If you’re sick of the voodoo surrounding you match performances and difficulty of figuring out how to better connect your training sessions with matches, then this blog is for you. Trust me, I get you. You train hard, dedicate your hard earned $$ and time to buying components to reload, pay expensive entry fees and get ready for your big match, only to have your performance disappoint you. My goal for you today is to teach you how to objectively analyze your performance and change the way you think about your performances. The benefit will be reduced stress about your final performance, and an actionable plan for future improvement. Think about it as a template for future success you can very simply apply.
First of all, I want to tell you something you may not want to hear. If you left a match and said “I’m better than that,” you’re wrong! Your skill the moment when it counted was the only thing that matters. I know, I am harsh! It’s true though, and you might be thinking “but Mike, I am so much better in practice and I can do this and that drill in XX time.” The truth is (and I got this from Mike Voight quoting Rob Leatham) that the results show how good you were when it counted. Unfortunately your match performance does not always reflect your practice scores and skills. The key is to accept that what you accomplish at the match is what matters. In this post, I will also show you how to analyze the difference and bring those two key areas closer to each other (practice and game day performance). One key thing I focus on in my book (YCHTP) is utilization of a mental training program to accomplish just that.
Objective analysis of a match performance is the best way to look at matches as information sources that you can react to, implement changes in your training, and use to help you improve. This is a much better solution than beating yourself up over a less than stellar result. Here are some tips on how I do it:
Collect Data (to employ practice or gear solutions)– This is the critical step in the process, and one that many forget. I personally use the match booklet, or notebook if there is not a match booklet. The benefit of using the match booklet is that each stage is listed and I can take notes and mark the areas of the stages that I performed less than desirably at. The data collected needs to be more informative that just your time and points on the stage. I personally rate myself on each stage on a scale from 1-10 in three key areas, mental execution (M.E.), technical execution (T.E.), and gun/gear (G&G). A 10 is good, a 1 is bad! Let me break down each of the rating areas:
- Mental Execution (ME)– My stage planning, visualization, stress management (did I let my nerves get to me), and execution of that plan.
- Technical (technique) Execution (TE)– Did my training prepare me to execute the technique skill I needed on that stage? Were my skills up to par, or lacking?? Do I need to learn another skill, or improve on something I can work on in practice?
- Gun and Gear (GG)– Did my gun and gear set me up for success? Did I fight any factor that I can change about my gun or gear?
I will give you a real example of this as I just finished shooting the IDPA Indoor National Championships in Springfield, MA. The match was the first of that type that I had shot, and I took pretty detailed notes to analyze and use to improve my skill in that sport. Here are a couple examples of how I rated myself, as well as the reflected notes on how I plan to address each weak area in practice.
Stage 4: Stage four was called Daytime Drug Raid, and had three
shooting positions each requiring 3 rounds the targets. The first position allowed movement to cover, the second was a low window port, and the third was through a door we had to open.
- M.E.- 5 Mentally I failed to execute the plan I had. The beginning of the stage allowed the shooter to make the decision to draw and quickly move to cover to shoot two targets or shoot at them on the way to cover. Since the movement was straight forward, I chose to shoot on the move. I had also planned to take extra shots on each target if I saw anything on the sights I did not like, and had actually planned to shoot each target four times (the stage required 3). When it came time to execute the plan I shot three shots on each target and had a miss on the farthest one. The extra shot would have saved me on that one. Another problem was that I had the miss….which I did not call. I will touch more on that in the TE sections. The bottom line was I had a plan, and failed to follow it! The rest of the stage went fine.
- T.E.- 8 My technique on this stage was not where I wanted it to be. First, the movement shots (mentioned above) required a very hard focus and awareness of the sights during the shooting. Since I ended up with a miss I did not see, there is no way I used the level of focus that I should have. I will address this in training (movement drills with increased focus). In addition, I found myself uncomfortable in a low cover position around the window, which can be addressed by adding more multi-position drills around a piece of cover in my future practice sessions.
- G&G- 10 My gun and gear worked well. No comments here.
Stage 5: Stage five was called Night Time Drug Raid and was shot on the same targets as stage four. The difference was the start position and the fact that the stage was a low light stage. This stage taught me some unique lessons!
- M.E.- 7 My mental execution on this stage was not what I expected it to be. This particular stage allowed either the use of a flashlight or the stage to be shot with night sights. The light was just enough where it was possible to score decent hits if one could use the sights, IF you had night sights on the gun. I did not! In an attempt to get my left eye ready to shoot the stage and set myself up for success I closed my left eye for a couple minutes before the timer went off to try to improve my “night” vision. Seemed like a great idea at the time, but when the timer went off I found myself complete lost on the first target because (I assumed) that since my left eye had been closed my brain was accepting information from my right eye only. This presented a problem on the first target that was an extremely fast disappearing target. After the first target came and went, I found myself unable to really acquire the next targets well until my left eye finally kicked into gear (for those wondering, I am right handed and left eye dominant). The rest of the stage went ok, but the initial problem through my mental game off. The solution? Fix the gear issue. (see the next G&G section) Add some additional training in reduced light with the new gear and experiment with closing an eye to increase night vision….is it worth it? I will find out in a future practice session!
- T.E.- 8 My technical execution of this stage was not where I wanted it to be. While I spent a good deal of time working with a flashlight in no/low light, I did not spend any time shooting in low light with just my sights. Truthfully, I did not plan to use or have a need for night sights. If you want to know more about my opinion on the need/use of night sights for real defensive handgun use, consider reading more in my book. But, alas the competitive environment is a different animal and I will be putting night sights on my I.D.P.A. gun. Lesson learned.
- G&G- 5 As stated above, I was severely limited on this stage due to the lack of night sights on my gun. I will fix this gear issue.
Stage 11: This stage, called “Rescue the Scientist” was a challenging stage shot in almost complete darkness. Using a flashlight was absolutely necessary, and I learned a hard lesson here as well.
- M.E. – 10 I planned my run and ran my plan!
- T.E. – 7 In this stage I used a flashlight technique that I teach called the “eye index” technique. The basic premise is that the flashlight is indexed on the head and held in the support hand with the thumb activating the button. The flashlight is placed at a level where it illuminates the sights and threat (target). The technique allows for independent operation of the flashlight and hand, which is of benefit in a real life situation where the support hand can be used to search, strike, defend, or if indexed properly..shoot. I executed my technique perfectly! The problem was that this particular stage had targets at 10-15+ yards with no shoots and hard cover around them. This made for some tough shots strong hand only! I ended up shooting one shot into the edge of the hardcover and had to take a miss. The lesson learned here is that I need to explore additional flashlight techniques. While I still strongly believe in the one I teach for purely defensive purposes in most environments (not all), there are a variety of other techniques (some relying on small devices mounted to the light) out there that competitors have honed to a high level of success that I will be testing.
- G&G – 10 The gun and Streamlight ProTac HL flashlight I used worked great!
Now you should have an idea of how I take my notes from each stage and use them to assess my performance, how my gear worked, and figure out solutions to fix those issues in practice. If I have done my job of taking notes at the match, then improving is simply a process of analyzing and using them to come up with an action plan for success. No voodoo! The process is a cycle: Train (acquire skill)> Practice those skills in drills > Test the skills in a match > Document > Evaluate what worked and what did not > Modify gear or practice program > Practice new skills in drills > Test the new skills in a match….etc. Simply follow the process.
Lastly, I assess one last thing in my match analysis. My performance in relation to my peers. The reason I do this (as you should), is to get a real and completely objective look at how my skills are in comparison to theirs. This comparison will help me evaluate if I am putting the effort and focus into practice that I need to, as well as if I am on pace to beat them. I recommend picking someone in the match that is very close to your skill level and if possible someone slightly better than you. The goal is to evaluate yourself against them on the stages you think you did well on. For example, if you take several of your stages where you shot pretty well on and compare them, you will be able to see right away if your times and points are on par with theirs. Are you shooting too fast and dropping too many points?
Are you shooting too conservatively and losing time where you might consider pushing the pace? Either way, an comparison of your stages against a peers will show you what you might need to know to take your performance to the next level. When I do a comparison against a peer, I normally see where I am needed to refine my match plan. As you get better an more confident in your skill, you will have the flexibility to approach matches with an intent to focus on a key area. For some of you, this might be trying to score better points, and for others you might need to make yourself push your speed out of your comfort zone. When doing my comparison, I will also look at stages where I was significantly slower than my peer and double check my notes to see if there was anything that I might have made a mistake on. If I find nothing, then I can assume they had a better plan on that stage or that I need to improve that area of my skill. Once again, I try to take emotion and how I “felt” out of the equation and look at the numbers.
Whether or not you follow my method of analysis and improvement, the point is that you need to follow a process. Take the emotion out of it, and figure out how to get better. One side benefit of thinking about it like this is that it becomes a simple plan you have to follow, versus mentally beating yourself down each time your match performance does not meet your expectations. Trust me, that type of thinking is a dead end road!
Until Then – Train Hard!