Competition and training: How to train; how not to train

By Ralph Mroz
Training Director, Police Officer's Safety Association

Author's Note: Several articles have been written about the benefits of competitive shooting for police officers. Although we at POSA agree with the positive aspects of using competition as a form of training, we also believe that the counter-arguments to competitive shooting are worth considering.

How Not To Train: Competitive Shooting

Back in the September/October 2001 issue of American Handgunner, Ken Hackathorn (one of the most respected people in tactical training) said that, in relation to people serious about surviving, "…don't shoot IPSC…I can't tell people to take part because I see so many courses of fire that make you do things that are suicidal or stupid."

When asked about that statement recently, Ken said, "I think it only fair to explain that shooting IPSC to become a better shooter/marksman is one thing, but my message to cops is that IPSC-to learn survival skills-is a bad idea. If you follow the shooting requirements to do well in IPSC and to be really competitive, you will condition in reflexive skills that will be suicidal on the street.

"[Now, it is] correct that IDPA can easily follow the same road to waste that IPSC did.....when we started IDPA we tried to structure the rules and equipment to limit the demise. I have stepped down from my position on the IDPA Board of Directors. I hope they continue and keep it practical for the future.

"Sadly, we Americans seem to be obsessed to take any form of competition and turn it into a specialized game that with time barely reflects the ideals that the organizers tried to create. Like Walt Rauch, I try to warn folks the competition is not training....and training should not be competition.

Good practical competition that requires the contestant to follow solid basic tactical rules is good. Things like using cover to engage threats and for reloading is good. Shooting with duty or plain clothes concealment gear is good. Making contestants do target identification is good. Shooting in reduced or low light is good. So, in many ways IDPA is good.

"But, it is still a game and must be understood that it is only a shooting game. IPSC has evolved to a very exciting and competitive shooting sport. It has also become almost totally worthless as a means of testing your survival skills, and if you practice it on a routine basis, you are conditioning reflexive shooting techniques that couldwell be fatal to you if you try them on the street."

Unfortunately, to our eyes, IDPA is starting to follow that same route. IDPA courses of fire, among other sins, often require very poor use of cover, require tactical reloads (about which there is nothing tactical at all), mandate movement into an unsafe area, and require that you shoot fast! All of these things could be seriously bad on the street.

This is not the fault of the people involved in IDPA or IPSC. Those are universally fine people who just want to sustain an interesting, growing, exciting, fun shooting sport.

The problem is this: any shooting event can be judged objectively only by two criteria: accuracy and speed. Tactical correctness cannot be scored as it is always a subjective judgment. And shooting fast is quite often not the tactically right thing to do - often it's to hunker down behind cover and observe, wait or communicate. You can't judge that objectively, either.

As an example, my association, Police Officer's Safety Association, is putting on a charity pistol match for the Jimmy Fund, in memory of the infant daughter of a friend and fellow police trainer, who died of cancer at eleven months of age. When I had come up with some tactically correct preliminary ideas for the match's stages, with about 5-7 rounds per stage fired, the association's Executive Director, a competitive shooter, said "That's way too few rounds. I wouldn't even come to a match where I fired so few rounds. It's a shooting match, and the idea is to shoot and have fun."

So what was his idea of the "right" number of rounds per stage, on average? An astonishing twenty! That's no where near a practical number, given the dynamics of most police-involved gunfights. (But we are going with about 20 rounds per stage nonetheless, because our objective is, after all, to raise money and have people come back the following year. The match is on March 19 in Springfield, MA--check the Web site if you'd like to attend.)

What is happening to IDPA is the inevitable result of the fact that it's a sport that's judged. As such, it must inevitably reward non-tactical behavior.

There's nothing wrong with shooting sports, of course, and everything right with something that brings shooters into the fold. The problem with tactically minded folks participating heavily in them, though, is that sports like IDPA and IPSC are actually too much like real tactical shooting-but not actually it. You can easily get confused under stress about what the right thing to do is, and the things you have spend hundreds of hours practicing.

As an example: professional tennis players need to have a break from tennis. Maybe they golf or sail or ski. But they don't play squash. Squash and tennis are too much alike, and their squash practice would certainly adversely affect their tennis game.

What is the value of competitive shooting sports like IPSC and IDPA?

They actually do offer quite a bit to the true tactical shooter. They gun handling skills (drawing, fast and accurate shooting, reloading, etc.) like few other activities can. But you must compete in moderation and practice in true tactical fashion in quantity if you want to keep your "muscle memory" prepared for a real confrontation.

How To Train: Statically, Dynamically and Interactively

So how do you train for the street? One of the most intelligent ways to think about the answer to this question comes from Dave Young, of CAPS, the folks that make live-fire interactive simulators. Dave says that there are three levels of training that every competent shooter should go through on a regular basis:





The first level is static training.

Here we are talking about range training, usually stationary shooters and static targets, At this level of training, the shooter hones the fundamentals of the weapon and marksmanship.

The second level is dynamic training.

It can be done at a low level with moving shooters and moving/drop-turn targets, and shoot-house exercises. But it is much better accomplished with a simulator in which a scenario unfolds in video form in front of you.

At this level the shooter learns proper decision making, learns about the critical reaction and perception time-frames involved in an encounter, develops appreciation for cover, and proved their ability to professionally and safely operate their weapon in a real-life environment.

Besides being about the lowest-cost simulator on the market, the CAPS system has the additional advantage of being the only live-fire system; the shooter uses his/her own weapon with live ammunition throughout the exercise. This is a tremendously important advantage. Would you fly with a pilot who has only developed his/her skills on a video-game simulator, or would you insist on flying with one who has actually flown an airplane?

Likewise, should you ever have to defend the actions of a student-or your own actions, would you rather have the jury see evidence of you playing expensive video-arcade games, or would you rather have them know you exercised good judgment in a realistic scenario with a your own real gun and real bullets?

Also consider that once you have mastered the fundamentals of shooting, everyone is still vulnerable to "flinch." We all reach the point where we can dry-fire all day long and our front sight never moves, yet we still are flinching more that we want to during live-fire.

So just because you can control a non-recoiling laser gun in a simulation does not all mean that you have proven your ability to hit with a real gun, for real.

The third stage of training is interactive training, using replica guns and actual (but not-lethal) projectiles.

Here we are talking about Simunations or airsoft weapons, with airsoft the preferred choice for several reasons. First airsoft replicas are widely available for almost any firearm, meaning that you can use your own holsters and gear, and you will be operating a firearms system identical to your real firearm. Second, as a non-marking technology, you can train in your actual training environment-your own houses, offices, cruisers, schools, etc. (Marking projectiles are not necessary since the participants usually know where and when they've been hit, and if they don't the instructor running the exercise does.) Finally, airsoft is very inexpensive, meaning that more training will get done more often. In this third level of interactive training shooters develop and demonstrate proficiency in all aspects of three-dimensional combat with all of their force options.

How to do it

Static training is easily done, at a range or in a sand pit. If you can't afford the time or the small expense of doing this, don't buy a gun in the first place! Dynamic training is done at very low cost with movers, drop-turn targets, and so on. Even lower in cost is to cover decision targets with an old towel, and have a partner pull the towel down at the right moment with an attached string. Or make a hood, have your partner walk you into a decision scenario and remove the hood. But the best dynamic training, by far, is live-fire training with a simulator. These do cost money, though. We are fond of the CAPS system because it's both live-fire and because it costs about what a car does-not about what an airplane does. This is something that a club or agency can easily afford. Finally, interactive training is easily done with airsoft guns. You don't need any special place to train, and the pistols are about $125, properly set-up.

If you are serious about survival training-if that's the reason you are interested in firearms-then move out and up from the range to the next level of training.

More Information:

C.P. 312 Roxboro
Quebec, CANADA H8Y 3K4
(514) 696-8591

About the author

In partnership with, POSA is offering free tactical training videos on subjects like tactical shotgun usage, crisis entry, disarming a suspect, and more. Click here to view the videos.

To learn more about POSA, visit

Police Officers Safety Association, Inc.
PO Box 685
Chepachet, RI 02814
Phone: 401.568.9951
Fax: 401.568.9677

David Kenik, Executive Director
Ralph Mroz, Training Director

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