About the author : Todd VanLangen

Competition Shooter • Army SOF ret.

Todd VanLangen: The most valuable skill I gained from competitive shooting that applied to combat was the ability to work very quick and smooth in a short amount of time.

Competitive shooting events will sustain or increase your combat shooter skill

Shooting Competitions vs “Combat Training” and which is most applicable in the “real world” is an age-old argument between folks that is damn near as old as 9mm vs .45, Ford vs Chevy, etc.

I recently came across a heated social media debate on this very subject, so when GTI asked me to write an article, I figured… why not stir the pot? 

Over the past 24 years, I have been fortunate enough to do both and as a Tactician I can without a doubt say that Competitive Shooting events will sustain or increase your Combat Shooter skill.

As we all know, the more you pull the trigger, be it Dry Fire, Flat Range Live Fire, the more “in tune” and accustomed to that firearm you become resulting in a better shooter. 

This reason alone should justify the argument, but Competitive Shooting has a lot more to offer than only becoming a better shooter.

The most valuable skill I gained from Competitive shooting that applied to Combat was the ability to work very quick and smooth in a short amount of time.

Whether competing in IDPA, IPSC, PRS, NRL, Multi-Gun, etc., time is always a competitor’s biggest hurdle (next to hitting targets obviously). 

The stress a shooter puts on themself to do well during competition closely mirrors the chaotic time sensitive nature of combat.

The ability to think and act under the stress of time is very translatable to combat, and the more a tactician puts themself in similar situations, the brain will begin to “slow down time” (which means your brain will develop muscle memory enabling you to think more quickly and clearly) giving a clear advantage over the bad guys. 

Human nature, training experience and common sense will always take over in a combat situation

The Anti-Competition crowd will argue that competitions are not tactical and will result in “bad habits” like not utilizing cover, not changing mags during a lull in fire, and frankly this is all total nonsense.

It is true that as a competitor, the ability to “game” the match better that his opponents is typically what separates top shooters from the rest of the pack. 

Gaming defined as the ability to find legal loopholes in the rules to enhance economy of motion by shooting targets in an unintended manner leading to quicker times and overall better finish.

It’s been my experience that the “bad habits” argument is not a realistic threat.

Instead, human nature, training experience and common sense will always take over in a combat situation. 

For example, it is human nature to hide behind cover for protection if getting shot at.

I’ve heard folks say, “Competitive shooters aren’t training as they fight when using tricked out race guns!”. 

There is some validity to the fact you aren’t getting practice with your combat equipment if using guns other than your tactical rigs, but who says you must compete using a “hotrod” gun?

Why not use your work/tactical rig at matches?

Why not shoot these matches wearing full kit and weapons you wage war with? 

Shooting competitions are in fact a stellar training tool

My first Team Sergeant in Special Forces regularly required our ODA team to attend and compete in monthly IDPA and Multi Gun matches.

We would show up to Multi-Gun matches wearing BDUs and carrying government issued M4 Carbines, M9 Pistols and whatever shotguns the 18B (Weapons Sergeant) drew from the arms room. 

We utilized cover, did tactical magazine reloads and took corners appropriately, all the standard operating procedures we would execute during combat and it elevated our abilities 10-fold. 

Think about it, at matches you get to show up and shoot the different stages (set up by someone else so it’s all foreign to you) and when is over you just leave.

If you’ve ever been assigned to a tactical unit, you’re aware that most times you set up your own training scenarios and tear them down afterwards. 

This eats into training time and overall training value is lost since everyone helped set up.

The moral of the story is, shooting competitions are in fact a stellar training tool that can and should be utilized by everyone assigned to tactical units.

Since training funds and venues tend to be scarce, Commanders (especially LEO) should advocate for more of their officers to attend competitions. 

Positive results that are applicable in real world work situations

I’ve worked with Cops from all corners of the country and their biggest complaint is: “We never get money to train”.

My go-to response for this complaint is my spiel about utilizing shooting competitions as training tools.  

The ones that adopt shooting sports for supplemental training have positive results that are applicable in real world work situations.

A long time ago I heard a quote from a shooting competitor who also happened to be an Operator that stuck with me all these years;

“I would take a Competitive Shooter to Combat before I’d take a Combat Shooter to a competition”. 

The ability to shoot fast and accurate is a tangible skill that most in the tactical world struggle to achieve while competitive shooters do it on the regular, so why not glean some of those skills from the competition crowd?

As an Operator it can only help you to become better.

When you are better, your unit is better which that translates to mission success and everyone coming home alive. 

GTI Magazine

This article was originally published in GTI Magazine May 2020.

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