Top Sporting Clays Instructors Line Up Behind the New “Coordinated Shooting Method”

A sporting clays training session that drew top instructors to South Carolina in mid-June could change how the sport is taught to the majority of shooters using the new “Coordinated Shooting Method.”

CSM was developed by John Higgins and Rhonda Young. During the weekend of June 13-15, 2014, the inaugural CSM TRACS (Teaching Recreational and Competition Shooting) instructor certification was held at the sprawling Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports in Camden, South Carolina, which is owned by five-time world FITASC champ, Joe Cantey III.

The pedigree roster in attendance included National Sporting Clays Association Level III instructors Bill Kempffer, David Judah, Elizabeth Lanier and Donny Roth. Chris Cantrell and Sean O’Meara are NSCA Level I Master Class instructors. Rising star Cooper Black and his father, also Cooper Black, enrolled as well. And competitive sporting clays shooter, Amy Cantey, joined in the certification.

IMG 2972Discussing a shot during the CSM certification course at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports. From left: Elizabeth Lanier, David Judah, Bill Kempffer, Donny Roth, Cooper Black, John Higgins and Amy Cantey listen to the elder Cooper Black. Of note is that these NSCA Level III instructors engage a high number of new sporting clays shooters.


Mr. Kempffer of Deep River Sporting Clays is quick to mention the increase in business from neophytes. Mr. Judah is the Shooting Club Manager and Lead Instructor at The Homestead luxury resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, which experiences a constant churn of guests curious about clays. Ms. Lanier, founder of the G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Really into Shooting), has been a pioneer advocate of introducing women to wing and clays shooting and continues to provide instructions through Lanier Shooting Sports in Goochland County, Virginia. Industry veteran Mr. Roth has been devoting his time to the South Carolina Youth Shooting Foundation as a board member. The group’s mission is to familiarize youngsters with clays shooting.

Hermitage-Club-HouseThe club house at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports.

Mr. Higgins and Ms. Young are now developing a web site to fulfill demand for CSM information.

Based on initial response, it appears that CSM addresses habitual shortcomings pervasive to sporting clays training distinctly towards newcomers.

In particular is a rigid adherence to a system, technique or methodology that preoccupies many clays shooting instructors despite a governing-body curriculum that’s egalitarian and tolerant. Correspondingly, numerous instructors are fixated on demonstrating their depth of knowledge and regaling students with sea stories. Ultimately, the instructor anoints himself center of attention over the student.

IMG 3017From left: Cooper Black, John Higgins and Donny Roth observe a clays shot by Bill Kempffer.

Relatedly, there’s an ongoing assumption that simply because a sporting clays instructor has accumulated tournament wins they are fundamentally adept at teaching — overriding the elementary premise that sound communication skills are equally or more important than shooting scores.

Along with Mr. Higgins, none of the Level III sporting clays instructors seeking CSM certification shoot registered targets at NSCA competitions yet serve as critical linchpins to bringing countless shooters into the sport.

The NSCA is currently reinforcing the notion that high scores make for successful instructors by revamping certifications with a greater emphasis on target proficiency and rankings — a reasoning that repudiates most professional and amateur sports coaches.

For 2014, of the current 25,229 NSCA members, about 60% shoot registered targets as of mid-June — or nearly 9.8 million registered targets thrown, according to the NSCA.

If you believe that the NSCA’s tournament culture is impacting new-shooter instruction it pays to know that the annual report dated December 31, 2012 of the Remington Outdoor Company (Freedom Group) cites a National Sporting Goods Association study concluding there are nine million shotgun target shooters in the U.S. That means NSCA registered target competitors, who shoot a disproportionate number of clays, still represent only 0.000167 percent of all shotgun target enthusiasts.

IMG 3027The father-and-son team of Cooper Black and Cooper Black.

Steve Sanetti, President and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, remarked during the State of the Industry Dinner at SHOT Show on January 14, 2014 that skeet and sporting clays numbers are up 26 percent, with an increase of 27 percent in scholastic clay target program during 2013 over 2008.

The trend clearly illustrates an influx of inexperienced recreational clays shooters who need consumer-friendly training if the sport is to continue its growth trajectory.

CSM differs from popular clays shooting instructions by forgoing an adherence to a particular system (insistence that targets can be broken only one way). Pre-mounted, gun down, half mount? All okay. Sustained lead, pull-away, pass-through? It doesn’t matter.


CSM doesn’t erect barriers from the get-go. If a rookie shooter prefers gun up, then maybe eventually they’ll move to gun down. If they want to start with sustained lead, they can switch to instinctive down the road. Most important is ensuring the student breaks a few targets and has fun.

IMG 3050The CSM clock face is used as a teaching aid. Eileen Judah, holding the clock, is determining the shot taken by Sean O’Meara. Also watching were David Judah, Elizabeth Lanier and John Higgins.

Eye dominance is also handled differently. The NSCA and NRA introductory trainer courses stipulate that you initiate the shooter by determining their dominant eye. CSM advocates that an introductory eye-dominance test potentially hamstrings the novice by starting with an inherent handicap.

Under CSM, eye dominance is often falsely blamed for myriad shooting problems, when in fact it’s not the underlying cause of poor performance. A right handed shooter does not need to be totally right eye dominant to thrive and vice versa.

CSM says that the student should decide if they want to shoot with both eyes open, one eye open, off the right shoulder if they are left-eyed dominant and so on. Eventually, the student, with the guidance of their CSM coach, will sort out eye dominance on their path to stronger results.

IMG 3043Shotgun Life Publisher Irwin Greenstein shooting with the CSM method as John Higgins observes.

CSM is designed to put students in charge of their own progress by nurturing aptitudes for target recognition, physical coordination and self-confidence through incrementally progressive, attainable goals based on repetitive exercises and specific target groupings called the Target Sequence Matrix.

Although you could argue that several components of CSM are well-known and established, it’s the seamless integration of the program’s accessibility, mindset, tactics and ethics that lay new ground in clays shooting instruction — particularly for the encouragement and success of beginners.

CSM is the culmination of Mr. Higgins’ experience supplemented with high-quality course materials inspired by Ms. Young’s MBA know-how.

IMG 2993
John Higgins explains the use of the clock to teach the CSM method for clays.

Mr. Higgins, originally from the U.K., spent 20 years instructing at Yeavley Shooting Grounds in Derbyshire, England. He has taught every level of shooter and hunter in many different countries. Since arriving in the U.S. more than 10 years ago, he served as Chief Instructor for the NSCA prior to Don Currie, where he helped create and implement the national standard for training and certifying shooting instructors in the U.S. — giving him tremendous insight into all levels of clays-shooting skills and their challenges.

He has designed sporting clays courses at the most luxurious facilities in America: The Greenbrier, Blackberry Farm, The Homestead, Brays Island, Barnsley Gardens, Keswick Hall, New Hope Plantation and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa — all of them managing substantial populations of brand new shooters.

Spend some time with Mr. Higgins and it becomes readily apparent why a core value of CSM is confidence over arrogance. The arrogant coach holds a dictatorial grip on a shooting system that can be a crutch for his own chronic deficiencies or disengagement — habitually blaming the student when poor results ensue.

By comparison, confidence is the conscious feeling of one’s powers and ability to succeed. Confidence can embolden students through positive reinforcement, fair play, a willingness to listen, realistic goals and hard work.

IMG 2961Cooper Black demonstrates CSM to John Higgins, Chris Cantrell and his father, Cooper Black. 

In the same vein, the CSM code of ethics and guiding principles call for “honesty, integrity and professionalism.” Become a certified CSM instructor and you are “committed to excellence and this is reflected by our team of highly skilled and dedicated Examiners, Instructors and Coaches who possess the knowledge, skills, abilities and positive attitudes to teach the fundamentals of becoming an inspiring, effective and confident shooter and shooting instructor.”

Dig deeper and you’ll discover the guiding principle that requires certified CSM associates “adapt their methods to suit the needs of their students.”

Mr. Higgins and Ms. Young have applied “The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes” by Jack J. Lesyk, PhD, to the CSM Instructor Training Program:
1. Choose and maintain a positive attitude.
2. Maintain a high level of self-motivation.
3. Set high, realistic goals.
4. Deal effectively with people.
5. Use positive self-talk.
6. Use positive mental imagery.
7. Manage anxiety effectively.
8. Manage their emotions effectively.
9. Maintain concentration.

Again, these skills and approaches aren’t new to clays-shooting instructions (or other sports), but they are mandated into the CSM TRACS syllabus. Remember, technicians teach technique. CSM instructors are builders of knowledge, confidence, skills and a positive attitude — all contributing to accelerated self-sufficiency in the field compared with an emphasis on techniques.

IMG 3085Shooters of various experience levels served as students to candidates of the CSM certification course. One group of students and instructor included (from left) Eileen Judah, Paula Smith, instructor Elizabeth Lanier, Ann Francis and Ashlan Prince.

The CSM Shooter’s Handbook is packed with recommendations addressing the practicalities of safety, foot placement, stance, mount, gun fit, confidence, consistency, timing, focus and other essentials.

You’ll also find reference to Individual Target Allowance (ITA), which is the lead or amount of space between the gun and the target that a shooter needs to see and feel (perception) in order to hit the target.

It’s here that CSM introduces the clock face to determine a student’s ITA. Nearly every one who has taken clays shooting lessons heard their instructor compare the target to a clock face. They’ll tell you to break the target at three o’clock or one o’clock or six o’clock. CSM takes the clock metaphor a step further.

The CSM clock has three hands. One hand shows where the shooter intends to break the target. Before the clay is thrown, the shooter commits to a point on the target that could be four o’clock. Let’s say the shot is lost. Another hand on the clock enables the shooter to indicate where he actually pointed at the target. In this case, it could be that he set out to break the target at four o’clock, but the muzzle went to seven o’clock. The third hand lets the instructor show where he saw the miss at five o’clock. The student sees three different outcomes combined into a singular adjustment for the next target.

If the student misses again, the instructor can ask “Do you still want to break the target at four o’clock?”

The approach is only one in the CSM repertoire that invites students to a higher plane of participation beyond triggering a shot and obeying dogma, with the overarching philosophy of nurturing total engagement.

CSM certification is filling a rupture in sporting clays training, especially for the expanding community of recreational shooters that want to shoot well, socialize in the field and have fun without score cards — as successfully realized by Ms. Lanier with the G.R.I.T.S. as demand soars for state chapters.

Mr. Higgins’ goal is to connect them with sporting clays as they would hiking, backpacking or kayaking. He believes that sporting clays should be a family activity with zero barriers to entry other than affordability. So say hello to CSM. 

Pending the forthcoming CSM web site, the best way to reach Mr. Higgins is or 912-656-1589.

In the interest of full disclosure, I became a CSM instructor as a byproduct of researching the story. My initial curiosity about CSM stemmed from years of spending hefty sums on world-class sporting clays instructors whose communications skills were downright exasperating, promoting systems that obviously worked for them but proved questionable for this mere mortal.

Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at

Other useful resources:
The NSCA web site
Lanier Shooting Sports web site
The G.R.I.T.S. on Facebook
The South Carolina Youth Shooting Foundation web site

CMS 2014 Dates
July 15-17 at Deep River Sporting Clays – Sanford, NC  (919)774-7080
Instructor Certification Course

July 26 at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports – Camden, SC (803) 432-0210
CSM Clinic

September 12-14 at Mid-Valley Sporting Clays – Salem, OR
Contact David Fiedler (775) 450-7259
Instructor Certification Course

September 20-21 at Hunters Creek Club – Metamora, MI  (810) 664-4307
CSM Clinic

October 3-5 at Clinton House – Clinton, SC  (864) 833-0274
Instructor Certification Course

November 7-8 at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports – Camden, SC (803) 432-0210
Youth Shooting Coaches Certification Course

November 21-23 at Rocky Creek Sporting Clays – Richburg, SC  (803) 482-0270
Instructor Certification Course



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