Tips/Tricks to Instructing Women
I've seen lots of people on here either getting or wanting to get their instructor credentials and asking for advice. If there is one thing I've learned from both shooting as a woman but also instructing it is that men and women are different. I've spent a few years on ranges and in classes and have learned some things by great instructors that have really helped me and other women gain better control over their firearms. I've also seen some practices that not only fail to help women but frustrate them and make them feel defeated.
Even in our own classes, I appreciate that my husband has the insight to know when his techniques are not working and the humility and grace to turn a student over to me (particularly a female student) and watch her develop. It was a great compliment to hear him tell me I have a way with some students that seems to just click and flourish. When I stopped teaching on the range due to my pregnancy he asked me to give him some tips to teach those more tender students since I couldn't be there to do it myself and the following is what I came up with.
First, however, if you are a spouse or significant other and think this is going to be a guide to get your wife/significant other to shoot I'm afraid you are in the wrong thread. This is for women who already want to learn. Also, if your spouse or significant other DOES want to learn to shoot and you want to teach her, use these tips at your own risk. It's been the experience of many an instructor that spouses or boyfriends as instructors are bad things. The emotional dynamic can ruin a lot of good advice.
Second, this is advice for instructors of newer shooters. More advanced classes require an expectation of pressure and challenge and come with their own dynamics and, hopefully, your female students will already know and understand their differences and have a working knowledge on what she needs to do to keep up with her classmates. For the new shooter, however, there are some male/female dynamics that an instructor of those students can use to help understand the differences between his (or her) male and female students.
So, with that being said, let's roll.
The Issue: Strength
A woman's strength comes from her hips and core. No matter what television will have you believe, a relatively wimpy guy is still going to have more upper body strength than even some of your more muscularly-toned female students.
How It Affects Shooting
A woman's lack of upper body strength means she's going to experience muscle fatigue faster and need a little more effort in being able to control a larger caliber firearms or small firearms with medium calibers that pack a lot of punch. This is going to result in poor grouping and flinching which results in thrown shots. As fatigue increases her hands may shake or cramp, her shoulders might hurt and she may have a hard time keeping her arms stable. It might also result in pain in the hands and frustration with shooting in general.
What You Can Do About It
Remind her that her strength comes from her core and that if she tries to rely solely on her upper body strength she's not going to have a good experience for long. For long-term shooting and results, a woman needs to learn to use her whole body in the shooting process. I often tell my female students to "press" the gun out towards the target as though they were trying to push open a heavy gate with the muzzle of the gun. If she doesn't get the visualization you can do a practical application and have her press on a wall or door (with some resistance applied) with her bare hands. She may start pressing with just her arms but when it doesn't move she will automatically lower her center of gravity and start pressing from her abdomen and channel that strength up and into her arms. That is the state she wants to be in when shooting. It will increase her control and her stamina.
This "press" will also help her extend the firearm in a such a way as to obtain the optimal grip and sight alignment. I have yet to see a female student who does not improve to even a minimal degree after learning to engage her core and channel that strength into her upper body.
If she does get to the point of muscle fatigue that cannot be fixed, you can transfer her to a rest where she can work on sight alignment, trigger control and grip without worrying about her arms shaking or failing and ruining her experience.
The Issue: Grip
She has smaller hands that are going to minimize her contact with the firearm and make her have to work for control.
How It Affects Shooting
If you tell a woman her grip is not strong enough her natural response is going to be just to clamp down harder with her hands. This might be necessary to a certain degree if she really does have a lax grip but you don't want her to be white-knuckling it either. Her hands are going to reach a point of fatigue very quickly, she's going to loose control and start to see the negative results in her target.
What You Can Do About It
The first step in correcting a grip is, of course, to make sure as much flesh as possible is contacting the firearm. It makes sense that the more contact you have with something the better control you will have of it. After that, instead of concentrating solely on getting her to increase the strength of her grip, work her up from her core to her fingers. "Engage your abdomen.. now your shoulders... now your arms.. now your hands." Remind her of that strong press like she's trying to press open a door with the muzzle of her firearm. You'll find her control will increase but it will be proportionate to the rest of her body, more easily sustainable and won't cause cramping or fatigue in her hands.
The Issue: Flinch
A woman hears better than a man and her hands are more sensitive.
How It Affects Shooting
That little explosion men don't think is all that big of a deal can be much more of an assault to a woman's senses. It leads to quite a bit of flinching that, of course, has negative results on targets.
What You Can Do About It
Unless it's a female only class, I recommend not putting a woman on the firing line first unless she volunteers. Let her body adjust to the noise of gunfire. If you watch first time students closely, when those first shots go off it's almost always the women you will see involuntarily jumping. It has nothing to do with her unwillingness to be there. It does not mean she's afraid or timid. It just means her body is doing what it's suppose to do by alerting her and preparing her to fight or flee. Of course, it goes without saying that you should never make a woman feel ashamed for having an automatic startle response. It is a very natural, physiological response to such an assault to the senses. If, however, a particular student seems to be extra sensitive to the noise of gunfire it's a good idea to keep a can of disposable ear plugs and an extra pair of muffs in your range bag and offer them to her discreetly so that she can double her hearing protection.
Once she has adjusted to the noise of gunfire it's time to adjust to recoil. Anyone who has taught firearms knows that both men and women develop flinches. Many times they do not know they are flinching because it comes at the exact moment the gun goes off and gets lost in the recoil. Dry firing and alternating dummy cartridges with live ammo are known and reliable techniques for identifying a flinch.
Sometimes, however, the flinch is caused by the gun itself. Often times a woman is sent to class with her husband's gun or a gun that her husband has picked for her or even a gun she picked for herself based upon it's small size and her lack of education and understanding of recoil vs felt recoil can mean she is very shocked and uncomfortable with the gun she is shooting. Though it is, indeed, important for her to learn to control her own firearm or the firearm she is going to use, if she never gets a feel for what shooting can be she may be too frustrated and put off from shooting to even try to master her own gun.
Having a mid or full size firearm in a medium caliber can be one of your greatest teaching aids. While many instructors will move to a .22 I strongly believe that past the first couple of confidence-building shots you are doing your students a disservice if you don't encourage them to move on to a higher caliber that forces them to incorporate more control. My Glock 19 gets a major work out during classes as I will often have my female students put a few rounds through it if they are struggling with their own firearms. The caliber is big enough where they are going to have to incorporate more strength and grip for better control, the firearm is large enough to absorb a good amount of felt recoil and allow for a good, solid grip, and it's not too heavy or big to the point they are intimidated by it or feel their flinch is getting worse.
Of course it's not always cost effective to let students use your gun and ammo if they are having problems with their own so I try to keep the round count they put through my gun to be about a magazine worth and those 15 rounds or so (when used effectively) are enough to show the student what I wanted them to glean and we move back to their own firearm. If, however, they are also shooting 9mm I don't worry about the wear on my gun and allow them to use their own ammo in my gun if they would prefer.
Calibers such a .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 10mm, .357 MAG, or almost any mid-size caliber in a pocket-sized pistol are more likely to result in flinching so keep an eye on women who bring these firearms into class. Do not make them feel weak or tease them about their firearm choice but be ready to step in and assist if/when the flinching starts.
Another type of flinch comes from adjusting the grip at the moment the gun fires. It's often caused by the pinky pulling the firearm down and results in low impacts on the target. If you've already ruled out sight alignment, temporarily have your student take a overlapping pinky grip like so...
The student does not have to shoot like this constantly, just until they learn to not let their pinky pull their shots low. This is especially helpful on small pocket guns that men often cannot even get a pinky on but women can. Because of the small size women can wrap their hands around them more effectively (including their pinky) you will often see more pinky interference as they clamp down on the firearm in anticipation for the high amount of felt recoil they are about to experience.
Women are not men. A simple comment of, "Don't be an idiot," to a man can be laughed off but the same comment to a woman could result in her not wanting to participate for fear she is making a fool of herself. A woman who is afraid of looking like a fool does need a bit of hand-holding, encouragement and reassurance. They will often take your words very literally so instead of saying, "line up the sights and pull the trigger" you may have to say, "Line up your sights, and, while keeping those sights aligned, apply steady pressure to the trigger..." etc.
Not many woman likes to be singled out of the group or used as an example (even if it's a good example), especially if she is not yet confident in what she is being asked to demonstrate and/or the only female in class. Both praise and correction should be done one-on-one and I find that using the "sandwich" method works best for keeping both men and women positive. I find one thing they are doing right, one thing they need to work on and another thing to praise them for.
Of course there is a time to get more strict and bossy (particularly if there are any safety concerns) but for beginners who are just taking their first shots I try to keep the atmosphere reassuring and positive.
Particularly, with women, the more comfortable, confident and relaxed they are the better their accuracy will be. If they are intimidated, scared, worried or embarrassed you will see it in their target. There is a time for pressure, artificial stress and challenging but it shouldn't be until the student has gotten comfortable with the basics of safety and control. The more stress and pressure you put on a new student the more you are going to see safety start to slip (fingers on the triggers, muzzles starting to wander, etc). Remind them it's perfectly okay to put the gun down and walk away or ask questions. Asking questions always makes a woman feel like you are interested in their experience and helping them... "How did that shot feel to you?" "How does that grip feel?" "Do you feel balanced on your feet?" And following up her answers with assurances or suggestions. She'll feel guided rather than dictated which will go a long way to making a positive connection with her.
Of course, as my final disclaimer, these are only a few tips from a woman shooter and instructor. Each individual is unique as is each class and this is by no means a generality for all women. Nor does it mean there isn't a lot more out there on the subject.