A frequent topic on various gun blogs and forums is whether participation in shooting sports, such as USPSA and IDPA, helps or hinders self defense skills. While participating in the recent conceal carry tactics class, I had opportunity to reflect on this debate.
The key, in both competition and self defense, is keeping your head in the right place. In competition, we strive for "A zone" or "down 0" hits. In self defense the goal is to stop a threat, and even less than perfect hits may certainly be beneficial. Two distinct situations that require applications of the same basic skills but in different modes.
During the class, we were running a drill where we would draw while stepping back, and begin shooting before the gun was fully extend. The goal was to "zipper" the shots, starting at the groin area and moving up the torso of the target. My competition mindset kicked in and I extended the gun out and put all the hits center mass as I moved backwards. This earned me some "love" from the instructor, rightfully so, who demonstrated how I was opening myself up having the gun grabbed or deflected during the delay in shooting. Point well taken.
At another point, we were dealing with a "hands up, turn around, get on your knees" situation. My USPSA shooting kicked in. When I turned around and drew my weapon, as I have often practiced, I moved in the opposite direction from what the instructor had demonstrated. It felt more natural, and quicker, to me. The instructor pointed out my "interpretation" and others in the class tried it. It wasn't right or wrong, but I feel in this case, and some other times in class, my practice for moving and shooting in competition had helped to prepare me.
Shooting in competition will aid in developing the mental strength to shoot under pressure. Sure, the pressure of the timer, and people watching you isn't the same as encountering a life threatening assault, but is does bring about some disorienting effects. Your palms may sweat, your heart races, gross motor skills my be affected, and yes, you can even get a bit of tunnel vision. For me personally, one of the most difficult things to overcome in competition was, and still is, nerves.
At the end of the day, it's important to train for both situations. There are skills to be learned and employed for self defense or competition. I don't follow the school of thought that the shooting sports are practice for self defense. In fact, it probably more accurate to state that I participate in pistol matches as a distraction from the stresses of life, not to prepare for them. As I frequently tell folks, there are rules, a clock, and we keep score, therefore it's a game. Period. I also don't believe that shooting USPSA or IDPA frequently will prove detrimental if the time comes when you must shoot to defend yourself or a loved one. It just means you need to practice for both situations, so your reactions become second nature.
Remember, practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Keep all of your skills fresh.