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Todd VanLangen: Commanders should advocate for more of their officers to attend competitions.

About the author

Todd VanLangen: US Army Special Forces (ret.), tactical training instructor, and competitive shooter.

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Competitive shooting events will sustain or increase your combat shooter skills

The Article

Shooting Competitions vs. “Combat Training” and which is most applicable in the “real world,” is an age-old argument between folks that is damn near as old as 9mm vs. .45, Ford vs. Chevy, etc.

I recently came across a heated social media debate on this subject, so when Thomas Lojek asked me to write an article for The Operator, I figured… why not stir the pot?

Over the past 24 years, I have been fortunate enough to do both. And as a tactician, I can, without a doubt, say that competitive shooting events will sustain or increase your combat shooter skill.

As we all know, the more you pull the trigger – be it Dry Fire, Flat Range Live Fire – and the more “in tune” and accustomed to that firearm you become, the more certain you become a better shooter.

This reason alone should justify the argument, but competitive shooting has a lot more to offer than only becoming a better shooter.

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The most valuable skill I gained from competitive shooting that applied to combat was the ability to work very quickly and smoothly in a short amount of time.

Whether competing in IDPA, IPSC, PRS, NRL, Multi-Gun, etc., time is always a competitor’s biggest hurdle (next to hitting targets, obviously).

The stress a shooter puts on themself to do well during competition closely mirrors the chaotic time-sensitive nature of combat.

The ability to think and act under the stress of time is very translatable to combat.

The more a tactician puts themself in similar situations, the brain will begin to “slow down time” (which means your brain will develop muscle memory, enabling you to think more quickly and clearly), giving a clear advantage over the bad guys.

Common sense will always take over in a combat situation

The Anti-Competition crowd will argue that competitions are not tactical and will result in “bad habits” like not utilizing cover not changing mags during a lull in fire.

Frankly, this is all total nonsense.

In competitive shooting, the ability to “game” the match better than the opponents separates top shooters from the rest of the pack.

The ability to find legal loopholes in the rules to enhance economy of motion by shooting targets in an unintended manner leading to quicker times and overall better finish, defines the game.

That’s why – in my experience – the “bad habits” argument is not a realistic threat.

Instead, human nature, training experience, and common sense will always take over in a combat situation.

For example, it is human nature to hide behind cover for protection if getting shot at.

I’ve heard folks say, “Competitive shooters aren’t training as they fight when using tricked-out race guns!”.

There is some validity to the fact you aren’t getting practice with your combat equipment if using guns other than your tactical rigs, but who says you must compete using a “hotrod” gun?

Why not use your work/tactical rig at matches?

Why not shoot these matches wearing full kit and weapons you wage war with?

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Shooting competitions are a stellar training tool

My first Team Sergeant in Special Forces regularly required our ODA team to attend and compete in monthly IDPA and Multi-Gun matches.

We would show up to Multi-Gun matches wearing BDUs and carrying government-issued M4 Carbines, M9 Pistols, and whatever shotguns the 18B (Weapons Sergeant) drew from the arms room.

We utilized cover, did tactical magazine reloads, and took corners appropriately, all the standard operating procedures we would execute during combat, and it elevated our abilities 10-fold.

Think about it, at matches, you get to show up and shoot the different stages (set up by someone else, so it’s all foreign to you), and when it’s over, you just leave.

If you’ve ever been assigned to a tactical unit, you’re aware that most times, you set up your own training scenarios and tear them down afterward.

It eats into training time, and overall training value is lost since everyone helped set up.

The moral of the story is shooting competitions are in fact, a stellar training tool that can and should be utilized by everyone assigned to tactical units.

Since training funds and venues tend to be scarce, commanders (especially LEO) should advocate for more of their officers to attend competitions.

The Operator

Special Edition February 2022: Tactical Training

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Photos by Todd VanLangen