On TAGteach and Skill-Building

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series CT for Shooting

Okay, I was a bit slow to adopt TAGteach when I first encountered it in the early 2000s, but I’ve caught on, and I’ve been applying it more and more in my life. Sometimes I use TAGteach principles without the actual tagger (clicker), simply because that’s what I have to work with, but even without a key tool the principles still work. A marker can be many things, not just a clicker, and even with no marker (or instructor) at all, the concepts can be turned to Focus Points instead of TAGpoints and used the same way.

I’ve used clicker-less TAGteach backstage at a major performance event and with kids on the verge of losing it. And last weekend I had a reminder of how very useful TAGteach can be for myself.

I’ve mentioned before that I learned to shoot via self-tagging, first in breaking safety concepts into TAGpoints and then for learning targeting and accuracy. I didn’t click myself — nowhere to hold a clicker, plus wearing hearing protection, plus delayed feedback — but I considered every point carefully and worked on one point at a time. Within a few months, I was shooting in competition.

Last weekend I attended an IDPA clinic to advance my skills. My goal was to push myself, specifically in speed. I tend to be very accurate, but too slow to be very competitive. (This was fine by me, because I know from my day job that fluency needs precision before speed. I wanted to be faster, but not at the expense of precision, and knowing this concept made it easy for me to focus on one aspect at at time.)

But now I’m ready to add speed, and I looked forward to the new drills which would push me.

Fluency — Precision before Speed

The day started with a good review of fundamentals. First, the instructor lined us up about 3 yards from the target and told us to place a shot in the exact center. Then we were told to place another — “two holes as close together as possible.” No hurry, just be as accurate as possible.

My first drill target.

My first drill target.



close-up of two bullet holes

close-up of two bullet holes


Needless to say, I was very happy with this as an opening review and I felt newly confident about my decision to push myself for speed. Ready to move on!

But now for the compare and contrast….

Note: IDPA is a scenario-based shooting sport, and shots are discussed as if on an attacker, referencing “body” and “head” targets. These are for target reference only, of course. Think of a martial arts class for kids, teaching strikes and joint locks but with the overall goal of promoting respect and safety, or fencing or wrestling or many other sports.

A few drills later, we were to place two shots to the “body” and one to the “head,” and quickly. I decided to push hard. The buzzer of the shot timer sounded, and I drew and fired three shots as quickly as possible.

My two body shots were good, right where they should have been. But the third hole wasn’t there. I’d missed entirely.

On either side of me I heard shooters chuffing at themselves or groaning in frustration, as some were unhappy with their results. And it occurred to me that, while I was disappointed to see that I’d missed my shot by at least 4″, I wasn’t a bit frustrated. I just knew what I needed to work on.

It would have been very easy to recall my first drill and think, But I know I can do better than this! What’s wrong? But I knew an important behavior concept: When you raise one criterion, all others are temporarily lowered. This is a standard precept of shaping, and because I knew I was pushing myself for speed, I wasn’t surprised to see precision slip. In fact, I would have been surprised if it hadn’t! And without frustration, I was able to focus clearly on my mechanical skills, no pressure or baggage.

And I thought, Man, this is a lot more effective and a lot more fun with TAGteach!

Girls rifle team Central High, Washington, DC....

old-school girls rifle team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tagging without TAGteach

Of course, I wasn’t in a TAGteach class, and I couldn’t expect the instructor to know what I was doing. Traditional instruction includes the pointing out of mistakes, and indeed many teachers feel that is their duty. TAGteachers focus on what to do instead, but cultural habits die hard.

I know that I can easily start to feel pressure from those around me, needing to performing to their expectations unless I carefully manage my own goals. I didn’t want anyone to point out my failure when I knew the behavioral reason for it and was ready to move past it. (Humans don’t need NRMs [no-reward markers], either!)

So when the instructor came down the line, checking our targets, and turned to face me, I just smiled and joked, “We’re not discussing it.” He smiled, nodded, and moved on. (He’s a nice guy; he never would have done anything cruel. But TAGteach doesn’t look at mistakes so much as solutions, and I didn’t want to be distracted.)

Assimilating New Skills

As the day went on, I kept pushing myself for speed. Not setting any new records, but I thought I was getting faster. And then we got a course of fire which included a drop turner target, my first time ever to shoot something moving and available for a limited window. Now speed would matter.

The target stood at 90 degrees to us, perpendicular to the firing line. When activated, it would drop vertically on a spiral support, rotating 180 degrees. We were to push down the lever to activate the target, draw, and then place at least three shots before it reached perpendicular again. If that doesn’t make sense, check the video below.

Okay, push for speed. It wasn’t a fast drop turner, but it was my first. Push for speed.

I asked someone to record me, as I learn a lot from watching videos of myself, but he forgot to push the magic red button. However, I clearly remember firing three shots and then thinking, “Oh, wow! I did it! I got them all in!” and forgetting to try to get any more off before the target was gone. (Yes, “achievement-euphoria” can be temporarily disabling — but so worth it!)

As the new criterion is assimilated, the other skills will return. I was able to focus completely on my mechanics, push for speed, and as that became more fluent, I then could also position them accurately as before.

The final drill of the day featured four targets:

  1. Shoot down a steel target which will activate the drop-turner target (as in the video above).
  2. Shoot a second target, two shots.
  3. Shoot the drop turner, two shots.
  4. Shoot a fourth target, two shots.

Yep, there was a whole ‘nother target to hit twice before I could even turn to the drop-turner. The second drop-turner of my life. I would have to push.

One criterion at a time, until they all naturally come together. One criterion at a time, and they will all naturally come together.

I shot the steel target, then put two in each remaining target in order. The steel target is easy to assess; if you hit it properly, it falls. The other three needed scoring — and I was down-zero, down-one, and down-zero. Both shots in the center of the stationary targets, and one shot outside of center on the moving target, but still within the second concentric circle.


Have I arrived? No way; I have a long, long way to go before I’m winning competitions. But I’m happy with my progress, and I know that progress is not due to any inherent awesome talent, but it’s all due to sound behavior concepts and a knowledge of how to learn effectively without frustration.

Hi, my name is Laura, and I’m a Level 2 TAGteach Instructor, and I’m addicted to success. 🙂


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About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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  1. Hey Laura,

    Congrats on hitting your two shots right together! You are a great shot. I hope you wear hearing protection when you shoot 🙂

    Good read, thanks

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