With the season opener - the 2008 Florida Open - coming up fast in two months, its time to start dusting off the gear, running drills, and generally getting things back in order after a well deserved Winter Break. With a sport that seems to have no well defined "off season" (as opposed to, say, baseball, or football), it might be curious to some folks why you'd really want to take a break. I mean, the next big match is always right around the corner, right? And what do you do with that time off anyway? Doesn't that mean a lot more work to get ready when you're done slacking off??

Let's take a look at why taking a little vacation from our favorite obsession can actually mean an improvement in performance level, and help avoid everyone's favorite condition: burn out.

For the casual shooter, who just attends his local monthly match and for whom the only real shooting goal is simply to have fun (and that's what we're really doing this for, right?), the shooting season doesn't really have much of a long lasting effect. That's really a blessing, if you think about it. Shooting just stays fun. But how does that differ from what a "serious" shooter ("serious" in quotes, because many of us have this tendency to take it all too seriously) experiences throughout the year? In a nutshell, the casual shooter finds time to do something that the "serious" shooter seems to have trouble fathoming - he has a life!

Balance is the key. When you attack a set of goals the way many of us go after our shooting, you spend a large part of the year just pouring on the intensity and the self pressure, striving to hit the next goal, perform at your best level, and generally really just go all out. That's all good. The problem crops when we don't give ourselves some space to relax, smile, and take a break. Because the shooting season we have is so long and diffuse, its hard to find an obvious spot to take a little vacation. Area 2 is early to mid November, and the FL Open comes along 2 1/2 months later, and its pretty full tilt in between. Finding a good resting point can be tough.

The danger is this - if you pick it up in January, and plow straight on through the year, working your tail end off at getting better, put pressure on yourself to perform in several big matches, and keep that up right on until the next January, you end up very out of balance. The only thing getting a large part of your attention is your shooting. Many of us do this under some sort of ill conceived notion that if working hard is good, working hard all the time must be that much better! In addition, some folks heap on top of it a fear of failure - if they don't keep working, how can they claim to care about their shooting and how will they ever meet those huge goals that they've set for themselves!?!?!?!

So, what happens? That's right. That horribly over used cliche phrase: BURN OUT. With no time to fully depressurize, we tend to become mentally and emotionally depleted and carry around this huge burden of stress that builds up through the season. Eventually, our attitudes and morale suffer enough that we start seeing only the downsides of things. What usually results is a big downward spiral to the bottom - and a lot of people end up punching out of the game entirely because of it. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. It ain't fun.

The answer is really really simple - we do it at work, the kids do it at school. Take a break. Be good to yourself. Purposefully plan out a month (or more) every year where you are on vacation from shooting. Put the gun in the safe, and the dust cover on the loading press, and don't even think about shooting for a while. Or, if you do shoot, do something totally different, and do it just for fun - maybe do some hunting, or shoot some clays, or go plinking with a .22. But, preferably, just avoid it all together.

This is a good time to catch up on projects around the house, correspondence, other hobbies - all the things you neglected while you were so focused on your shooting. Dive into those things and enjoy them. I spent my off-season time (September through November) picking up a new fitness regimen this year. What a perfect way to spend it! When the vacation is up, your mind will be cleared of all that clutter, and you'll be fresh and hungry for the next season.

The end of the break is a great time to review goals and write new ones, and take a step back to the basics and do what's called "tearing down to build up" - its a positive process whereby you re-examine all your basic skills, equipment, etc, identify those areas that need improvement or confirm that you're solid in them, and start building up your basics again. You'll have a great platform to move forward from, and start gearing up for your first match of the year.

The photo above was taken by my dad, Michael Re, at the 2007 Florida Open - my first big match of the '07 season, and my first FL Open. Its a great match, and a wonderful shooting test. I hope I see all of you there at the traditional season opener this year!!