Reprint from IDPA Tactical Journal with permission.
I came off the last stage of the match in much dismay. You see, I had a little match wager going with my buddy Bob B. (you know who you are) at a recent I.D.P.A. match. The game to that point had been points alone, since we were of slightly different skill levels. I often try to get my students to shoot the very best points they can by playing the “Zero” game (also called the “A” game in USPSA). The goal is to shoot the best points, and focus the performance on scoring the best points possible. Most shooters, especially in IDPA, lose because they drop points when they are not shooting as accurately as they need to. The point game I play forces them to forget about time for the match, and fight for points. Often times the shooters realize that they still shot nearly as fast as they would have anyway, but the focus becomes hunting for points!
But in this case…I lost on the last stage. Why? Because I had beaten Bob in the point game, and there was no chance for him to catch me. So, I hung some juicy fruit in front of his face and told him that the official winner would be the person to “score” the best on the last stage. Game change! Now we had to shoot points, yet run the stage as fast as possible. And the bad news is that I had already shot the stage, clean, but molasses slow. Bob, if he chose to do so, could hit the gas and possibly beat me. I felt the sweat beading on my brow as Bob loaded and made ready…would he go for the big money, or just shoot it safe? Well, I should have known the answer. Bob is a wise competitor, and I had set the stage for him to win. Remember, at that point, I changed the game and told him that all he had to do was beat me on the stage (time/points) to win. Since I already had him beat on the Zero game, what did he have to lose? Nothing!! As Bob charged out the gate, I realized right away he was going to either win or crash hard as he began shooting the targets at a pace that would make John Wick jealous. In the end, the timer showed the score…and Bob had in fact prevailed. He had SCORED higher on that stage, and taken the trophy. Damn!
First, let’s define “scoring” your best. It’s pretty simple: Shooting the match as fast as possible, with the least points down. You knew that right? I figured so. But what does that actually mean. The following is a list that might help you think differently about how you approach your next match.
- Prepare yourself. Okay, this one is a no-brainer, but I am amazed by how many shooters I watch fail at a match, and then admit they haven’t touched their gun for a month. I am not going to beat this one to death, since you can read other articles I have written about preparation and practice. Instead I will ask you this one question: Are you really too busy to practice? Eighty five percent (or more) of what we do on most stages is gun manipulation or movement, both which can be practiced at home. So here is a tip for you. Stop – Making – Excuses! Prepare. You will score better. But you already knew that right? Spend the time developing skillsets that will become automated at the subconscious level, similar to a short computer program that runs when the F2 key is pressed. This also means spending time doing your practice skill repetitions as perfectly as you possibly can, so you ingrain proper skills. You will perform the skills like you practice them. If you input wrong, the output will be wrong. I can’t tell you how important this is.
- Prepare your gear. Why spend the time and money practicing and traveling to a match if you are not going to take the time to prepare your gun, ammunition and gear? While mechanical devices fail, sometimes without us being able to control them, many times we can. The bigger the event, the more important it is to check your gear. Learn from me. I have certainly failed to check gun, ammunition, and gear before an event and it has cost me. It also was MY fault. Your last practice session before your match should primarily be spent checking your gun and gear. Make sure your zero is perfect. Clean your gun. Inspect your ammunition. Verify all screws and pieces of your holster rig are solid and tight. Replace batteries in optics.
- Prepare to shoot the stage. This is a big one. This goes beyond just finding a simple plan and hoping for the best. Recon the stage by approaching each shooting position from all angles. Account for all targets. Step back and look at the targets from every angle you can. You will see things differently if you open your mind. Pay specific attention to the plan others have, as they may see something you do not. Try to find the weaknesses in the stage, where a slight position or distance change in the shooting position will allow you to score better points on a target, or gain a slight bit of time on a shot, or reduce the risk of hitting a non-threat. Use the practice you have done to identify body positions on the stage that will maximize your speed and points. I often see shooters doing one thing in practice, then something completely different after the buzzer goes off. Different targets on a stage should be approached differently. My good buddy Rob Leatham always says, “get the points when they are easy, and the speed when they are hard.” This takes experience and practice to learn, but once you do you will know where you can push on a stage, and where you should not. Find the best plan for you, one that incorporates some “what if’s” in case something goes a bit sideways. Once you create the perfect execution plan, make sure you repeatedly visualize it until you are ready to go! You have to fully ingrain the plan before you shoot.
- Prepare your strategy. You need to know how to approach each stage to score “your” best on it. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and shoot the stage accordingly. Is the stage one where the biggest factor is shooting points, or one where you can potentially gain time on your competitor because you are faster on your feet than them? Maybe the opposite is true, and you know you simply cannot out-run the younger shooter in the group. Then fight for as many points as possible and play to your strengths. This also means knowing your position in the match. I know this makes some competitors very nervous, but you have to get over that. If you know where you are in reference to who you are trying to beat, you can modify your strategy as the game goes on. Are you on the last stage and know you and your nemesis are head to head even? It might be time to push! But you have to pay attention to where you are to know that.
In closing, you have four key areas to focus on that will help you approach scoring better. Remember, setting a goal to “shoot better points” or “shoot faster runs” will not ultimately help you reach where you want to go. Instead, start approaching the game like a master, and figure out how to “score” better. This will certainly include being more accurate, and faster (practice!). But it is a much bigger picture than just speed and accuracy.
Until Then – Train Hard!