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Competitive Shooting and Law Enforcement - Part I

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

We have all heard of the sentiment that, “I’m not a competitor, I only shoot tactical drills” or the ever present “train like you fight”. While everyone has the right to their own opinion, these view points are flawed in a significant way and those individuals are really missing out on an important and valuable training tool. There is no greater pressure test of raw shooting skill and gun handling than attending a USPSA/IPSC match aside from an actual gunfight. The skills needed at the speed required to be successful in this arena are far beyond the average requirements by most LE agencies or Military units and a good competitors ability to operate under the extreme mental stress present during a match is a testament to the value of competitive shooting.

To understand the operating under stress aspect, we must first clarify what the reality of LE gunfights are. There are some varying “statistics” out there but in general, LE gunfights are fast and over quickly (talking a few seconds here) and don’t involve a ton of physical stress. While there are certainly exceptions to these generalities, this is the case most of the time. Picture an officer walking up to a car during a vehicle stop:

The officer tells the driver to show him his license and the driver produces a gun instead.

The officer yells “gun!”, steps back or offline, draws and fires a few rounds at the driver, gunfight over.

There isn’t a whole lot of physical stress involved there, a couple steps back or left and right and that’s about it. LEO’s aren’t gunfighting across miles and miles of terrain while climbing hills and scaling buildings for the most part. The stress that this scenario does produce is mental, and it is extreme, albeit short-lived. This SHOULD make us as trainers and shooters ask the question; how do we recreate this facet of stress in the training environment. There are two ways that come to mind; Force-on-Force with simunition or FX type rounds which is a great training tool but becomes troublesome for agencies that are underfunded or undermanned, and impossible for the individual LEO to do on his/her own. This leads us to the next best option; competition.

Let’s say the average USPSA stage takes 15-20 seconds to complete. Within that 15-20 seconds, a lot of things have to happen. The shooter must react to a stimulus (timer), draw the gun, move around and shoot targets, 16 of them in most cases, reload, do all of this safely and maintain a level of accuracy at speed that is foreign to most LEO’s. This list could go on and on but I think you get the point. Pair all of that with the fact that the shooter is under a timer and the game is measured in points per second (Hit Factor) which puts a high demand on BOTH accuracy and speed. I think anyone reading this would agree that both are important aspects in the gunfighting realm. Now add an entire group of friends, competitors, peers and/or co-workers watching, judging, maybe even laughing at mistakes or cheering on awesomeness to the mix and the stress level rises even further. No one, especially A-type personalities (typical in the LE world) wants to look dumb in front of people or have a bad result proven by the timer or targets.

In this scenario the mental stress level is extremely high. Even for seasoned competitor’s and LEO’s, it’s not uncommon to hear about nervousness, shaking hands, increased heart rate, heavy breathing, auditory exclusion, loss of short term memory (“I don’t even remember reloading there”) etc. These physiological responses should sound familiar to anyone in the training environment or LE world as they are the same responses commonly discussed with regards to gunfights.

So, we have a short scenario (USPSA stage), where a high level of speed and accuracy are required and the mental stress levels are extremely high. This should all be making sense by now and we won’t even dive into the stress levels involved and the need to be able to make decisions and correct mistakes at speed when they arise during a match. That’s a whole other level of ballgame. The more we can operate and succeed in this high stress environment, the better off any LEO is going to be if things go south during a shift.

Competitive shooting is and should be viewed as an awesome training tool for anyone who carries a gun for a living. A distinction must be made here only because this argument is thrown out all the time but competition IS NOT TACTICAL TRAINING and shouldn’t be confused with it. There just aren’t realistic tactics involved. Instead, use it to learn how to operate the gun in a fundamentally sound way, see information faster, and process that information at speed and any tactical training becomes that much easier.

There are many more benefits that we will discuss in the next blog post so stay tuned and open your mind to new ideas with regards to what firearms training should look like.

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