You fight like you train. No one rises to the occasion, they default to the level of their training.
Phrases like that are incredibly common in the firearms and shooting industry, and I’m sure that given a few minutes you guys could probably come up with a double handful of related phrases. What that leads me to is what exactly is training? If you look at the verb “train” there are two definitions that stand out, the first is “to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior by discipline and instruction”; the second is “to make proficient by instruction and practice, as in some art, profession, or work”.
In the firearms community, I’ve also heard the following said, that “practice is you refine the skills you learned in training”, implying that training generally requires an instructor or partner. From that, it’s safe to assume that all shooting is not training, and in fact all shooting may not even be “practice” as understood in the sense of refining skill-sets learned in training.
Now, I’ve said before that I view the shooting sports through a very narrow lens of defensive shooting and competition shooting. 90% of my range time is focused around building the skills that make me better at competition and defensive shooting; this post is going to focus solely on that aspect of the shooting sports. There is absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with going to the range to pull triggers for fun without any sort of practice or training goal in mind. Recreational shooting without developing a particular defensive or competition skill set is awesome, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Casual, recreational shooters fund a huge portion of the shooting sports, and without them it would be impossible for super-consumers to do what we enjoy doing so much. So please, when you’re reading the rest of this post remember the lens through which I view the shooting sports is very narrowly confined to certain things.
Back to training/practice/shooting. If I were to define training in the shooting sports, I would put that definition as either attending formal training with someone like Todd Green or Magpul Dynamics (or any of the other top flight instructors and coaches out there). I would also include under the banner of training any sort of session where you’re working with another shooter of equal or greater skill level to coach and improve one another. In those settings, you’re learning new skills and techniques, or by having an external eye on your existing technique you’re having them refined at a greater level than you could if you were practicing alone. Training doesn’t have to be formal, either. It can often be as simple as a much better shooter saying “here’s a different way to do that”, showing you how, and then going about your business. If you approach that advice with an open mind, it becomes a training opportunity.
I’d then define practice as any shooting session where you are focusing on a specific set of skills or techniques that you learned in training in an attempt to focus and refine those skills. Practice doesn’t have to be live fire to be practice, because a good dry fire session is just as much practice as a live fire session, depending on the skills you’re attempting to hone.
What about matches? I know my competition shooting friends are wondering where the match environment comes in to play. For shooters whose focus is on competition, matches are where the raw iron of your training is combined with the alloying compounds of your practice under high heat and pressure to form steel. For shooters that seek to use competition as a venue to improve their defensive skills, matches can be either practice or training. If you’re squadded with superior shooters, look to them for training opportunities – otherwise, use each match to focus on a particular skill set under the pressure of the clock.
Going to the range and shooting bullseyes for fun, shooting cans in the backyard, and similar activities aren’t training, and I’d say they’re generally not effective practice. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that – people take up shooting for all kinds of different reasons, and if you don’t view the shooting sports through the same narrow focus that I do, someone I think we can still get along just fine. I’d rather have you out there pulling triggers at pop cans or just blazing away for fun than sitting at home playing Halo or something lame like that. All shooting may not be practice or training, but all shooting is certainly fun.