One of the most dangerous pits that competitive shooters often find themselves in is that of training their strengths, and not their weaknesses. It’s human nature to want to do things that we’re good at, and not do things that we’re not so good at, because ultimately we want to 1) enjoy ourselves and 2) feel good about the time we spent doing X. I’ll use my own shooting experience and training as an example.
When I shoot the IDPA classifier, my scores and times usually land me in the upper band of Sharpshooter classification, which is roughly analogous to a USPSA “C” class shooter. However, in matches I am competitive with Expert (analogous to “B” class in USPSA) shooters, and am generally in the running to win my division at club level matches. So why do I do better in matches than I do on the classifier? The answer is pretty simple, actually – the matches often play to my athletic ability and not my shooting ability. I can shave time off a stage by running faster, or being quicker than an opponent, and thus better my position in the standings not by my shooting skill, but because of my footspeed/coordination.
Compare the average IDPA match which incorporates lots of movement and a reasonable amount of athletic ability to the IDPA qualifier, which has almost no movement and focuses primarily on “shooting skill”. There is no place in the qualifier for me to shave seconds by being a good sprinter – the one 5 yard dash isn’t really “enough” movement for foot speed to be a factor.
My training bias is then towards stages where I can move a lot – stages that place emphasis on rapid, close up shots and lots of movement, aka the “shoot ‘n scoot” stages. The problem is that if I train for the stages that I’m already good at, I don’t improve overall as a shooter. My weakness isn’t speed, it’s long, tight shots from great than 20 yards.
That’s why when I’m trying to get in shooting shape for a major IDPA match (and I’ve got several coming up), I practice using the qualifier. Yes, it’s a set COF that doesn’t change, but it allows me to focus on the things that I’m not good at – namely making those long, tight shots that require both speed and precision accuracy. To make it more challenging, I don’t always use standard IDPA targets. I’ll often use ICORE or NRA Action Pistol targets, coupled with ICORE penalities. The ICORE penalty system adds 1 second for B hits, and 2 seconds for C hits – and let me tell you, the 8/B ring on one of those targets is SMALL. You’ve got a 2 inch wide pad in between the A ring and the charlie zone, so it’s really easy to get in a hurry and start tossing C hits all over the paper.
By training this way, I’m focusing on the parts of my training that need work – yes, it can be demoralizing when I go to score my targets and there are C hits all over the place, but it also provides me with much better feedback on what I’m doing wrong. The IDPA qualifier is a good way to practice long shots, and if that’s your particular weakness, try shooting the entire match from 15-20 yards. To do that, you’d shoot the 7 and 10 yard portions at 15 yards, and the 15 and 20 yard portions from their RX’d distances. Initially, don’t worry about your time – yes, do it on the clock, but your primary goal should be to get A ring hits, so take as long on each shot as you need to get those hits. As you practice, you’ll get faster.