly detecting other bumps and clicks.

Software version tab

This allows you to check the version of the software installed in the VIS500. Unfortunately if you have an old version you would need to send it to EcoAims or may be a dealer to get the software updated.

Using it with a Mac

EcoAims have no version of the software for MacOSX. Users of those computers will need to either:

  1. Install windows on their Mac, through virtual machine software such as VmWare or directly with BootCamp
  2. Alternatively find a Windows PC, even a fairly cheap PC should run the software as it is not very heavy on resources.
Even if there were software for MacOSX, the experience may not be too good. I once had my VIS500 connected to my Mac when it booted into MacOSX and it seems like VoiceOver was getting input events from the VIS500, as if it thought the VIS500 was a Braille display or something, which was sending VoiceOver crazy. When I disconnected the VIS500 VoiceOver went back to normal. I doubt this can be corrected by EcoAims without entirely redesigning how the VIS500 communicates with the computer.

Experience of creating shooting videos

You may be aware that over the last few weeks I have been creating some videos for IBSA on vision impaired shooting. It has been quite an ex...