Teaching children about firearms safety is always at the top of my list. But I also love to see kids getting off the couch, putting down their smart devices, and getting involved with the proper, effective and safe use of firearms. I know that a lot of families take their children or grandchildren hunting. Some even enjoy shooting that Red Rider BB gun in their backyards. But there are also some great organizations dedicated to helping young people learn firearms safety and all of the fundamentals of shooting while enjoying a little competition … and quite possibly earning awards and scholarships!

Along with the Boy Scouts of America and 4-H clubs, the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF) is one of those organizations. A 501(c)(3) public charity, SSSF’s mission is to introduce children to shooting sports and to “facilitate their continued involvement by providing, promoting and perpetuating opportunities to safely and enjoyably participate and compete in a high-quality, team-based sport led by trained adult coaches focused on enhancing the personal growth and development of their athletes.”

All in all, SSSF is focused on sharing the tradition of shooting sports with future generations. The organization encourages safe and responsible firearms handling through team-based training, which enables young people to learn, practice and compete in SSSF programs like the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) and the Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP). Both branches focus on youth development and shooting sports in their various disciplines. While SASP offers children (from 5th grade through college) the chance to participate in action shooting sports with .22 rifles, .22 handguns and/or centerfire handguns, the SCTP provides kids with an opportunity to participate in the fun and challenging sports of trap, skeet and sporting clays, as well as the Olympic disciplines of bunker trap, trap doubles and international skeet.

I’ve had an opportunity to work with SSSF over the last several years, and it’s amazing to hear the stories and the testimonials from both its coaches and its athletes. Besides being a great opportunity for learning and practicing teamwork and sportsmanship, the discipline and self-control required for responsible firearms use carries over into many other aspects of life. Through competition and training, along with other fun activities and events, more than 12,000 student athletes participating in over 800 teams across the country are learning important skills, building self-confidence, developing life-long friendships, and having a lot of fun. It’s incredible to hear about a seventh grader’s goal of college-level shooting and a high school junior’s Olympic dreams. But staying with the shooting sports for life is not unusual for these athletes. In fact, the SSSF is the official feeder program to USA Shooting and a path to the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team. Kim Rhode is just one of SSSF’s success stories. Rhode got her competitive start in American Skeet at the age of 10, and at 13, she won her first world championship title in women’s double trap shooting. In addition to her six Olympic medals, which made her the first Summer Olympic athlete to win medals in six consecutive, Rhode is a 29-time World Cup Medalist and 14-time USA Shooting National Champ.

Today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers, so it’s important that we encourage them to get involved in the things that matter. Start teaching children early about the universal gun safety rules. Introduce them to safe shooting. Help them get comfortable and confident around firearms so they can become responsibly armed adults. And get them involved with shooting … whether with just the family or with a shooting organization or team.

I know that my three children may not currently have shooting scholarships or Olympic gold medals in their sights, but they all get a healthy dose of exposure and practice. And they are encouraged to check out the variety of options available. Everyone, regardless of age, should be provided with adequate training and experience to ensure safe, ethical and responsible interaction with firearms. And the SSSF provides a wonderful way to do just that.

WEBSITE: sssfonline.org/