Between The Berms: Olympic Lessons

Feb 12, 2014
Watch the variety of sports presented in the Olympics and it's clear that there is a great deal to be learned for those in the shooting sports. The Olympics offer a big, big stage. It's literally the big time in sports, even for ice hockey where skaters from the NHL get the chance to compete for national pride and not the Stanley Cup. (though the Stanley Cup is a pretty big deal, too) Athletes from all across the world and in a wide range of winter sports are basking in the exposure that comes from The Games. Where they are ready for their moment in the spotlight, by comparison the shooting sports are not. The national, and international, governing bodies for these sports have grown as the Olympics have grown. The more marketable the sport the greater that growth, but even the smaller sports have grown to meet the standards of international competition. Scoring is the best example of this. Watching speed skating live you can see exactly what a competitor's time is and how it measures up against the leader. Adjustments to times take place in a matter of seconds, or less. Rarely is there a serious delay. And all this takes place as the viewer watches it happen. In the shooting sports this is not the case. While other sports have made the investment into scoring systems and procedures to better communicate the excitement of their sport to the outside viewer, the shooting sports tend to focus on the match administrator's perspective only. I'll give you two examples. Last week I wrote about the Scholastic Pistol Program match at Texas A&M. A well run, well planned match, if not fully promoted as it could have been (i.e. more public relations), the match was over in just about three hours. However, it took another hour and a half to score it. A test of patience for coaches, shooters and parents, if ever there was one. This same slow process plays out in other matches as well, the SPP match is freshest on my mind since it was so recent and I was there, trying to nap in my car, waiting like the others for official scores to come in...before the sun went down. The problem, as with other sports, is a lack of investment in a scoring system more advanced than pen, paper and an Excel spreadsheet. Of course moving away from paper is about as easy as taking Linus's blanket away from him. Match directors are terrified of not having paper. Utterly terrified. So much so one wonders why score sheets aren't done in triplicate...just in case. The second example was two years ago at the IDPA Nationals. While trying to determine where the top competitors stood after their first day of competition, I learned that scores aren't totaled until all the stages are final. Let me put this into comic perspective for you. Imagine watching Bob Vogel and Rob Tate - both top shooters - pouring over the only sheet of scores stapled to a bulletin board, trying to add up a handful of stages for each in order to understand who was ahead and by how much. Now imagine Rob's wife having to do the exact same thing to try and figure out how her husband is doing? "Welcome to the match, Mrs. Tate. We hope you enjoy watching you husband shoot. Good luck figuring out his score." I was in that same boat. Now here's the kicker.... When I asked why partial scores were not totaled to show the current standings, I was told that some might think that a partial score - significantly lower than those completed - would make people think that a shooter was leading when he (or God forbid, she) hadn't finished the match. In other words, and yes this is in the harshest of terms, somebody determined that shooters are too stupid to notice or understand the difference between the scores of a done with his or her match and those of a shooter still out on the range. And that's pretty much how it was explained to me. Now, IDPA isn't the only shooting sport where this occurs. And what that tells me is that scoring is viewed solely as a match administration function where the success of the design and functionality is determined by how best the program or procedure keeps the match director from screwing up the scores. Scoring for them is not about communication. It's not about the viewer in the outside world. And it's certainly not about letting your wife know whether or not you're in position to win. By God, she can do her own scoring if she thinks she needs that information. And that's part - though a small part - of why we watch speed skating on TV and not the shooting sports. And by 'on TV' I mean live and not two or three months after the fact. In order to tell the story of a sport and a competition you have to tell the story through scoring. Think of it this way. Imagine watching a baseball game where the scoring isn't provided until the last batter is out. That's kinda how the shooting sports approach scoring. What needs to happen is the shooting sports have to invest in the infrastructure of scoring beyond a freshly sharpened pencil and neatly printed two-part carbonless score sheet. To be fair, some of the sports have scoring systems a little more advanced, but they are nothing like watching realtime scoring, with constantly changing margins of lead, like you'll see in live speed skating. So these sports, too, need to improve. A first step might be going fully electronic with realtime score input occurring at the stage itself. A competitor finishes a stage. The officials score it. The competitor reviews the score and signs off. And with a click of a button that score goes into a system that is a live update accessible online. Add to that monitors positioned throughout the match so shooters and spectators on one stage can see what happened on another. Or for those embracing the modern age, perhaps it's simply referring to the iPad in their range bag, because the facility where they are shooting invested in the new futuristic cutting edge technology called WiFi. Regardless of what the step is, you can't take your sport to the big time if you continue to ignore the important role scoring has in creating excitement. - Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network Got shooting sports news? Send us an email at