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Don't Look at the Target

by Mike Vincent | 11/7/2023

Marine hitting the target

or my first four years in the Marine Corps, I had to wear a “pizza-box,” on my chest—the marksmanship badge (in the shape of a perfect square, like a box of pizza) that told the entire world that I met only the minimum requirements to qualify on the pistol range. I’ll be honest, I barely qualified on the pistol range. I didn’t grow up shooting handguns and it was obvious by the bullet-holes randomly scattered on (and off) of my target. Marksmanship coaches in the Marine Corps do a good job teaching the basics—things like safety rules, loading and unloading, etc., even to someone with no experience like me. They also do a good job teaching more advanced concepts, like sight alignment and sight picture, but I didn’t really understand those concepts in the beginning.


“Don’t look at the target.”

In 2007, I was on the pistol range again, an annual training requirement in the Marine Corps, and I was hitting everything except the center of my target. I heard my marksmanship coach, a Sergeant, say, “Don’t look at the target.” That made no sense to me. How am I supposed to hit my target if I don’t look at it? The Sergeant explained, “You are only 25 yards away from your target. Just face that direction and trust that it’s in front of you. Then stop looking at it. Don’t look at the target.”

Then what am I supposed to look at? I wondered.

He explained that all my focus, all of my attention and all of my energy should be devoted to sight alignment. As I raised my arms to point the pistol at the target, 100% of my effort should be dedicated to ensuring my front sight was perfectly aligned with the rear sight. I had to trust that I was still oriented towards my target. Sight picture (properly placing your front sight in the center of the target) is important too, but sight alignment is the first priority. If I am tempted to become too focused on the target, then I will—in effect—look around my sights and inadvertently throw off the alignment of the pistol. Even if only by a fraction of a degree, if the front and rear sights are not aligned, the shot will not travel straight—it will fly at a slight angle and miss the center of the target.

Target Focus

As I became laser-focused on my front sight, I finally understood why I had been taught to slow my breathing, so as not to allow the sights to move up and down during inhale and exhale. I felt the lactic acid build up in my arms, and I remembered that I might need to bring my arms down to rest for a few seconds, and then reengage the target with steady arms. I understood why a slow, steady trigger squeeze was essential to prevent the front sight from being jerked to the right or to the left. All of those disciplines were in support of proper sight alignment, and the way I thought about them, and about marksmanship, in general, had forever changed.


To make the most of your capacity to succeed, your talents have to be refined with certain skills – and especially knowledge. Consider how your naturally recurring patterns of thought shape you: what you do; how you do it and why. The way you think about your talents will either refine them into real strength or prevent you from doing so. I am thankful my coach spoke up.

I stopped looking at the target, and I never wore the “pizza-box” again.

Do you want to learn how to refine your talents? Contact Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, Mike Vincent, at to get your Clifton Strengths Assessment code. Mike is also available for team workshops, keynote speaking, or 1 on 1 coaching.

Kaleo Coaching is currently working with organizations and individuals to help clarify the GOOD work they are called to. Learn more at


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