Dina Aspandiyarova: “Each shooter must have goals”

Dina Aspandiyarova is a pistol shooter and coach with a lot of experience. She’s been in four Olympic teams and will be in her fifth for the Tokyo 2021 games! I’ve worked with her for a year and she’s very positive and demanding (I got a stronger arm!) and shares a lot of what she has learned from experience in her extensive career as a pro shooter.

This interview will be a mix of pistol shooter and coach questions, with the first part dedicated to her as a shooter. If you want to train with her, you can find her contact in the shooting coaches directory or reach out via her Facebook page.

Table of Contents

How and when did you start shooting?

I began to shoot at the age of 11. I was born in the town of Almaty which back then was the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan which was one of 15 republics of the Soviet Union. It was common for school kids to do different after school activities such as dancing, singing, sports, astronomy etc. And it was free for everyone (along with education and health).

One day, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to try out shooting. I agreed because at this age I was already too old for gymnastics or ice skating. I actually thought it was the same as archery because in Russian, archery translates to “shooting with a bow”. I didn’t even suspect that you could competitively shoot guns. So, she took me into the underground cellar like range and I was very surprised to see a real pistol. I had also dreamed of becoming a detective and thought all detectives must be able to shoot therefore this sport seemed very handy. But my biggest dream was to travel all over the world and sport provided this great opportunity. As the years went by, my dream to become a detective dissolved but my love for this sport remained and I dedicated my life to it…

What made you want to train and compete more seriously? What was your progression like?

Once you notice that you progress, your inspiration and confidence grow, and you want to move further. Once you start to win competitions you want to win more. Once you start to travel you want to see more.

I started shooting in November 1987; in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and Kazakhstan became a sovereign country and was able to form its own National team, and in 1993 I became a member of it. Being an athlete became my job for which I received salary and all social benefits. So, it was very important to perform well and keep doing a good job. That year I shot 379 which was equal to the grade Master of Sport. A year later our team took part in its very first Asian Games in Hiroshima when our women’s team won a Bronze medal in Sport Pistol event. In 1994 we started to travel to the World Cups and in 1998 I won a gold medal in the Asian Games in Bangkok. In 2000 I was 6th at Sydney’s Olympic Games. In 2001, we moved to Russia and in 2003, to Australia. I also participated in 2008, 2012 Olympic Games, have medals from 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games. Additionally, I attended the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

What advice has had the biggest positive impact in your shooting? Who gave it?

If we talk about shooting, then I can say that I was lucky that my very first coach taught me correct techniques and habits. Because now, as I became a coach myself, I have to reteach other shooters and correct their mistakes which they gained due to lack of professional advice.

As for the life advice, it sounded like this: “Why do you think humans are given brains? So that they (humans) could listen to different opinions/advice and then make their own decisions”. That came from my second coach, Anatoly Babushkin, who became my husband few years later 😊

What did you spend a lot of effort on and later discovered it wasn’t so important?

I definitely don’t need algebra in my life. But as for shooting, everything I worked on has helped me become who I am now. I took everything onboard.

How do you train and how often? What does a typical training day look like? Do you train with a coach or by yourself? 

My weekly training regimen is 3 days training, 1day off, 3 days training, 1 day off, etc. Training lasts for 2.5 hours including 15 min stretching + 30 min dry firing + live shooting with various tasks and challenges. But ideally, I should train 15-20 hours a week.

I’m lucky that my husband is the most knowledgeable coach I’ve ever met as he has 40+ years of coaching experience and he is a Merited Coach of the Soviet Union and Kazakhstan. He was the Head Coach of the Kazakh shooting team for 20 years and also simultaneously the National Rapid Fire Pistol Coach of the Soviet Union. He is always beside me and I trust him more than I trust myself. And when my shooters ask me a question which I don’t know how to answer, I tell them “Wait, I’ll ask my coach”.

How do you stay motivated in training and competition?

Goals… Each shooter must have goals. Then it is easy to stay motivated. Goals could be short-term and long-term.

What do you do before a match or training to get into the appropriate mind space? 

It comes with experience. The more you participate in competitions the more you develop a professional approach, meaning you don’t do anything specific – automatically and subconsciously you become focused on what you need to do in the current moment of your life.

So, as a coach it takes me a lot of time to teach amateur shooters that they come to a training or competitions not to socialise and talk about this or that with the friends, but to focus on the work.

But I know that different shooters have different techniques – some people listen to the music, some do breathing exercises, some meditate, some read books… I just don’t communicate.

How do you manage nervousness through a competition? Can you give an example of a technique you use when things are not going well? 

I’m still learning how to manage it. Some people are naturally calm and indifferent, but I am very emotional, that’s why I failed in so many finals where time is limited, and I don’t have enough of it to be able to refocus and calm myself down. But I am very stubborn and persistent and am constantly looking for ways to overcome nervousness, mostly through positive self-talk and breathing exercises.

What would you recommend pistol shooters to focus on improving? Can you share one exercise or routine for this? How do you think they should go about it? 

Everyone you’ve interviewed before me said this: improve your steadiness/stability. When your arm is stable it is much easier to pull the trigger. Main exercise for pistol shooters is holding. Ideally 1 min, but everybody should start with holding for as long as they can, 30-40 sec gradually increasing it to 1 min. Do it once every 10 min of your training.

What is your shot sequence like? 

It’s easy as “ready, steady, go” 😉Fortunately we are not gymnasts or figure skaters who need to learn new programs before each competition. We need to repeat only 4 movements: lock your wrist whilst on the table, raise your arm 3 target sizes above the target where you check the shoulder, eyes on the front sight and squeeze the first stage, come into the aiming area, maintain it and finish what was started at the top plus 1 sec for follow-through. Easy…

Which tool or equipment can’t you live without?

Pistol and screwdriver or something that can replace it, like a coin.

Watch Dina Aspandiyarova compete for the Australian Olympic trials: 10m air pistol and 25m pistol.

What made you decide to dive into pistol coaching?

At first, I started to help my husband with juniors in Australia. In 2013 both me and husband got an offer to work in Singapore with their pistol teams.

At what level are you coaching and how has your career progression been?

In Singapore I was a coach of the national women’ pistol team. In 2016 we came back to Australia, and I began to coach other shooters from all over the world via Skype which is also a unique experience for me. Last year I started to work with Gagan Narang’s academy Gun for Glory and their high-performance team by means of training camps.

What are you most proud of in your coaching career? 

You know… when you start coaching other shooters you get what you get and just try to improve what they already have. Some shooters have more skills, some less. But I am very proud of the girl from Singapore whom I taught to shoot sport pistol from scratch, she never shot it before. And she became very good at it. Another girl from Singapore won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she also won an Olympic quota for 2016 OG. My recent moment of pride was when an Indian girl from Gun for Glory shot her personal best 587 in Sport pistol event and was selected into their National team. And I love all my Skype shooters. They are so passionate and determined. Almost all of them are amateurs and have their own job and family commitments, but yet, they try to find time to train and have a lot of desire to improve.

What is the most important thing a pistol coach can teach his athletes?

Firstly, patience. Nothing works quickly in shooting except the wrist flicks 😉 Secondly, stop being score oriented, become process oriented.

I have a shooter mentality and I have been a shooter of all levels – beginner, professional, amateur. I know exactly what is happening in a shooter’s head. So, whatever I do or tell myself I teach my shooters.

What do shooters spend a lot of effort on that is not so important? 

To me it is names of muscles and physiology. This is not very important.

How do you keep shooters motivated in training and competition?

Same as myself – trying to help them to find and set goals.

What would you recommend pistol shooters to focus on improving? Can you share one exercise or routine for this? How do you think they should go about it? 

Visualisation. This is like programming your body for a certain work.

Can you share some examples of tactics to use during a match and what would trigger them?

Shooting a match is like a battleship navigating through a minefield. One wrong move and – bang! Bad shot… Ultimately, you need to find tools (strategies, exercises, images, words) to repair your ship (mind) and get back on course. Through years of participation in competitions you collect your own set of tools and learn when to use them. The more you compete the more tools you find and your mental toughness gets trained. The beauty of shooting is that it is a very long-lasting sport and you have plenty of time to collect your “tools”.

Which tool or equipment can’t you live without as a coach?

Glasses. Normal (not shooting) glasses. The older you become the vision get worse 😊

What question would you have liked me to ask and what’s your answer to it? 

What are the unique aspects of Skype training considering that you do not see shooters in action on the range?

Well, modern technologies allow distant coaching live on the range, and yes, it is more effective as I can see and correct errors on the spot, create and observe some tasks, etc. But not all shooters can arrange that. The nature of Skype sessions does not allow me to see how my students shoot therefore I have to talk a lot… Whilst working in Singapore I noticed that often I had to interrupt my shooters’ training and explain them what they need to do, to change, to think, to imagine, what I want from them. So, there was a lot of talking. Throughout 3 years that I worked there I accumulated a lot of such topics out of which I created verbal lessons/lectures which now I tell my students. Of course, we have to discuss a lot of technical elements and make sure that they are correct. But I have enough experience and know which areas to pay attention and check. I provide different types of training plans and explain when and how to use them, so when my students stop working with me, they knew how to create their own training plan. I show a lot of physical exercises to improve stability and steadiness, and when it comes to mental training then it is all about conversation, not action. But the best thing about having such type of coach is that shooters become more disciplined and focused on their training. They know that they must do a certain work and then report to me, and then we discuss what worked and what not, and together we find ways how reach their goals.

Who would you recommend is interviewed next?


Munkhbayar Dorjsuren and any Indian shooter. Indian shooters are the only students whom I told to train less, not more. I had some shooters who trained 42 hours a week. It is too much.

Home exercises for pistol shooters (I started using my ironing board as shooting table after this).
Coach Dina on the importance of dry firing.
Diaries, goals and motivation.

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