Sport air rifle coach Colonel 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 have won 64 national championship titles and claimed 26 national record certificates. His success as his coach was due, he said, to his being more concerned with building character than creating winners.
“I don’t focus much on winning. The joy of winning is fleeting,” Mulcahy said. “I focus on performance and personal goals. I don’t judge them by whether they came in first place or won a medal. I ask them: ‘Did you do the best you could?’ ‘You refused 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’s soft on his cadets. On the contrary, he demands a lot from them. Responsibility is a tenet underlying his training style, and he insists that his cadets meet standards of conduct that will lead to lifelong success. Students who are late to practice or express a careless commitment to the team are called out.
“I instill in them basic life skills so that they will be successful in life. When you come here, the golden rule is to respect yourself and others,” she 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 each week, and his athletes must commit to five. Mandatory double practices begin two weeks before each national championship game. That means athletes are on the field two hours before and two hours after school for two weeks. That discipline leads to a strong character and many championship titles.
“We haven’t lost a game in almost five years at every level, and we’ve won championships by 100 points. Nine of my kids are now shooting at the NCAA sports level, which is pretty rare,” Mulcahy said. “Basically, we practice and prepare better than all the other teams. We shoot 12 months a year. What makes a champion are 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. At first, the team would transport their equipment to classrooms, the cafeteria, or any other school space that was available to practice.
“Each time, we had to assemble and disassemble the 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 from corner to corner. We were literally shoulder to shoulder.”
Nation Ford then built for the team its own JROTC building equipped with a 25-point firing range, and the team upgraded from pump rifles to Crosman Challenger sporting class rifles. Those changes propelled the team to success.
“I was able to control the space and started offering practices in the morning and after school. Several kids went to two practices a day and became national champions,” Mulcahy said.
The dedicated students who thrived under Mulcahy’s coaching led the team to success.
“My children are hard-working and intelligent children. I teach them to think for themselves,” she said. “Shooting is so dynamic and multidimensional. You have to analyze each shot, make the decision, look at the trends and adjust the shot.”
Mulcahy created an atmosphere at Nation Ford that allowed his athletes to focus more on building character than winning medals. In the end, they did both.
“I tell my kids it’s not about how you end up 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. Stress and anxiety will ruin you,” Mulcahy said.
He has seen competitors on other teams collapse under the pressure, so Mulcahy strives to create athletes with strong minds.
“We focus on sports psychology and protective thinking. I tell my kids to clear their minds and meditate for 20 seconds before each shot,” she said.
So when the inevitable bad shots come, Mulcahy’s cadets are prepared.
“Everyone has a bad shot, but what is your reaction after a bad shot? That is the difference between success and implosion,” she said. “The coaches don’t get it. They paralyze their athletes with all the stress, and that makes it easier for my team.”
Mulcahy finished his career by leading his team to first place at the 2023 3PAR Youth Olympic and CMP Sports National Championships at Camp Perry on June 23 and 24. Mulcahy was proud of his team, but he leaves them with something more lasting than another medal: the skills to be a good human being.
“I want them to be happy and successful, and there is a formula for that,” he said. “My captain is not my best shot. My MVP is not my best shooter. He is the one who has a servant attitude who will do for others. He is the one who is selfless, humble and kind.”
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearms safety and marksmanship training and the promotion of marksmanship competition for United States citizens. To learn more about the CMP and its programs, log on to www.TheCMP.org.