Jeff Gonzales: Training Stops Being a Failure When It Starts Being You

Jeff Gonzales (courtesy

I see it all the time. A student’s shooting skills suddenly and steeply degrade. They immediately blame their equipment. There is a time and place to look at your equipment. Has something gone wrong? Is it performing up to specifications? Does it suit you? But when things go south at the range, the first place you should look is within.

Embrace the suck

If you want to improve as a shooter/armed defender, you have to accept indeed embrace failure. You have to see your inability as the key to your future ability. After all, how can you know the limits of your shooting skills if you don’t push those limits to failure?

For example, consider practicing shooting center mass for self-defense . . .

If you’re shooting a really tight group, if you’re stacking rounds on top of each other, you’re shooting too slowly. If you’re shooting too large a group, if you’re target looks like a large chunk of Swiss cheese, you’re shooting too fast.

If you’re shooting the perfect center mass group, you need to chase failure — not success.

Move the target further away. Move and shoot (where it’s safe to do so). Shoot with your weak hand. Remove your prescription glass (and replace them with safety glasses.) Challenge yourself to fail, so that you can practice to succeed.

Stop and think: why did I fail?

Understanding why you failed puts you on the path towards improvement.

As I indicated above, begin by checking your ego at the door. Take a step back, be as impartial and objective as you can. Why did I miss? Narrow down to the specific reason for the failure– trigger press, grip, lack of practice, nerves, tiredness, unfamiliarity with my firearm, whatever — and then focus on correcting the flaw.

What if I don’t know why I failed?

RF impressed me when we first met. “Watch me shoot and tell me what I’m doing wrong,” he asked, before firing a shot. He operates on the principle that there’s always room for improvement, and that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Seek out a truly objective and informed opinion on where you need improvement.  If you have access to a professional instructor, use it. Take that shooting class. Consider a private lesson, even if it’s just one. Put everything on the table: grip, stance, breathing, everything.

Live in the present

Not everyone can experience rapid positive growth during firearms training. There’s a lot of frustration as you learn what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. What you can and what you cannot do (yet).

One big problem: sporadic performance. Sometimes a shooter gets just enough positive feedback to give them the impression that nothing’s wrong. Denial much? Shooters often ignore their failures even when they outnumber their successes.

When we push people during diagnostic or precision drills some students are open to corrective strategies. They make incremental progress. Others are still mired in their former selves’ performance. Reminiscing about that one time they nailed it. Why they’re just having a bad day!

No, you’re not having a bad day. Your technique is filled with flaws you don’t want to recognize. But until you do, you’re going nowhere fast. 

And now, finally, equipment . . .

Lights, lasers, better triggers, different sights — there are all sorts of bells and whistles that can enhance your shooting experience. Students want to know: are they worth the money?

I ask the student if their technique is solid. Without a solid technique — one that is observable, measurable and repeatable — how will you know if a new piece of equipment is helpful or not?

And speaking of a solid foundation, yes, gun selection can lead to failure. Or least, stymie success.

A good example: double action pistols. I don’t care how smooth a particular revolver’s trigger pull may be; the shooter must master two different actions. Close range is notorious for hiding the challenge. Precision work at distance brings it to the surface.

Which brings us full circle. Unless you test to failure you won’t know whether or not you’re doing what you need to do to succeed, especially when shooting accurately suddenly becomes a lot more difficult — and important (i.e. during an adrenaline dump, when shooting skills degrade). So go out there and fail. Learn. And fail again.

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Low speed high drag says:

    Chase failure. Excellent reminder.

  2. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

    TLDR version:

    You ALWAYS learn and improve more from a failure or a loss than you do from a big win or a perfect iteration.

    1. avatar No one of consequence says:

      True IF you are honest enough with yourself to admit it and then humble enough to learn from it.

      As we used to say in the lab, the only failed experiment is the one from which you learn nothing. (Often said to administrators and managers, who often don’t understand that you can’t both be cutting edge and have 100% work-as-preducted outcomes.)

      1. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

        True, mindset is a HUGE part of that. If you fail or lose badly but let your ego do the talkin’ you won’t learn a single thing but if you check your ego at the door and hit each training camp, game, or whatever as if it’s your first time even if you fail and lose you’ll learn from your mistakes… Pity our government can’t do the same.

  3. avatar ironicatbest says:

    Might be a slump, we all – -pool.

    1. avatar ironicatbest says:

      ps- all this technical instructor stuff is OK, but it kinda takes the fun out of shooting…… ” OH GOD I missed ; ( ” maybe my psychiatrist can help me?. … Bwhahaahaaa

  4. avatar Scoutino says:

    GLOCK logic:
    DA/SA pistol’s first trigger pull sucks. All following trigger pulls don’t suck.
    That’s too complicated, let’s make them all suck, but consistently.
    No, thanks.

    1. avatar ironicatbest says:

      1911 logic: My first trigger pull don’t suck all following trigger pulls don’t suck. If it don’t stovepipe, : }~

  5. avatar JDC says:

    I must be doing something right. I fail all the time.

  6. avatar Andrea Wolf says:

    Here in Switzerland we regularly shoot at 25m (around 27 yards) and even 50m (55 yards) with handguns, standing. You will see the most minuscule errors in trigger pull, stance and grip, this way you can work towards good shot execution.
    This doesn’t mean we don’t know how to shoot up close and personal as well 🙂

  7. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Reminds me of Mystery Men…..if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

    Except its – plan to fail, so you can …….succeed? I may be confused…..

    I never agreed with too fast, too slow thing. If you arent stacking them pretty close at 20 feet then you will spray em like crazy at 30 or 40 feet. Forget abkut 25 yards.

    Shoot as fast as you can hit well. Stretching out the distance will increase your time to keep your hits where they need to be.

  8. avatar LennieT says:

    Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at

    The links don’t work, why is that?

  9. avatar BeerBrain says:

    At first glance, I thought that lead picture was the Dos Equis guy.

  10. avatar J says:

    Please help save our 2nd Amendment rights. The petition web site has a lot of pro-2nd Amendment petitions that need people to view and sign if possible.

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