Will competition shooting improve your chances to win a lethal confrontation?

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Will competition shooting improve your chances to win a lethal confrontation?

As you know, my primary focus for shooting is helping people learn the skills that they need to survive lethal force encounters.

Whether it’s law enforcement, military, concealed carry, or home defense, we want you to be prepared mentally, physically, and technically to succeed when second place isn’t an option.

One of the best tools for improving your ability to put fast and accurate rounds on target in a lethal force encounter is competition shooting.

Now, before you dismiss it as “play” or as something that will teach habits that will get you killed in real life, I want you to read 10+ reasons why competitive shooting will improve your defensive shooting performance.

What you can practice during competitive shoots:

  • Engaging multiple targets
  • Shooting tight groups faster than 1 shot per second
  • Moving and shooting
  • Engaging around cover
  • Shooting moving targets and targets that disappear
  • Shooting from the holster
  • Shooting from concealment

Since most of these skills are almost guaranteed to be used in a gunfight, it might just be a good idea to practice them under gradually increasing levels of stress.

And that (stress) is one of the biggest benefits of competitive shooting. To use football as an analogy, the most stressful game in the sport is usually the Super Bowl. You don’t see very many people successfully go directly from playing high school ball to performing at a high level in the Super Bowl.

Instead, over a period of time, they learn to execute the fundamentals under gradually increasing stress levels. During this time, they perfect their form, they get comfortable with stressful situations, and they become able to perform at peak levels in stressful situations.

The most stressful shooting you may ever do will be using a firearm to stop a lethal force threat. It is the Super Bowl of shooting.

And if you go straight from slowly and calmly shooting paper (think of this as high school football) to a lethal force encounter (equivalent to the Super Bowl), you’re probably not going to perform as well as if you took some intermediate steps.

And that’s how I view competition…as an intermediate step between standing and punching holes in paper and a lethal force encounter.

It’s not as effective as force on force, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and easier to find than high quality force on force training.

There are a few ways that competition induces stress that people don’t appreciate until they experience it.

You’re on the clock, and it’s safe to say that the beep of a timer INSTANTLY drops 12 points from your IQ and, more often than not, will completely wipe out your memory and any plan that you thought you had a few seconds earlier.

You learn to work through stress…and again…these are things that are WAY better to work through during competition than in a fight for your life.

Another way that competition induces stress is eyeballs and performance anxiety. A lot of people fear public speaking and public performance more than death, seen this more than once at our matchs. Being the only person shooting while everyone else watches triggers some of this anxiety. And that’s GREAT!

It’s great because you get to practice safe handling and manipulation of your firearm under stress when no lives are at stake.  You get to explore ways to control your stress levels. You get to inoculate yourself to various levels of stress.

So, there’s a 3rd way that competition induces stress, and it piggybacks on the first two.

When you’re under stress and try to think your way through a situation, it’s frustratingly ineffective.  As stress levels increase, your ability to consciously process situations and recall declarative long term memories goes away, similar to cramming for a test and having everything *poof* disappear when the instructor lays the test in front of you.

It might be thinking through something as simple as how to line up your sights, how to reload, to shoot the targets that need shooting without shooting the targets that don’t, how to move through the course, or trying to remember specific instructions for the stage.

If you’ve practiced skills to where you can execute them subconsciously, you’re good to go. If you can self-control your stress response, you’re good to go.

This is awesome because it’s a small taste of real life stress with very little downside.

In the 3 Gun matches I shoot, we STRONGLY encourage newer shooters or shooters who are new to competition to go S L O W and safe and not worry about time at all initially. If you’re new to competition, I’d encourage you to take that approach.

The first time you compete, your mind will be swimming. It’s confusing, it’s a little uncomfortable, but when you finish the stage you might have a little post-coital bliss and want a cigarette…even if you don’t smoke. And you’ll probably be hooked…even if you completely blew the stage.

The second time will be dramatically easier…the known is always easier than the unknown…and pretty soon, you won’t feel any negative effects of the stress anymore and it will just be FUN.

You’ll handle your gun more and practice more between matches so that your safe gun handling and manipulation will be automatic…subconscious…and you won’t need to think your way through the process anymore. This is EXACTLY the type of performance you want in a fight for your life.

As you learn to be comfortable moving and shooting under stress, facing the unknown, driving the gun subconsciously, and problem-solving and making decision making on the fly, you’ll be practicing many of the very skills that you need to win gunfights.

And, you’ll probably start trying to figure out how to increase the stress level…either with a different kind of competition, moving on to state, national, or world competitions, or by doing force on force training.

Whichever way you go, it will make you more resilient and increase your survivability in a lethal force encounter.

Gut check:  You’ve heard the saying, “In a fight for your life, you won’t rise to the occasion…you’ll perform half as well as you do in practice.”  It’s incredibly common for shooters to have been great shooters a decade or more earlier or be a paper commando and have a rude awakening under the relatively minor stress of competition.

Again, problems that show up in competition with no real consequence could be lethal in a fight for your life, so competition is the best place to flush them out and address them.

Frequent short term goals

One of the biggest advantages of competition is that it encourages constant forward progress.

It’s difficult to be disciplined about training for a lethal force encounter that may or may not happen at some point between now and the day you die.

It’s a lot easier to practice for a few minutes per night this week for a match next weekend.

What about bad habits?

There’s a hundred things “wrong” with competitive shooting.

But do you know what? It’s STILL light years better than just standing and shooting paper, it’s cheaper and easier to find than force on force, and it’s fun! It’ll encourage you to practice more, safely handle your firearm more often, and keep growing and improving as a shooter.

And keep in mind that just because everyone else is shooting a stage in a particular way doesn’t mean you need to.

You don’t need to judge yourself based on the other shooters there. Do what you can, with the equipment you brought and make that work. When or if you want to change? change your equipment as you go.

I set goals for matches/stages before I do them. The 5 most common goals that I have are:

  1. Never get Disqualified “Ever”
  2. Try to engage all targets
  3. Complete the course of fire within the par time
  4. Shoot all “bulls eyes” or A zones
  5. Shoot as fast as possible while getting all “A” zone
  6. Shoot the entire stage with headshots and still go faster than shooters making torso shots
  7. On a stage with a reload, have my time from slidelock to reload to subsequent bullseye beat a specific time (requires a shot timer or camera).
  8. Focus on my beep to concealed draw to headshot time for each stage.

Those are my goals. They work for me. You can steal them or make your own, but the big thing is to make competitions YOURS. There are some rules/constraints that you need to follow, but outside of that, shoot it in a way that will be most helpful to you.

3 tools that are guaranteed to help you shoot better, regardless of whether it’s for defending your life or competition, are:

  1. Practice, practice and practice some more!
  2. Dry fire practice
  3. What you say you can’t afford to practice as much as you would like, go to www.gunshotsacademy.com and purchase their training membership, it’s a game changer!
Todd Widick
Todd Widick
Todd Widick served six years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. He currently holds instructor certifications with the California Department of Justice in Pistol and the National Rifle Association in Pistol, Rifle, and shotgun. Todd is gunshot trauma trained and a certified CCW instructor for the states of Utah & Florida. He also holds a Class 1 Federal Firearms license.

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