It's been the worst day since yesterday

Not really, but I wanted an excuse to use a Flogging Molly song as a post title.  I shot an IDPA classifier yesterday, and going in to the classifier match I was feeling pretty good.  I had posted consecutive runs on the classifier in practice that were under 90 seconds aggregate time, so to be honest I figured that I had SSP Master in the bag.

Holy cow was I wrong.  I seriously had one of the worst days on the range that I’ve since I figured out what the bumpy thing on the end of the slide is for.  If I look back on bad performances, this ranks right up there with with a match against the Naval Academy in 2001 where I had a U2 song stuck in my head and couldn’t do anything but shoot 8’s on a Free Pistol match.  Back to the IDPA classifier – there are days when you’re in the zone, days where you can find the zone, and days like yesterday where I swear my front sight had a cloaking device on it.  Some people call it “chasing the zone”, it’s where you’re pushing yourself to find your groove and your performance envelope, but the harder you push the less natural everything is.  That’s where I was at yesterday.

So the question is, as frustrating as those days are, how do we as shooters and athletes deal with sub-par performances like that?  The obvious answer is “practice”, but practice what?  This of course is where honesty in self-diagnosis comes in to play.  It would be easy for me to say that I screwed up on the first two stages and go practice something easy to make myself feel better – but the real truth is that while those stages weren’t as good as I can shoot, I didn’t really shoot myself in the foot until stage 3.  The 20 yard stage was a complete disaster, I was 32 points down at 20 yards, and while my raw times were plenty fast, I quite simply couldn’t find and center the front sight.  My times on Stage 1 and 2 would have been good enough to get me SSP Master if I had shot the 3rd stage to the best of my ability.  Guess what?  I didn’t.

That’s why personal honesty is important.  I don’t like shooting at 20 yards.  It’s not as fun as 10 and 7, I don’t get to go as fast, the shots are more technical, and it’s basically a combo of things I don’t enjoy (except for reloads with retention, which I’ve gotten REALLY good at).  And so the problem is that I could based on my performance justify practicing stage 1 and 2 a lot because they’re easier and more fun.  But that wouldn’t be honest.  It’s important to practice the things we’re bad at, and for me what really hurt was stage 3.  So that will be the focus of my practice until the next classifier I shoot.

Here are some tips on practicing for stage 3 of the IDPA classifier.

  • Shoot the entire classifier from 20 yards.  Try it!  You’ll have an awful score, but if you can make a head box shot on command at 20 yards, you’re in good shape.
  • 10 shot a-zone drill.  At 20 yards, on the clock draw and fire a single round in to the -0 zone of the IDPA target.  Holster, then draw and fire 2 rounds in to the -0 zone.  Holster, then draw and fire 3, then finally holster and draw and fire 4 rounds at the -0 zone.  The goal of this drill is to get all your hits in the -0.  If you miss on any of the strings and throw a shot, go back to the beginning of the drill.  If you can get -0 on all 10 shots without worrying about the time, try to set time limits for yourself.

Just those two drills will help with the 20 yard stage of the classifier and in fact will help your performance over all.  At the ’09 Bianchi Cup, one of the veteran shooters there told me that “if you can hit X’s at 50 yards, you can hit anything” – that’s a true statement.  Practicing at long ranges makes you faster and more accurate on closer in shots.  Which is why I’ll be cursing Stage 3 for a couple of weeks to come.


  1. Important lessons I’ve learned over the years
    1) To measure what you will do on match day, make the first drill you shoot in practice hard. Like shooting the Outer Limits stage of the Steel Challenge. For score, as if that stage was the entire match and all that counted. Because you never know when you will have to start on that stage (as I’ve had to do at more than one Steel Challenge, and one of my students had to do this year).

    2) Gauge your expectations using the scores from your worst day in practice, not your best, because that’s the more likely result on match day.

    3) Practice when the weather sucks and you don’t want to practice. The year Ted Bonnet won the IPSC World Shoot it was in Bisley, England. He went out and practiced in the rain every chance he got, because he expected it to rain at the match. It did and his preparation paid off.

    3b) As Brian Enos says, practice what you hate until you don’t hate it anymore.

    4) Expectations are your worst enemy. The more you care about the outcome and the more aware you are of your performance, relative to expectations, the worse you are probably going to do.

  2. I agree with all of that, especially the last bit. The worst thing I can do before any match is go out and expect to turn in performance X. That’s exactly what happened yesterday, and when I realized I was off the pace for goal X, I started pushing too hard and chasing the zone, which of course resulted in my epic blow up.

  3. The only thing that’s ever worked for me in that situation is to abandon the original goal and make a new goal of shooting clean, regardless of time. Even if you end up with slower times, you walk away with something positive, which is that you know that you can get all the hits – and invariably getting all the hits will do more for your score than a bunch more fast misses. If you are going to find the zone, you are more likely to find it that way, backing into it, than by being aware that you are not in it and trying to force it. It all goes back to confidence and confidence comes from consistency: knowing you can do it 10 times out of 10 anytime you want.

  4. A little off topic: Indy isn’t that far from Muncie, and Flogging Molly plays in Muncie pretty much every time they tour. Helluva a show, catch them live at least 1 time.

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