After coaching two seasons, and assisting three more, I have some definite ideas about 4H Shooting Sports.
First, 4H has too many irons in the fire to focus exclusively on shooting sports. In Texas, the county ag office administers 4H for a county. Depending on the staffing level and the efficiency of the county ag office staff, shooting sports can get lost in the shuffle of the many 4H programs being offered. The fact that students can choose between raising a steer, designing fashion clothes, learning hunter safety, shooting 3-Position Smallbore, and many other 4H programs is not particularly a negative, it is just that with so many available choices of activities it tends to severely dilute the available administration, coach, parent, and student time and effort for the small part of 4H that is 4H shooting sports.
Second, here in Texas 4H does not do a good job at training *new* Rifle coaches, nor do they do a good job of informing new coaches of the available shooting competitions and their rules, and the new coaches don't receive information about competitive events and their rules until shortly before the events are to be held. Newer students and especially those with very new coaches are at a big disadvantage compared to those from older more established programs, where adults know the ropes from having attended prior events. It should not be so difficult for a new student or a new coach to learn important competition details from 4H administration well in advance of a competition, such as whether a 3-P event is to be fired at 50 feet or 50 yards.
In more than one event Texas 4H has been less than forthcoming about posting important information to its target audience. For the first time in my four seasons, Texas 4H has posted on their website information letting coaches, parents and students know exactly what is the selection criteria for a student to make it onto a National Invitational and/or Texas Team. The 2016 Selection Rubric document has so many criteria over and above shooting safety, shooting skills, and dedication to the sport that it looks more like the student is applying to win some sort of community service award, or Eagle Scout badge, rather than applying to participate at a higher level of shooting and joining a national or statewide shooting team. http://texas4-h.tamu.edu/wp-content/upl ... c_2016.pdf
I have a personal peeve with certain un-named event directors at the Texas State Games shooting competition who choose to walk around displaying large loaded hunting revolvers holstered on their hip, all the while standing in front of the crowd, ostensibly to instruct students and parents on event safety procedures. They are displaying a loaded hogleg while telling folks when and where the students' competition firearms are to be uncased, safety flagged, loaded and fired. As an NRA certified range safety officer I can see no reason why anyone, let alone the person supposed to be the event safety officer, should parade around showing off their open carry big gun in front of people who are there either to shoot or watch their students shoot at paper targets. If these individuals are afraid some person or animal is an immediate danger at the event venue then they should spring for professional site security, hiring suitably kitted-out men and women who are not distracted by trying to run the competition. Showing up as one of the event administrators wearing an open-carry gun does not respect the students nor the families involved, IMHO, but maybe it makes the guy swaggering around carrying his big hogleg out in the open for all the world to see feel more secure somehow.
I am not a fan of 4H shooting sports training. Because each type of shooting requires two full 8-hour days of training, and because Texas is a big state, it can be difficult for a new coach to attend a training session in time to hold a shooting sports program during that school year. We discovered the old coach was retiring, and there was nobody prepared to step in as the new coach. Myself and another person were volunteered. We had to travel 425 miles each way to attend a two-day 4H Rifle Coach session. There was a closer session held earlier in the year only 225 miles distant, but that was not an option because it's date had already passed at the time the old Rifle coach announced his retirement. Our choice was to travel the better part of a thousand miles to the official 4H training, or allow the Rifle program to be canceled for one year.
There are other opportunities for improvement in the official 4H shooting sports training. At the 2012 Rifle session, our instructor handed everyone a thick three-ring-binder of official 4H training documentation, then announced he was not going to follow any sort of outline, he was just going to wing it and talk about whatever came to mind - and that is exactly what he did. For two eight hour days were subjected to a disorganized compendium of jokes, personal anecdotes, and only occasional references to the official 4H training materials. Afterward, myself and my partner agreed we would have been better off to have received the official 4H printed materials in the mail, to study at home, rather than spending the sixteen-plus hours driving to and from the training site and another two days sitting on hard folding chairs listening to a trainer who was just winging it rather than actually trying to train adults.
The last problem with 4H has to do with their requirement that each and every shooting program have at least one adult supervisor who has completed one of those lengthy two-day sessions at some distant location. So it's two days for Rifle and Air Rifle, another two days for Pistol and Air Pistol, and so on. Any small county without the kind of continual year-in-and-year-out multi-adult support to attend these lengthy, distant and expensive training sessions is at a big disadvantage setting up a shooting sports program. I think 4H could combine a rifle and pistol program training session into one sixteen hour training event. They need to get better at training-the-trainers, better at leaving out the anecdotes and disorganized parts, and leaving out the parts about setting up the pseudo-gun club aspects, things which our club hired lawyers to do properly. In a state where there is a concealed-carry instructor on every street corner, it seems likely we could obtain more trainers, who would hold more frequent, shorter, and more effective 4H shooting sports coachs' training sessions.
Unless 4H hires has a stable base of instructors capable of training students to a national level of expertise, they will continue to be a secondary shooting program, almost an afterthought among shooting sports programs. By having to rely mostly on volunteer coaches with only limited and possibly ineffective training, and with few (and amateurish) competitive events scheduled during any one school year, these 4H programs are limited to a well-intentioned but small group of coaches who mostly stick around only during the seasons their children participate.
I apologize for the long rant, and for any inability on my part to be concise or clear. I appreciate this discussion; my time in 4H has been extremely rewarding despite my complaints. I was very happy to see one of our 4H students win a rare Civilian Marksmanship Program scholarship in the amount of $1500. This energized our gun club to start awarding $1000 scholarships to each graduating senior who had been active in our 4H shooting program, those funds to help pay for secondary education. The club pays these funds directly to the student's choice of school, be it a technical school, community college, or a four-year university.