Competition shooting is just like defensive training

A great post at pistol-forum is talking about the mental excuses that people make for their poor shooting, and Tam has spent some pixels talking about the saw “there’s no timer in a gunfight.” That discussion has actually been pretty well handled, so I want to talk about something that really bugs me.

Namely, the title of this post. In the pistol forum thread, here’s a direct quote from a dude who is pretty well respected in the training community:

What I say most of the time is that anytime you are racing a timer, stop telling me that you are training for real. I hear the “competition is just like the real thing”. (emphasis added) It isn’t……in my limited experience.

You can probably guess my problem with that sentence, but I’ll go ahead and spell it out. Who exactly in the competition shooting community is saying that? I’ve never heard anyone say it. I’ve never said it. I’ve been to hundreds of matches across the country and I’ve never heard anyone say that “competition is just like the real thing.”


If competition was “just like the real thing” 99% of the stages would consist of panic-drawing and firing while hastily backing up and digging for your phone/keys with your support hand. Most shooters would carry j-frames or LCPs, and stages would be a lot shorter. Seriously, I’ve come to believe that there is a Competition Shooter Sumdood out there, who goes around and tells tactical trainers that “competition is just like the real thing” to get them all riled up. I’ve never met the guy, but damn does he ever get around.

Competition shooters do say somethings about shooting matches as it relates to self-defense that I absolutely agree with. Here’s a sample:

  • Competition shooting makes you better at actually shooting your gun.
  • Competition shooting makes you better at gunhandling (reloads, malf clearance, draws, etc
  • Competition shooting makes you more attractive to the opposite sex because you get a cool jersey (this may be a lie)
  • Competition shooting allows you to practice shooting skills under a higher level of stress than training on a square range.

I’ve honestly never heard someone say that competition shooting will teach you tactics, or train you how to win in a dynamic critical fight on the Mean Streets where it gets real. And if you’re at a match and hear someone say that it will, take a picture of the guy and send it to me at [email protected] so I can hunt him down and punch him around a bit.

Seriously, tactical trainer dudes: no one is saying that competition is just like the real thing. Please stop repeating that nonsense.


  1. I agree. Never heard any competitive shooter claim that it was just like the real thing. As a USPSA shooter myself, I wouldn’t believe it if someone did say it. Why in the world people go around acting like we all think we are gunfighters when we are shooting matches is completely beyond me.

  2. Never met the guy either, but for a very large number of people, I’d bet that competition is the only chance they get to NOT be on a square range. Recalling some of the places I’ve lived and the range rules in them, I know that many people have to put up with: No drawing from a holster, not more than one shot every 2/5/10 seconds (depends on the range), no ‘head shots’ (since the range gets tired of people hitting the wire or stand), etc., most of which become rather necessary in the competitions I’ve been in, and while not ‘Just like the real thing’, is a lot closer than most will ever get in any other way!

  3. Eh, I think it’s just a strawman sales tactic. It’s way for tactical trainer dudes to say-without-saying: “If you’re looking for somewhere to spend your limited funds, spend it with us, not with them.”

    1. That’s always been my opinion as well. I can either spend my Saturday paying a $20 match fee to shoot a series of scenarios, watch how people better than me shoot them, and learn from them for free, and go home and watch the Magpul dynamics videos and some youttube. Or spend $600 and have some R. L. Ermy wannabe scream “gun! threat!” at me.

  4. “Defensive training” isn’t much like the “real thing” either. Maybe force on force with simunitions would be pretty close, but that’s generally not available to civilians.

  5. Shooting competition is a lot like doing Kata and sparing in martial arts. No it’s not like the real thing but you do learn a lot about how to do the moves and get the ability to do it subconsciously.

    Competition will not teach you tactics but it will teach you how to run your gun which is a pretty important part of defending yourself with a gun. I don’t have to think about reloads anymore, or how to pull the trigger, or aim, or…………….

    Now if I want to learn tactics I can do that without having to learn how to run the gun at the same time.

    If a guy teaching tactics told me competition was a bad thing I would find another trainer that had his head a little farther out in the daylight. There are some good ones out there that understand that competition is a good tool.

  6. >> for a very large number of people, I’d bet that competition is the only chance they get to NOT be on a square range

    And to find a place friendly to the idea of practicing whatever tactical stuff you care to work on. Where will Timmy go to train what he learned in ninja school to win a Dynamic Critical Incident when all those stupid gamers get themselves killed on the street (even though it has never happened) and stop hosting events?

    The NRA has less than 100,000 classified shooters (2% of their membership) and name organizations like USPSA and IDPA top out at around 20,000 members and ATA, the biggest discipline-specific organization, is around 55,000. If we’re generous, we might estimate perhaps 250,000 competitive shooters in all disciplines.

    Less than this attend tactical training or shooting schools of any kind. Gunsite/API boasts 75,000 total students and they’re the original and oldest, starting in 1975. For all the noise, most are considerably smaller.

    Let’s grossly over estimate and assume this works out to about one million semi-active shooter-competitor-trainees/trainers-whatever. There are 80 million gun owners and 40 million handgun owners in the U.S.

    Competition vs. tactical isn’t the problem. Getting tens of millions of gun owners involved in something, anything, is.

  7. The problem with this statement is that is phrased badly. Jim Cirillo found that police who competed in PPC fared better in combat shootings than police that didn’t compete. Based on that statement, you could argue that competition improved combat pistol skills… in an era when the only other way to build combat skills was to survive a gunfight. Unfortunately, this rationale is also completely ancient.

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