As instructors for Green Ops and USPSA competitors, we are constantly exposed to shooters across the nation who want to improve their skills and thus their classification. One of the more commonly stated goals is some version of, “I would like to get out of C class this year.” This, of course, makes sense as most shooters are in the C and B classifications.
I have had conversations over the years along the philosophical line of thought of, “could anyone make Grand Master with enough effort?” I believe no, not everyone can make Grand Master. And not just because I have not done it yet! But I do passionately believe that everyone who has the eyesight, hand speed and other intrinsic abilities to get from C to B can do so with the right knowledge and work.
One of the greatest joys as an instructor is seeing a client state a goal, put in the work, and then achieve said goal. Beyond just the number of shooters in C class, there must be something else—why this is such a popularly stated goal? These competitors fall into two groups, those who have been in C class for longer than they had anticipated, and new shooters who have just arrived and are motivated to “rank up” in classification. Thinking about these two groups, there are three things they both need to know to achieve their goal, and those fall into these categories; understanding the math of classification, reduction of errors or, as Rowdy jokingly says, “Stop doing stupid stuff”, and getting out of your comfort zone and into a performance zone.
Rowdy has this to say about understanding the math of classification, reduction of error and being in your performance zone.
“We all love the quote from Winston Churchill that I will paraphrase as ‘That which we fail to measure, we fail to improve.’ If you want to get out of C class, whether because you are new and it is your first classification, or you have been there for years, the first thing you need to know is exactly what it will take in your actions. You cannot rely on the platitude of ‘just do it faster with better hits.’”
Thankfully, all the information is out there, so let us talk about what to do with it and why it matters. First, at its most basic, your score is a factor of your points earned—commonly called hits—and the time in seconds it took you to perform all the actions in the stage. As you analyze your performance, think of it in these two categories broadly, points and time. When you look at your classifier performance, you’re either lacking in one or a mixture of both. Tools to help you in this analysis are the USPSA website, app and whatever scoring program your club uses, such as Practiscore in the United States.
In dry or live fire, set up a simple classifier to help you understand the relationship between what you are doing and your score, if you do not have this knowledge already mastered. For example, let us look at the classifier CM 13-08, More Disaster Factor and use the Carry Optics division numbers. The first thing you need to know is what hit factor (points divided by time) you need for a B class score. Using the USPSA app we can find this information quickly and it is 5.6925 for the beginning of B class hit factors.
Now what do you need to do to score this hit factor? How many points and how fast? We do this first by looking at how many points are available if we shoot all Alphas; in this case, it is 60 points. Sixty points divided by our desired hit factor, 60 / 5.6925 = 10.540 seconds. Now you know to make B class in Carry Optics, with this classifier, shooting all As, you have to do it in roughly 10.5 seconds. Feel like you are the type of shooter that shoots every target A/C? Then your points would be 48 divided by the same hit factor, 5.6925, and you get 48 / 5.6925 = 8.432 seconds. It is this type of facile understanding of the interplay between your time, hits and the goal for your classifiers that makes it concrete. Then you know what you must do, instead of just thinking or hoping. Remember to focus more on the actions than on the outcome—you will be aware of it, but keep your awareness focused on the actions—the process.
When you understand this and at the C to B class level or performance, you will find yourself more likely to reach your goal by focusing on reducing your errors versus “burning it down.” As you progress more towards the thin end of classification at Master and Grand Master, you must have both speed and few errors; but of the C class shooters, I observe the biggest issue in their actual shooting and gun handling are unforced errors, such as a bad grip on the draw, a botched reload, inability to find the sights after a hand switch and so on. Reduce these “mechanical” errors, and you will see your scores improve without having the pressure of going faster.
Now there is a flip side to every coin, and at a certain point you will have to go faster than you are now. But by understanding the math, doing dry and live fire with par times with that goal in mind and focusing on making less mistakes, you will naturally be doing things at the appropriate speed. It might not feel comfortable at first, but trust the process and you’ll get there.
Joshua has the following to say about mindset, reduction of error and their role in getting yourself out of C class.
“I am a huge proponent of working on the mental aspect of competitive shooting, or any type of performance on demand, really. The mental game is the hardest, and the last thing I learned on my journey to become a Grand Master shooter. I am constantly working on the mental skills required to shoot at 100 percent of my skill level consistently, and it is more perishable than the physical shooting skills.”
It is common to see average shooters make unnecessary errors in their stage plans, forget targets, lose their place in the stage, shoot faster than they can call their shots, double-tap every target regardless of distance or difficulty, fumble a reload and then fail to recover their focus, etc. These types of errors contribute mightily to an otherwise good shooter ending up placing much lower than they would have if they simply shot all the targets and executed their stage plan smoothly.
The simplest way to refer to the desired mental state for shooting matches (or any performance on demand) is to be “process focused,” or what Steve Anderson calls “Match Mode.” In short, you focus only on what matters, allowing your conscious mind to think of one thing, and one thing only, and letting your subconscious mind complete the tasks that you have put in the work and preparation for. Because the human mind can only actually focus on one thing at a time, it is important you give it the most important thing to focus on, and not distract it with intrusive thoughts when it’s time to step up to the line and shoot.
So how do we channel our nerves and excitement into a proper mental state to produce the desired results? We start with preparation. If you are putting in the work in dry-fire and live-fire practice prior to showing up to the match, then you should have the confidence to know that you can perform. Next, you must prepare for each stage specifically by analyzing the stage layout and targets, making an extremely specific plan of attack, memorizing it, and then visualizing yourself executing that plan in extreme detail as many times as you can before it is your turn to shoot. You should be able to close your eyes and see your sights on every target, and do not forget to visualize any other specific non-shooting actions, such as reloads. In this way you will have shot the stage several times before you get to the line and hear “make ready.”
Now comes the “don’t do stupid stuff” part. You need to give your brain one single thing to focus on before the beep. During the make ready, visualize your stage one last time, and then tell your brain to focus on the thing that matters most. What is that one thing? Well, it is to get acceptable hits on every target, of course. You need your points, and literally nothing else matters in that moment. This is being processed, focused or in mental match mode. I tell my brain to “just shoot alphas,” but what you need to tell your brain to make it focus correctly might be anything. The key is to force your mind to ignore all the intrusive thoughts. Ignore your friends heckling you, ignore what the time or Hit Factor you think you need are. Think only of your sights on every A zone of every target, or on steel for every shot.
If you are successful at forcing your brain to focus on calling every shot on every target of the match, I guarantee you will have a good match performance, entirely free from error and silly mistakes. Your shooting may feel slow to you because you are no longer trying to go fast, you are simply shooting at a subconscious level or skill that you have developed to this point, and only seeing your sights on target. But the timer and scorecard will show you the truth. Most of the best shooting I have ever done felt slow, but when my friends were congratulating me, and the scorecard revealed the high Hit Factor for the match, I realized that focusing only on what matters is the way to win.
We know you can make your 2023 goal of getting out of USPSA C class. It is a measurable and achievable goal, it has a time frame of completion and is realistic. Hopefully, both the mental and physical aspects of the improvement process presented here give you the information and motivation you need to hit B class.
Learn more about Green Ops instruction at green-ops.com.
Article from the March/April 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.