Two unrelated discussions online recently caught my eye as they relate to the why of practice & training.
One asked how much time do you spend practicing a particular technique compared to another. The second made fun of people who chase results on certain drills to gauge their performance instead of “just practicing.”
Both of these, to me, relate to the issue of standards.
There’s quite a schism in the training community over this, though most folks — including many instructors — don’t even realize it. But the reality is that some folks train to a standard, and others do not.
If you attend a class and the instructor gives you a thumbs up because your draw is faster than it was before class, that’s not training to a standard. It’s great that you improved, but there is absolutely no context. Your seven second draw is now a six and a half second draw… hooray!
Standards quantify your performance against an expectation. Standards gauge whether your personal performance actually meets an objective measure. It tells you that, let’s say, a 2-second draw from concealment is good. If your draw is slower than that, you aren’t meeting the standard and probably need to work on it. If your draw is already that good, maybe it’s time to look at other things to improve, instead.
So which is right?
Personally, I think you need some of each.
Standards are incredibly important. So many shooters never face any type of standards and frankly have no idea how mediocre they are. Competition shooters see this all the time: the guy who shows up to his first match thinking he’s a good shooter… until he gets absolutely obliterated and winds up dead last. If your only gauge of success is whether you’re as good as that dude in the mirror each morning, you’re probably not going to get much better.
On the other hand, standards can’t be the end-all of training. Taking our example of a 2-second draw, yes it is good to work toward that standard. And once you reach it, yes it is time to see if you’ve got other important skills that need improvement. But a standard shouldn’t be permission to stop practicing. If a 2-second draw is good then a 1.5-second draw is great.
It’s also important to understand the difference between discrete skill standards (2s draw, or being able to hit a 3×5 at 10yd on demand) and multifaceted “standards” that I think of more as tests. The IDPA Classifier is a great example of a multifaceted test. It measures a very wide range of skills performed multiple times at different distances. It allows you to compare your performance against a huge number of other shooters and even goes so far as to establish different levels of achievement (Marksman, Sharpshooter, and so forth).
In my classes — and in my own personal training — the main “standard” I use is, of course, the F.A.S.T. (Fundamentals, Accuracy, & Speed Test). Like the IDPA Classifier, it has different classifications depending on performance. Actually, I stole that idea from the Rogers Shooting School test, as they’ve been consistently one of the most steadfast programs in the country when it comes to demanding performance standards. And like both the IDPA Classifier and the Rogers test, folks who spend their days practicing the test over and over again aren’t likely to see much improvement. It’s the shooters who practice their fundamentals, who push to meet and then exceed the standards for all those discrete skills, who show up and dominate on the broad tests. The guys who win F.A.S.T. coins have never been one trick ponies who do well on that one drill but flail through anything else. They’ve been shooters who have strong fundamentals and the ability to perform on demand under stress.
I think it’s a mistake to ignore standards in training. Many instructors shy away from them because they worry a student’s feelings may get bruised… or worse, that the student may blame the instructor for their failing. I’ve never found that to be the case. I’ve had plenty of students upset with their own performance on the F.A.S.T. at the end of a class, sure. But the benefit of knowing where you are in the spectrum of shooters is worth a little ego bruising, especially if it motivates you to work harder to meet that standard next time.
Train hard & stay safe! ToddG