The guys at Precision Response Training have a very interesting post up that looks a the oft-repeated phrase: “IDPA rewards marksmanship, USPSA rewards speed.” It’s a thoughtful post that takes the time to look at the various scoring systems and how they actual penalize poor accuracy. I don’t entirely agree with their conclusions, but that gives us the opportunity to discuss speed, accuracy, and how they affect scoring.
First, a quick discussion of top level performance. The guys who win IDPA and USPSA matches are generally faster and more accurate than their opponents. What causes them to win is finding the appropriate balance of speed and accuracy together. To address the topic of IDPA penalizing accuracy more than USPSA, you have to look at how it applies to shooters within their own competitive set. A competitive set, or comp-set for short is a group of shooters that you’re on a relative par with in terms of skill. Unless you’re Dave Sevigny, Bob Vogel isn’t your comp-set. People in your comp-set are the guys that finish within a few seconds of each other at IDPA, or a few % points at USPSA.
So when Bob Vogel says that IDPA penalizes you for accuracy more, he’s not talking about that penalty in relation to how his overall score looks, but rather how it affects his standing against other shooters of his ability. To elaborate, IDPA uses a scoring sytem called time plus. In time plus scoring, your score is your time, plus any applicable penalties for points down, no-shoots, or procedurals. Let’s say your an IDPA SSP Master, competing for the 1st Master trophy at Nationals. There are five other shooters in your class, and you’re all squadded together. On each stage, you and two of the other shooters are posting roughly the same times, swapping leads by fractions of a second, and if you’re lucky a whole second here or there. Then you make a mistake, and shoot a no-shoot. Bam, you now have a five second penalty.
If you’re already shooting to the max of your ability to compete with other shooters of your skill level, that 5 second penalty will now follow you from stage to stage. You can keep shooting to your own max, and you will have a very difficult time making that penalty up on other stages because you’re already at your own maximum level of performance. I know, because I’ve done just that. In time plus scoring systems, making up for penalties incurred is extremely difficult, because it usually means you have to push and find another gear, which can lead to worse mistakes.
Contrast that with USPSA scoring. Same situation, you’re shooting with several guys in your comp-set competing for high A-class. You make a mistake and lose several stage points. However, because of the way USPSA awards points as a percentage of the overall stage winner, it has been my subjective experience that it is easier to erase a bad stage in USPSA than IDPA. Because most IDPA stages are 12-18 rounds, there’s not a lot of extra time sitting around to make up. However, a bad 22 round USPSA stage can be won back at least in part with a good 32 round stage, because there are more available points on the 32 round stage.
Both IDPA and USPSA penalize the shooter for poor accuracy. I don’t think IDPA penalizes you harder or worse than USPSA for accuracy. I do think that time plus scoring plus the nature of IDPA stages makes it difficult to come back from a bad stage than USPSA’s scoring sytem. But, like many things, that’s just my opinion. I’m curious to hear your feedback, so let me know in the comments. If the comments turn into another nonsense IDPA vs. USPSA thread, the banhammer will come out pretty quickly, though.