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Posted on November 24, 2020 by in Training

Training Vs. Competition: Physical Skills

Training Vs. Competition: Physical Skills

In my last article I gave a general overview of the benefits of shooting competitions to enhance your firearms skills. Competition is not a substitute for actual training, you’ve got to learn the skill sets before you can refine them, but after a shooter has attended a class or two with whatever firearms platform they want to become more proficient in, switching over to shooting competitive matches is the most effective and cost efficient way of improving those skills. My personal competitive experience includes USPSA, IDPA, SSC, 3GN, NRL, PRS, and numerous outlaw carbine and precision rifle matches. I will use examples from each discipline in my next few articles.

This article is going to focus on how competitive shooting can refine your physical skills whether you are a student of the gun or an instructor for other students. Physical skills are the foundation of making a competent shooter, whether that shooter is a responsible CCW citizen, sworn LE, or a member of the US DoD. So, what do I classify as physical skills? For me, physical skills include marksmanship skills, weapon manipulation skills, and shooting platform skills.

Let’s start with marksmanship skills. Everyone is familiar with the 7 fundamentals of marksmanship; it gets preached in every introductory firearms class. Those 7 are stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing, and follow-through. What usually does not get preached however, is the relationship each of those fundamentals have with one another depending on the shooting problem presented. At a structured training class, instructors normally present drills to isolate fundamentals for the students to work on. These drills are important for building a basic competence and foundation. Competitive shooting events build upon that foundation by forcing the shooter to recognize what fundamentals are important RIGHT NOW to make a successful shot, or string of shots, on a target array that they are not familiar with.

Applying the correct mixture of sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger control to stack rounds of top of each other from 5 yards on a clearly visible B8 target is much easier than having to decide, on the fly, what the correct mixture of sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger control is in order to hit the head A-zone of a USPSA target from around a barricade at 19 yards. Stance and grip might be super critical for making multiple hits on a precision target at extended distance, say over 25 yards, but is it really necessary to think about those two fundamentals when you’re burning down open targets from less than 5 yards? Competitive events force shooters to learn how to transition their focus from one fundamental to the next over and over and over until they develop the ability to “mix-and-match” the necessary skills in order to successfully engage targets at speed with acceptable accuracy. Speed and accuracy is the name of the game, whether that “game” is at your local indoor range, right outside a violators vehicle on a LE traffic stop, or the parking lot of the local bank.

Next up are weapon manipulation skills. Draws, reloads, malfunction clearing, weapon transitions, etc. all fall under this umbrella. Depending on what game you are playing, some of these may be super critical or they may not matter at all. If you decide to check out a Steel Challenge match, your draw and index better be on point, but you will never make a reload on the clock. If you want to try your hand at USPSA, the draw really does not matter, but you better be damn good at reloading while moving. Draws are easy to work on during dry fire, so are static reloads and malfunction clearing drills, but when was the last time you were forced to engage multiple target arrays at speed, while moving, and then have to make 3-4 reloads on the move, or have to perform an immediate or remedial action to fix your gun while on the move?

These are things that are almost impossible to work on during a structured training class due to the number of students in the class vs. the time it takes to perform these actions, and then you’ve got to factor in range size limitations and the amount of resources it takes to even set up a drill to accomplish all of that. Competitive events expose shooters to scenarios that are rarely replicated in formal training classes, and almost never replicated during a shooter’s private practice sessions due to those limitations. Mastering a static 1-reload-1 drill does not translate to being able to shoot 4 targets, then perform that reload while running at almost 100% speed over rough/unprepared terrain to get to the next shooting array, and having that reload complete and gun up ready to fire by the time you get there. I see a lot of body cam footage at my day job, I cannot remember the last time I saw a police officer involved in an OIS perform a static reload from a standing position. Moving reloads are a different story, so work on what is important instead of what looks good for social media video clips.

That leads right into shooting platform skills. I am talking about your stance, body position and orientation, and/or how you move while shooting. Again, some of this can and will be presented during training classes, but movement drills must usually be performed within the same constraints I listed in the previous paragraph. You might be able to do forward or rearward movement drills from the 15 yard line up to the 5 yard line and then back, but you probably won’t get the opportunity to run all over the place like a wild cat on a 20 yd x 50 yd shooting bay, engaging targets until everything in sight is shot. At these competitive events, namely USPSA and IDPA, if you are standing straight up in the picture-perfect stance, you are probably doing it wrong unless the stage itself is a static stage. Learning how your body interfaces and interacts with your gun while you are leaning around a hard barricade, or shooting underneath a barricade, or shooting off-axis in one direction while your body is moving in another is important knowledge to have if you want to be able to shoot in just about any environment outside of the static, controlled range.

All of this is important for newer shooters to experience as they start or continue their journey down the path of firearms mastery. It is equally as important, if not more important, for instructors to have this knowledge base to teach from. Teaching from experience and understanding how to connect with students based on those “I struggled with that too, this is how I overcame it” experiences enhances your capabilities as an instructor.

Stay tuned for the next article discussing how competition can refine your equipment management skills……


Jeremy is an active duty LEO in the Southwest US with over ten years experience. He is currently working as a full time firearms instructor for a major metropolitan agency.

His instructor certifications include firearms (patrol carbine/pistol/shotgun/SPR), defensive tactics, less-lethal, and MACTAC. He holds a Master classification in USPSA Single Stack, and has also competed in IDPA, Steel Challenge, 3-gun/Multigun/3GN, and various other outlaw events. Jeremy is currently concentrating on precision rifle matches and has earned several Top-LE awards at national-level events.