Combat Shooting Tips From Larry Bird?

Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, there are great lessons that we can learn from the greatest players in any sport and apply them to our lives.

At some level, big games in professional sports and defending yourself in a self defense situation are similar.  In both cases, you’re training to be able to do a complex motor movement in a very stressful situation.

There are some obvious differences, but today, we’re going to focus on how the habits that helped Larry Bird become a Hall of Fame player can improve your chances of survival in a life or death self-defense shooting situation.

In his day, Larry Bird dominated the courts.  He regularly pulled off feats that most people thought were impossible in incredibly stressful situations.

They weren’t life or death situations, but they were situations that would crush most people and make them choke…no matter how good they were in practice.

When you think about the fact that, for some people, talking…let alone performing in front of an audience has the same biological effect as being in a life-or-death situation, there’s a lot we can learn and use.

So what made Larry different?  And how does a guy wearing green short-shorts and tossing a ball through a hoop have anything to do with life or death shooting situations?

In both cases, it’s a matter of training to be able to execute precision skills in extremely stressful situations.

First, there’s a tendency for shooters to want to skip the basics and “get to the cool stuff.”  It’s the same in every sport.  People want to go straight to doing the stuff that they see on the highlight reels.

Here’s what Larry said, “Practice habits were crucial to my development in basketball. I didn’t play against the toughest competition in high school, but one reason I was able to do well in college was that I mastered the fundamentals. You’ve got to have them down before you can even think about playing.”

Did you get that?  He had a lot of low-intensity games in high school that allowed him to take the time needed to master the fundamentals.

One of the best things that happened to Larry is that he wasn’t as naturally talented as a lot of the players he played with and against.  That fact drove him to practice harder than anyone else and that foundation allowed him to blossom in college and the pros.

In high school, Larry would shoot 200 free throws every day before school.  He would regularly be the first one to start practicing and the last to leave.

By the time he got to the pros, his habit was to show up a few hours early for practice.  On game nights, he’d show up at least 2 hours before tip-off and shoot at least 300 practice shots.

The equivalents in shooting are practicing your drawstroke, practicing one-hole drills, practicing reloads, practicing malfunctions, etc.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take hours of practice per day with a firearm to become a top level shooter…a few minutes per day of high quality dry fire is all most people need to do to make massive improvements in their ability to put fast, accurate rounds on target.

Second, Larry practiced WAY beyond the point of being able to hit the hoop.  He practiced the basics to the point where he couldn’t miss.  And then he kept practicing.  Through his college career as well as 10 years in the pros.

This emphasis on the basics…the fundamentals…is what allowed him to make shots from awkward, unorthodox positions while being guarded by highly skilled opponents.

In a typical pre-practice and pre-game routine, Larry would start with free-throws and start moving back.  No matter how good he got, he still worked on the basics every day.

THEN, he’d step to the side and shoot, practice fadeaways, and increase the pace until he was just shooting reflexively…without conscious thought…and making the majority of his shots.

One time, Micky Mantle showed up at Boston Gardens a couple hours before a game and was watching Larry warm up.  He watched Bird for awhile and said, “This guy hasn’t missed a shot since I got here.”

And his focus on the fundamentals also translated into high performance in clutch situations.

30+ times, he made last second, game winning shots…including Conference finals and other big games.

So, what can you take away from Larry Bird’s practice habits that will help you as a defensive shooter?

Focus on the fundamentals…and then when you have to pull off impossible shots under impossible conditions, you’ll have a solid foundation to succeed.

I just met a recently retired medic from 1st Special Forces Group.  He was so excited to tell me how much he appreciated Dry Fire Training Cards.  He had come from a world where he had a virtually unlimited ammo & training budget and there was an emphasis on doing the “coolest” high speed drills.

The reason he appreciated Dry Fire Training Cards so much is that they got him to focus on the basics again…the fundamentals…and by re-visiting the fundamentals, he was able to do his high speed drills all that much better.

When you have the fundamentals nailed down to the point where you can’t miss, then make them more difficult by adding in motion, stress, low light, and speed, but always keep an emphasis on the fundamentals.

Do you know what’s more fun than shooting fast while you’re running and gunning?

HITTING fast while you’re running and gunning :)

As you’re making your drills more and more high speed, make sure that you’re still getting your hits.  It’s not only more fun and rewarding to have a high hit ratio, but in the long run, it will make you a faster and more accurate shooter.

How do you do it?

Start off with the fundamentals, like or

And when you get to the point where you have the fundamentals mastered, you can move on to Dry Fire Fit.

Why Dry Fire Fit?

As I said yesterday, you want your training to be as close to real-life as possible.  You train the way you want to fight because you’ll fight the way you trained.  You want as much of a life or death situation to be normal and comfortable as possible.  The more new & novel stuff you’ve got to deal with, the worse your outcome will be.

There’s a couple of reasons for this…

First off, in a high stress situation, you’ll only be able to do the things that you have stored in your long term, procedural memory.  Facts, figures, and head knowledge won’t matter.  The only stuff that will matter is the stuff that you’ve done enough times that you can do them without conscious thought.

You can’t reliably manufacture ability under stress.  You’ll execute whatever conditioned responses you’ve programmed into your mind…or you’ll freeze…or you’ll perform at a very reduced level.

Extreme sports and modern brain science have proven this out.  What scientists from Red Bull and other extreme sports teams have figured out is that in an extreme stress situation, you can stretch about 4% beyond how you practice before you risk having significant reductions in performance.

4% isn’t very much.  If you can consistently draw from concealment and hit center-mass in 1.5 seconds, speeding up by 4% would only put you at a 1.44 second drawstroke.  Speed up more than that, and you can expect erratic performance.

Some factors are harder to quantify…if you normally shoot paper targets while standing still in full light, moving and shooting an advancing threat in low light is going to be WAY beyond a 4% change from normal.

Which is why you want to practice as many factors as possible that you might face in a self-defense situation…off-balance, moving, low-light, on the ground, out of breath, etc.

If you practice acquiring your sights and holding them steady in awkward situations in practice, it will feel “normal” in a self-defense situation.  And the more things that are “normal” to you in a life or death situation, the better decisions you’ll make and the better you’ll perform.

If you don’t have Dry Fire Fit yet, now is a great time to get them by clicking >HERE<

How are you training for reality?  Dry fire from awkward positions?  Force on force?  What kind?  Computer or video simulations?  Mental imagery?  Something else?  Share by commenting below:

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  1. Ron Leifeste
    2 months ago

    I have really enjoyed the Dry Fire training cards, BUT, I am a member of the first year of the Baby Boom generation. I have two back injuries and fibromyalgia. I am not helpless by any stretch but I can’t do many of the things on the cards.
    Why don’t you get some broken down old geezers like me to come up with some training exercises we can use to protect our grand kids and others.
    I am going to Front Sight next month and am hoping I can make it through the 4 day defensive pistol class without folding up like a wet wash rag.
    I am working on the first basic card, (slow draw) and after only about 10 days I am seeing a difference. I may not have the money to shoot thousands of rounds but I can damn sure do thousands of draws and “clicks”.
    Thanks for some GREAT information. Cheers, Ron

    • Ox
      2 months ago

      Hey Ron,

      Thanks for the feedback on the cards!

      There are a couple of reasons why we used cards for the format for the drills…

      First, it’s so that people with mobility issues, like you, could easily pick out all of the drills that they CAN do and keep them separate from the ones that they can’t do.

      Second, it’s so that instructors and departments can pick and choose the drills that they want their students doing, or, more specifically, remove the drills that they don’t want their students doing.

      As far as an “old geezers” deck, it’s very hard to do because of the various injuries and limitations that people have.

      As an example, my mom is 80. Standing up was a problem before knee surgeries…no problem now.

      But she’s got arthritis in her hands and they’re just not as strong as they used to be when she played football with us kids.

      She shoots a revolver and this summer, I had to have her start practicing with an airsoft revolver…and turn it upside down, hold it with both hands, and push the hammer against a table/railing to cock it. To be clear, she CAN manipulate her real revolver, but not more than once or twice with out immediate and lasting pain.

      My point is, as people age and their bodies break down, they do so in unique and different ways. A set of drills that’s good for one old geezer may not work at all for another.

      BUT…I’m very open to the idea. If you’ve got an idea for limited mobility drills, bring them on! :)

  2. Bob Anderson
    2 months ago

    Easy to see from my email what my preferences are. Besides age, which has very much affected my abilities – injuries, eyesight – (about to turn 67), the biggest difficulty is practice. Most of the ranges here, even the NRA, won’t let you draw from the holster unless you’re an LEO. Forget movement, low light, etc. I have taken John Farnham’s basic and advanced pistol classes, and LFI1 w/Mas Ayoob (highly recommend). In my 40s I shot IPSC for a number of years and I think that is very valuable. Also live in small townhouse, with little room to dry fire and move. Just general commentary. Bob Anderson Veteran, USN

    • Ox
      2 months ago

      Thanks, Bob!

      If you’ve got safety concerns doing dry fire drills where you live, a couple of things that you might want to look into are the Laser 1911 from Lasershot (I’ve had one for 10+ years) and an airsoft in 1911.

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