By Sheri Trusty, CMP Feature Writer
Sporter Air Rifle Coach, Col. Sean Mulcahy, led the Nation Ford High School MCJROTC rifle team to an extraordinary championship record with a unique philosophy: he doesn’t focus on winning. Between the time he formed the team in 2008 and his retirement in June, Mulcahy’s teams earned 64 national championship titles and claimed 26 national record certificates. His coaching success came, he said, because he was more concerned with fostering character than creating winners.
“I don’t focus strongly on winning. The joy of winning is fleeting,” Mulcahy said. “I focus on performance and personal goals. I don’t judge them on whether they came in first place or won a medal. I ask them, ‘Did you do your best?’ ‘Did you refuse to give up?’ If the answer is yes, then they have met my expectations. If you do your best, you can celebrate your success.”
Mulcahy’s philosophy doesn’t mean he is soft on his cadets. On the contrary, he places high demands on them. Accountability is an underlying principle to his coaching style, and he insists his cadets meet standards of conduct that will breed lifelong success. Students who arrive late for practice or express sloppy commit to the team are called out.
“I instill basic life skills in them to make them successful in life. When you come in here, the golden rule is respect yourself and others,” he said. “I hold them accountable. If I don’t, I’m letting them down.”
Part of that discipline is a heavy practice schedule. Mulcahy offers ten practice sessions every week, and his athletes must commit to five. Mandatory double practices begin two weeks prior to every national championship match. That means athletes are on the range for two hours before and two hours after school for two weeks. That discipline leads to strong character and a lot of championship titles.
“We haven’t lost a match in almost five years at every level, and we’ve won championships by 100 points. Nine of my kids now shoot at the NCAA sporter level, which is pretty rare,” Mulcahy said. “Basically, we out-practice and out-prepare every other team. We shoot 12 months a year. What makes a champion is weeks of training.”
Mulcahy’s JROTC rifle team has come a long way since he formed the group at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, South Carolina after retiring from the Marine Corps. In the beginning, the team hauled their equipment into classrooms, the cafeteria, or any other school space that was available for practice.
“Every time, we had to set up and take down equipment. We had to share space with cheerleaders, dance classes and other sports teams, so we could only practice three times a week,” Mulcahy said. “We shot corner to corner. We were literally shoulder to shoulder.”
Then Nation Ford built the team its own JROTC building equipped with a 25-point firing range, and the team converted from pump rifles to Crosman Challenger sporter class rifles. Those changes pivoted the team to success.
“I could control the space, and I began offering practices in the morning and after school. I had a number of kids come to two practices a day, and they became national champions,” Mulcahy said.
Dedicated students who thrived under Mulcahy’s coaching drove the team to success.
“My kids are hardworking, smart kids. I teach them to think for themselves,” he said. “Shooting is so dynamic and multidimensional. You have to analyze every shot, call the shot, look at trends, and adjust the shot.”
Mulcahy created an atmosphere at Nation Ford that allowed his athletes to focus more on developing character than winning medals. In the end, they did both.
“I tell my kids that it’s not how you finish but how you perform. Most coaches don’t understand the pressure they put on athletes with their expectations. This sport is measured in degrees of millimeters. The stress and anxiety will mess you up,” Mulcahy said.
He has watched competitors on other teams have meltdowns under the pressure, so Mulcahy strives to create athletes with strong minds.
“We focus on sports psychology and protective thought. I tell my kids to clear their minds and meditate for 20 seconds before every shot,” he said.
Then, when the inevitable bad shots come, Mulcahy’s cadets are prepared.
“Everyone has a bad shot, but what’s your reaction after a bad shot? That’s the difference between success and imploding,” he said. “Coaches don’t get it. They hamstring their athletes with all the stress, and it makes it easier on my team.”
Mulcahy ended his career by leading his team to first place in the 2023 3PAR Junior Olympic and CMP National Sporter Championships at Camp Perry on June 23-24. Mulcahy was proud of his team, but he is leaving them with something more enduring that another medal – the skills to be a good human.
“I want them to be happy and successful, and there’s a formula for that,” he said. “My captain is not my best shooter. My MVP is not my best shooter. It’s the one with the servant’s attitude who will do for others. It’s the one who is unselfish, humble and kind.”
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.