Over the past 30-plus years, I’ve watched the ebb and flow of competition shooting and other competitive events in police training environments. From Police Pistol Competition to IPSC and IDPA and now 3-gun competitions, competitive shooting has begun to become an item of interest for law enforcement. Even the NRA has jumped on the bandwagon, coming up with their version of 3-gun competition.
For years, law enforcement in general has avoided competition, repeating the mantra of “competition will get you killed” as a refrain, vigorously and repeatedly. Now we are starting to see a resurgence of interest among our younger generation of police officers who are becoming interested in competition as a way to “put their skills to the test,” as one told me in a conversation.
Exploring this topic further will expose some deep seated beliefs and biases on both sides of the debate. I believe it is time to bring this controversial issue up and look at it objectively and openly.
I believe this debate has many passionate supporters on both sides, each wanting to make their argument for or against.
What is Competition?
Simply put, competition is pitting your skills against another opponent or opponents who are trying to win and best you in the process. Whether you do it within your agency or among a small circle of friends or engage in formal contests, the concept is the same.
Why Do We Compete?
How many of you have ever competed at anything in life as you were growing up or even today? This can range from friendly informal contests or organized activities. Why did you or do you compete? What’s in it for you? What value do you perceive in engaging in it?
For most, competition instills confidence in oneself and one’s ability to perform under pressure. For others, it is about learning more about weapons handling that they can bring back to their departments and increase proficiency.
For me, these are strong arguments for competition but it is not the total reason why people compete.
Deep down, I think all of us are curious to see how good we really are or how good we can get if we really went for it. I think almost everyone who competes on a serious level would like to be able to prove their skill level in the arena where it is apples against apples.
Why Don’t We Compete?
On this side of the debate, we have those that are absolutely dead set against any form of competitive shooting. The most often cited reasons are as follows:
Lack of Tactics — Most of the organized matches in IPSC and 3 Gun are tactically illiterate. IPSC is particularly guilty of this one. Once a martial sport, it has degenerated into a “game” environment where “shoot em where you see em” is the order of the day. The use of cover or realistic fighting strategies is basically given up in order to maximize speed of engagement and get a faster time and a higher score.
The above reason is the most often cited reason why many believe that competition will get you killed. If you get used to standing out in the open, standing in doorways, only shooting targets twice each, shooting from a “race gun” holster position etc. then you are not truly ready for a gunfight and what it will involve.
With IDPA, the gear has been limited to what would be “reasonable” to carry in a defensive situation. But now we have match imposed limits on how the gun can be carried, how you will reload the firearm and other artificial restraints that limit the creative imagination of the shooter to “solve” the problem presented. The scoring of the targets imposes a dramatic time penalty for anything falling outside an arbitrary 8” circle and the shooting slows down to an unrealistic speed that is not reflected in the speed of actual engagements or force on force training scenarios that I have done exhaustive research on.
Unrealistic Equipment — Taking a look at modern competitive equipment, we see guns and gear costing thousands of dollars. With the exception of production or stock gun classes, most of the other classes require one to buy guns that will cost beyond the $1500 price point. If you are shooting a modern 3 gun carbine, that can set you back more than $2,500 with the optic often costing more than the carbine itself.
Bring into play goofy holsters, weapons that need constant attention of work reliably, too light trigger pulls and we see that over specialization has become the order of the day.
So why do it at all?
Will competition get you killed? Maybe. Will sitting on your ass doing nothing between qualifications get you killed? Maybe.
However, we all know people who really can’t shoot — can’t perform — and are still alive and doing the job.
Will competitive shooters outperform those who don’t compete in a tactical environment?
When it comes to shooting, you betcha!
The evidence is overwhelming. When it comes to tactics and thinking, the results are mixed. If the competitive shooter is a “gamer”, and really isn’t all that interested in training for tactical situations then I say that he/she is not going to be prepared for the reality of death staring them in the face. But if they train for tactical situations and compete; it is a different story.
No one will argue that a race car driver driving a specialized vehicle at speeds in excess of 160 mph will probably still outperform you in a street car. A skilled MMA fighter with some tactical street sense will outperform the average Joe in a hands-on street fight as well.
Yet, because it hits too close to home and challenges our egos, we tend to put blinders on when that competitive shooter absolutely dominates a tactical situation. He gets hits on target before his peers can even mount a weapon. He moves from position to position better, has better weapons handling and safety, and can process information and make decisions at a higher rate of speed than just about anybody else around him.
How Does this Happen?
The reason is that the higher end competitive shooter has trained under far greater stress and pressure than you can put on yourself in training by yourself. He has mastered his emotions, his equipment and has a driving will to prevail that will come into play when he enters a fight….provided he has the right values and mindset for the fight in place as well.
This is training synergy in action and why I use competition as part of our training model. Simply put, you can do more with it, if you use it correctly than you can without it.
I am not blind to the faults of competition shooting. The reality is that one must absorb what is useful rather than ignore it. Believing you are the best without having to go out and prove it once in a while is complacency. As many officers have already found out, it is a humbling experience when you compete in your first match and do not do nearly as well as you believed you would.
Going in with the attitude that you are going to learn about yourself, how to better perform under pressure, and accepting the positive aspects of competition is a more enlightened way to go about it.
I know for a fact that competitive shooting has helped me in tactical situations to stay calm and ready. Many others report similar findings.
I also know that there is a chance of being infected with a “gamer” mentality and see it all as a video game with you in it. As with everything, there are pluses and minuses. The bottom line for me is performance.
If it takes you higher up the mountain, it is worth doing.
More to follow!