Owning Your Failures

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Defensive shooting is a skill.  It takes time, effort, focus and concentration to build those skills.  While there are many people born with natural athletic abilities or natural gifts of intellectuality and creativity, there are two significant traits which permeate those we look up to as great shooters.  They put the time and effort in, and they have failed and then learned from their mistakes.  It is the cycle of work, fail, learn,improve and work again, that leads us to improve.  It is hard to say which of these parts of the cycle is most important.  One will not improve if any of these items are not missing.  Though, I would put special emphasis on Owning Your Failures.

As a developing shooter, it is important to select practice drills and techniques which force us to develop specific skills and correct insufficiencies in our shooting techniques.  These drills are meant to instigate failure. Failures may include those based off of accuracy, time or a combination of the two.

Here are a few drills we like:

  1. 2 Drills to Quickly Improve Your Accuracy
  2. The Bill Drill
  3. The F.A.S.T. Drill

These drills are designed to force a failure which will help a shooter assess and improve their shooting technique and abilities.

Shooting technique failures are not the only failures which we must own as shooters.

One of the biggest failures I have witnessed (and owned myself) was falling in love with gear that simply did not work well for me.

For instance, as a brand new shooter, the first handgun I bought was a beautifiul Sig Sauer P229 in 40 caliber.  While this is a fantastic handgun, it required that I learn two different trigger pulls, a double action for the first pull and a single action for the second pull.  This complicated my learning process as a new shooter.  Also, the 40 caliber pistol round has great deal more recoil than a 9 mm round, without much benefit in its defensive performance.

If I had acknowledged the failure in my choice of gear earlier and changed my equipment I may have progressed more quickly.

A lesser-recoiling, striker-fired pistol chambered in 9 mm (Like the Heckler and Koch VP9 I now carry), which has a single-style of trigger-pull with every round, would have lessened the effort I needed to develop my shooting skills and accelerated the time it would take to become an accomplished marksman.

Shooting Competitions Are a Great Place to Learn Failure and Have Fun at the Same Time

If you really want to test your skills and learn where you need improvement, compete in one of the shooting sports.  IDPA, USPSA or 3-Gun competitions are all great options.  Under the stress of competition, you learn stress can induce failure.  You will determine skills which need to work and improve upon to shoot confidently under stress.

Owning Failures as a Defensive Shooting Instructor:

As a defensive shooting instructor, I must be able to perform drills I ask my students to perform.  I must also meet (and exceed) the standards expected of my students.  If I ask my students to perform a drill I cannot do myself, it reflects poorly on me, and suggests I am teaching beyond my own capabilities at that point.  It is unethical and could be quite dangerous for an instructor to be teaching beyond their own capabilities.

There are times, when demonstrating a technique, I have fail to meet the standards I ask my students to meet.  This is not because I do not have the ability to do perform at the expected level.  It is because I may make a mistake.

Rather than make excuses for a sub-par performance, I must take ownership of my failure.  I must be able to explain what I did incorrectly and then perform the exercise again, this time meeting or exceeding the standards which have been proscribed.

The acknowledgment and correction of your shortcomings can only increase the credibility you have as an instructor or competent shooter.

Failure is simply a tool which allows us to observe our avenues for improvement.

I have heard it said, though I can not trace the origin of this quote:

“Amateurs train until they get it right… Professionals train until they can’t get it wrong”

There are a great many failures a professional undergoes until they reach the point where they “can’t get it wrong”.



The topic of owning and learning from your failures is not new and has been covered extensively across many different viewpoints.  It is discussed in sports, business and life lessons.  Personally, I was very much influenced by Mike Seeklander’s thoughts on failure during instruction in his book, “The Art of Instruction: Your Complete Guide to Instructional Excellence”.  Mr. Seeklander’s book is a must read for any professional firearms instructor.

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