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When you talk to tactical shooters, they frequently claim that competition shooting would hurt their tactical skills. They fear that they will negate cover, move not deliberately, and lack accuracy when they start with competition shooting. All these claims are wrong. Instead, competition shooting can boost tactical performance. It forces you to be adaptive, work under stress, and shows you where your skills are insufficient. Therefore – go out and compete!
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMPETITION AND TACTICAL SHOOTING?
The field of competition shooting is wide. From high precision competitions with air guns to tactical matches where you solve shooting challenges under physical exhaustion and mental stress to formula one competition shooting like IPSC (USPSA for the US readers) where the best of the best mess with each other. Competition shooting is also marked by a ruleset defined by a governing body or by two friends messing about the after-range dinner payment.
Tactical shooting is less clearly defined than competition shooting. Often tactical shooting is identifiable by techniques that “work on the street.” This means that the shooter performs techniques with a disadvantage in speed and accuracy but that are more reliable under tactical circumstances. Ideally, tactical shooting connects the shooting part with decision-making situations.
WHY COMPETITION SHOOTING WILL NOT HURT YOUR TACTICAL PERFORMANCE.
An often heard but not valid claim of pure tactical shooters is that competitive shooting will hurt your tactical performance. They argue that movement, mindset, and gun handling in competitive shooting are contrary to tactical shooting and, therefore, will negatively impact your tactical behavior. They picture a situation where you are neglecting cover and concealment in a firefight because you did that two weeks earlier in an IPSC course of fire. This assumption is not correct. First, human beings make decisions all the time in firefights. To use or not use cover is usually a conscious decision, not an automatic process somebody wents through, because he is doing it every two weeks a few times in a competition. Second, the repetitions in USPSA (or other shooting competitions) are not frequent enough to build an automatism. A rule of USPSA is that you will never see a situation twice in a match. That means, sometimes you will neglect cover, and sometimes the shooting position will force you into a shooting stance that looks like shooting from cover. Third, do not fall into the trap of thinking that competition shooting will be your tactical training. Competition shooting should be a beneficial building block of your curriculum – not the entire curriculum. You still need to train how to use cover, make decisions, and fire for effect.
To argue that competition shooting negatively impacts your tactical performance is like arguing that a race car driver is an incompetent driver on public streets because he cuts corners, brakes late, and sticks to rules on the race track. In reality, the race car driver can differentiate between driving on a race track and a public street. Furthermore, he is processing information faster, can handle his car on autopilot in extreme situations, and blocks less mental capacity for background tasks.
But how can competition shooting benefit the tactical shooter?
Competition shooting forces you to question what you are doing continuously. When your competitor has a 0.8 second draw and you have a 0.9 second draw, you are at a competitive disadvantage that you must somehow mitigate. Ether through a new approach to training, a new technique, or a different piece of equipment – but when you don’t adapt, you will lose!
These adaptive measures will not hurt your tactical performance. If you can draw in 0.8 sec from your open-top competition holster, the likelihood that you have a blazing fast draw from your retention holster is high. When you can confidently sprint from A to B in a competition environment, you can do this also in a tactical situation. Finally, if you can shoot safe, accurate, and fast out of an awkward position in a competition setting – the likelihood that you can do this on your beloved V-Tac barricade or around a car is also high.
The challenges competitions present to a shooter will force him to enhance his performance whether he identifies as a tactical or competition shooter (or both).
WORKING UNDER PRESSURE.
Negative stress in tactical situations is natural. To die or kill is not an event most of us enjoy and are presented very often in our lives. Therefore, our techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) must be executable under pressure. A common approach in tactical shooting is trying to fool proof these TTPs by adding additional layers of “what if” procedures to the basement technique. Unfortunately, this usually creates the opposite result – making TTPs complex, unnatural, and unrealistic. Looking at tactical shooters on social media often gives me the feeling of watching an amateur-theatre actor performing weird movements about what fighting should look like in their minds. The complexity you can add to an administrative loading procedure to make it super-duper stress-resistant is kind of funny and interesting. However, it gets dangerous when people train to act like robots and sequence pre-scripted movements during the shooting cycle in a tactical situation.
Instead of layering technique over technique to foolproof ourselves, we should incorporate stress into our shooting. In the case of tactical shooting, a very beneficial form of stress is competing in an environment where the stakes are high for you. That usually excludes competing solely with your range buddies. You have to go out and feel the pressure of 15 people watching your run, or being stacked against 300 others on a big IPSC/USPSA match. Furthermore, you have to regularly deal with shooting challenges you never encountered before and solve them.
COMPETITION SHOOTING SHOWS YOU WHERE YOU STACK IN SHOOTING SKILLS.
To start with competition shooting hurts – I was there! I was the hotshot of my unit, thinking I was close to the culmination point of what is humanly possible. Then on my first big shooting competition, I came in on a whopping 52% of the IPSC world champion Eric Grauffel. Instead of realizing that I sucked, I found a million excuses like “I am doing it tactical,” “I am using a Glock and he is using a Tanfoglio” and many more. My perception was even encouraged by famous trainers who argued in the same direction to hide their mediocre shooting skills. But over time, I realized that I was not the excellent shooter I thought I was, and I started to question my approach to shooting and training. From that moment on, I continuously advanced in skills and understanding of training and shooting in general. The regular (and still hurting) skills checks in IPSC competitions motivated me to refine my skills and broaden my view.
Good shooting technique is not as complex as the tactical world often tries to make us believe. But even things as simple as shooting are difficult to master. Competition shooting provides an excellent way to stay adaptive, act under pressure, and gives great feedback about your progress. Combined with tactical training focused on decision-making, communication, and tactical maneuvering, you have excellent tools that prepare you for violent encounters.
About the Author: As an infantryman and avid competition shooter our guest author Stefan Rohoff feels home in the tactical and the competition world. He holds a German national title in IPSC and was head of the German small arms instructor course.