The Start of the Journey

As you may have seen on my Twitter and Facebook pages, this past weekend I received the dates and location of my British Shooting training for my new discipline. I cannot wait to actually get out and be given the expert advice of the coaches on the programme.

I’ll start this instalment by introducing you to the Talent Pathway scheme – if you’re anything like me, I had absolutely no clue of how it was structured until I actually attended the Talent Identification Day at Nuthampstead. I had always thought it was a case of ‘shoot well, win the competitions, get on the team’, but it is far more than that. There are, in fact, five levels of training: firstly, the Talent Hub. These are grounds around the country that offer the opportunity to try out and practice the Olympic disciplines (for women, Olympic Trap or Olympic Skeet; for men these two plus Double Trap), building the basic skills and knowledge in one or all.

Next is the Regional Shotgun School, the level of the programme I am starting at. There are currently three; Doveridge Clay Sports Club, Beverley Clay Target Shooting Centre and Nuthampstead Shooting Ground. You have to be invited to join this level of the programme by British Shooting themselves (after attending a Talent Identification Day) in order to train for one of the disciplines specifically. I was lucky to be invited to this stage to be honest, considering it was the first time I had tried any of the Olympic disciplines; I think it was the fact that I had shot so much English Skeet, so knew the basic format! (Of course, English, American and Olympic Skeet are all different in small but distinctive ways, but the layout is the same and the targets fly in the same direction.)

The third stage is GB Talent Programme, in which the training is more bespoke and you are recognised as being ready to compete internationally. The penultimate phase is GB Academy Programme, where athletes who have ‘world class potential’ are trained and provided with specialist support on and off the range. Finally, we have the World Class Performance Programme, where shooters who have already demonstrated their ability to place at international competitions are offered everything they require to continue their successes in major championships.

I have done a fair amount of research on all of this in the last few days, and to be completely honest it is now rather daunting. Although I was lucky to not have to start from the first level and it is ‘only’ three more steps to the top rung, there is still quite a way for me to climb. And it brings me to an awkward situation in which I don’t know whether I truly deserve this opportunity.

Maybe it is because it is so tangible, now that training is due to start in less than a month. With so little experience in Olympic skeet and other women already paving the way for it in international competition, I wonder if I am good enough to one day compete on a team with and ultimately against them. I also found out that my training will be taking place at Doveridge (which is an eight hour round trip); the drive is going to be long and arduous, and I hope that the tiredness won’t affect my shooting too much. And will I be able to put in enough training?

People in my life outside of shooting are excited for me, telling me with huge grins on their faces that they want a reason to go to Tokyo in 2020 and that I will be their ticket! I wish I could share their optimism, and I try not to let on that I don’t truly believe I will make it that quickly – if at all – after being in sporting for so long and not being able to achieve any progression. It is easy from an outside point of view to project expectations on something we don’t understand – we have all done it – and it is only when we see it from the inside that we realise how long the journey will take.

Though I don’t like to admit it, there are always doubts and questions niggling at the back of my mind. Practical things like: ‘what about all that petrol?’, ‘how much more will cartridge prices go up by?’, ‘is it too far to travel in one day?’, ‘what if after 10 sessions I’ve not made any noticeable progress?’ – questions that I don’t want to consider, but have to take into account. Usually I just brush them off, telling myself it’ll all pan out, even if right now it seems like it won’t; that a solution will present itself when it is time. Sometimes I refuse to openly discuss the questions because the reality is that if I do, there might not be an answer.

I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom, because I truly am so excited for this opportunity. I’m genuinely thrilled to be priveleged enough to be able to access the amazing coaching British Shooting offers, starting a different discipline and maybe even actually going beyond the level I have been shooting at for the last few years. I have already received some uplifting comments on my posts on LinkedIn wishing me luck as I embark on this new adventure, which just make me more determined.

It is my friends’ and family’s pride in me, their belief in what I am trying to achieve, their emotional support that is stopping me from quitting before I even begin. I don’t want to let anyone down, least of all myself. I worked hard for this, and I’ve invested too much time and too much effort and too much care in this journey to give up now. I hope you stay with me and enjoy my updates as I progress!

(P.S. shameless plug here for my brother George and my friend Charlotte, both aspiring photographers who have been and will be photographing me during my training! Find them on Twitter at @geowillsgb and @CACreative_med and on Instagram at @charlotteaustwick and @geowillsgb)

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