Norm Hays (above, right) keeps an eye on a young trapshooter. Below, parents are bundled up on a cool spring day to watch their children shoot.

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shooting event called the Grand American, the largest shooting tournament in the world. What started out as four-day tournament evolved into 13 days with 29 events and 120 trap fields extending for 3.5 miles, making it the world’s largest trap line. Only the marathon has more participants in a single day of competition than the Grand American. Past participants included famous figures like Annie Oakley, Roy Rogers, and John Philip Sousa.

With more than 1,000 camping sites, 100 plus exhibitors, and thousands of competitors, the event is more than a competitive event, it’s a celebration. At the end of each day, competitors join friends at their campsites to swap stories and enjoy a cookout.

Helping at youth event

But today, Norm is off to a local event held at Outdoors, Inc. on CTH X, just east of New Holstein, to help coach at a competition involving young people who range in age from those just old enough to hold a gun safely through high school seniors.

Teams of kids from the area contend every spring with other teams at four locations—Outdoors, Kiel Fish and Game, Winnebago Eastshore Conservation Club and the Manitowoc Gun Club. The five youths who break the most targets out of 25 will represent their entire team to compete for first place.

Each participant has had to complete a course in hunter safety to qualify. They take the sport seriously—no rough housing, no goofing around. Safety is important.

The youths also quickly learn how to handle disappointment, just as Norm himself had to do.

“At times both boys and girls will miss two or three, and there will be a tear in their eyes,” says Norm. “They don’t understand, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

Then Norm or one of his fellow coaches will “bring them back to reality” and remind them that “nobody shoots them all.”

As Norm pulls into the Outdoors parking lot other cars follow. It’s early, but kids and their parents have begun to trickle in. Soon the lot will be full.

Inside, a woman is slicing a pan of frosting-covered cinnamon rolls. Others in the crowd are drinking hot coffee. Still others are setting up folding chairs outside to watch, unfolding blankets and pulling their jackets tight because of the chilly air.

32 youths participating

Norm and four other coaches work with their team of 32 young people, so each coach is roughly responsible for five or six members. They switch off sometimes and observe different kids, too, so the kids receive the benefit of each coach’s individual expertise.

“It’s very fluid because we’re trying to do the most for the kids,” Norm says.

Coaches watch for foot position, gun placement, eye hold, and arm position.

With four teams present today, each one roughly the size of Norm’s team, there are about 100 youths here today, ready to compete.

Much as Norm enjoys participating in the game himself, he also finds pleasure in helping young people succeed. When he isn’t shooting trap, Norm acts as associate dean of instructional leadership at Lakeland College. He’s responsible for the academic oversight for seven satellite campuses. Part of his job is to train instructors how to teach, how to get the vast knowledge they have in their minds out there on the table in a way that the students understand it. Being involved in education as Norm is, he enjoys watching people grow mentally. He enjoys watching the wheels turn.

So in a way, standing out here in a trap field ready to help these young people is basically the same thing he does every day—help others to grow.

When the competition starts, the crowd files outside to watch.

“Pull,” shouts a youthful voice, followed by an echoing bang. “Pull,” says the next one in line.

Some lost, some dead

A squad of four stands neatly in line 16 yards behind the trap, each individual firing in turn. Sometimes the clay pigeon sails away, unbroken, or “lost,” as they say, and disappears in the brush beyond. Other times the disk bursts into a cluster of tiny pieces—dead—putting a smile on the shooter’s face.

Wearing an orange coach’s hat and the headgear he uses for ear protection, Norm stands behind each youth as he takes his turn to compete. Sometimes Norm clasps his hands behind his back; sometimes he crosses his arms in front, but he is always watching.

At times, he steps up to make a suggestion. He talks, pivots, demonstrates a position, then steps back to observe again. And when they succeed, he gives them a congratulatory pat on the back. He’s as thrilled as they are.

Yet, when all is said and done, Norm goes back to something he has said before, “Again, this sport is very, very, very simple, if you think about.”

It’s a matter of doing one thing—hitting the clay pigeon and doing that one thing over and over and over no matter what happens.

“I quote from Lanny Basshan, one of the better known mental imaging trenders, if you will,” says Norm. “He was an Olympian. Gold medalist. And he said, ‘I can tell you how to be the best trapshooter in the world. It works every time. Number one: All you have to do is be mentally and physically capable to hit the target with your gun. That’s all you have to do. Number 2: Repeat number one.’”

And so that’s what Norm strives to do, along with over 8 million others around the world, young and old, short and tall, male and female—hit the target and do it every time.

It’s all really very simple.