Competition Guides

Overcoming Barriers to Getting Started with Competitive Shooting

I’ve heard many reasons explaining why folks won’t go shoot a match in my years of encouraging them to do so. Maybe by exploring those reasons we can find ways to overcome the barriers to getting started.

I absolutely love participating in competitive shooting sports. It’s just plain old fun for me. It’s an activity that I frequently encourage others to participate in. Not just for the fun factor. There are also several benefits for those who want to be more proficient with firearms as self defenders and armed citizens. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of reasons as to why folks don’t take the plunge to participate in local matches. I’ve come to learn that those reasons fall into four distinct categories: lack of resources, lack of gear, lack of skill, and fear of ridicule or embarrassment. I’ve also come to learn that those reasons are predominantly misconceptions. Nevertheless, they are real barriers of entry for folks. In this post, I’ll attempt to address those barriers with the hope to help folks overcome them.

Lack of Resources

Time and money. 

Yes, there is equipment and components to buy. There are entry fees and related expenses as well. Obviously, a time commitment is necessary in order to attend a match and participate in it. How much it will cost and how long it will take depends on the type of competition one wants to participate in. 

Lack of time or money is a real barrier and it requires a commitment on one’s part to dedicate sufficient resources to participate in competitive shooting sports. My experience with helping folks get started leads me to believe that most of the time the actual barrier to entry is far lower than what the individual who has never competed believes that it is. This is because all of the match types I have been involved in offer different divisions in order to accommodate a wide variety of equipment including commonly owned equipment. Furthermore, it has been my experience that local clubs, which host local matches, do everything in their power to make match participation equitable and accessible for competitors of all levels and their existing equipment, assuming that said equipment is safe. In other words, attending a locally hosted competition shouldn’t require the procurement of highly specialized equipment and it shouldn’t break the bank. Furthermore, local matches shouldn’t require extensive travel expenses or time commitments since they are local and only take a few hours to complete. 

I get it. My reasoning is anecdotal. Nevertheless, the reasoning is driven by frequently occurring anecdotal experiences. Let’s peel the layers back a bit further and look at the most common resource constraints I’ve come across. 

Lack of Gear

Not having the right equipment to compete is by far the most common type of reason I hear as to why folks don’t feel ready to participate in competitive shooting sports. To an extent, there is truth to this concern. However, I find that truth is the exception to the rule. 

The only time this concern is true is when one actually doesn’t have equipment to meet the minimum equipment requirements for the competition they are interested in participating in. While this can be the case, more often than not, the person with this concern believes this because they feel the equipment and gear they have, which does meet the minimum requirements, is not competitive enough for the sport. That feeling isn’t necessarily wrong or misplaced, but it has often manifested itself into a barrier. The most common reality is that the gear they have on hand is adequate enough to participate, but because it isn’t the same gear that top competitors use, a mental block that prevents participation is created.

I understand this barrier on a personal level. Deeply. I don’t want gear holding me back. While gear can certainly be a limiting factor, it doesn’t become a limiting factor until the user of the gear develops sufficient skill that is limited from further improvement by the gear they have available. Even then, we have seen national level championships being won by highly skilled competitors using equipment that popular opinion would hold as “inadequate”. 

To overcome the manifested mental barrier, one should consider that all that is really necessary to compete is having equipment that meets the rules of the competition. Most, if not all, competitions have multiple divisions available to compete in which generally level the playing field by allowing folks to compete with other folks who are using similar types of equipment. This is akin to weight based divisions in fighting sports like boxing or, perhaps more like, different vehicle divisions in motor sports like drag racing. For the most part, most folks have said equipment, but exceptions to that do exist. Developing and having competitive skills, which require a personal investment, are far more important than having all of the equipment and trinkets that are dictated by the current fashion. 

Use what you have. Seriously. 

If the barrier isn’t mental, then chances are that one is likely only missing one or two small minor things, such as an extra magazine or a couple boxes of inexpensive practice ammunition. 

On the rare occasion where the interested individual truthfully doesn’t have any of the equipment, there are some options. Arguably, the most prudent one is to borrow the equipment from a friend. Especially if one is looking to dip their toes in competition. If this avenue is not an option, then one might consider going and observing a match to see what equipment folks are using and creating a prioritized shopping list. Then start by only acquiring the items that are the must haves in order to meet the minimum requirements to participate in the event. 

Lack of Skill

The second most common reason I hear as to why folks don’t start participating is because they feel their skill level is too low to compete. Folks who express a reason along these lines also express the desire to seek training first or devote more time to practice to increase their marksmanship abilities. While I appreciate and certainly encourage folks to receive quality instruction from qualified instructors, attending a class has its own set of barriers that must be overcome such as finding a suitable class and investing the resources into attending the class. In a sense, waiting to achieve a competitive skill level prior to participating in competitions is putting the cart before the horse. 

The skill level actually needed in order to participate is fairly low. Let’s look at what one really needs to know.

One will need to know the fundamental rules of safe gun handling:

  1. Always treat a firearm as if it were loaded.
  2. Never point the firearm at anything one isn’t willing to put a bullet hole in.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until the firearm is aligned with the target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Know what is in front of, around, and beyond the target.

One will need to be familiar with the administrative handling of the firearm. That includes:

  1. Knowing how to load it or make it ready for use.
  2. Knowing how to unload it or clear it.
  3. Knowing how to operate the safety features of the firearm

One will need to know how to safely place the firearm in the holster and draw the firearm from the holster. 

One will need to know how to safely move with the firearm in hand which translates into being able to keep the firearm pointed down range (the safe direction) and keep their finger in register (resting along the side of the slide or the frame depending on the type of firearm). 

That’s it. 

Granted that level of skill is unlikely to be sufficient to win a match, but it is sufficient to participate in a match safely. Participation will help one identify and prioritize skill development in order to become more competitive. As an added bonus, one will have the opportunity to receive help and suggestions from the other competitors. 

Like the lack of equipment, the lack of skill is usually a self imposed barrier unless one is unfamiliar with safe gun handling or basic operation of their equipment which is a barrier that pretty much any gun owner who frequents local gun ranges have already overcome. The exception being working from a holster or moving with a firearm which are both skills that one can learn quickly with some dedicated practice and easy to find affordable basic level firearm courses.

Fear of Ridicule or Embarrassment

This is probably the toughest barrier to overcome. I experienced this fear myself before I got started in competitive shooting sports. Based on my own experience and discussion I’ve had with other competitors, the fear seems to most often come from two places. Ironically, the two places are also two of the barriers we have already discussed: gear and skill. I suppose one could say that fear is another manifestation of those barriers. 

Rather than thinking one is lacking gear or skill, one thinks they will be ridiculed for using value priced gear or for their performance. Once again, I understand this fear as I felt it. If this were middle school or high school, then I think there would be more merit to this fear as I recall kids being pretty mean to each other over those types of things. However, I’ve never witnessed this form of ridicule at either local or major matches in the shooting sports I’ve participated in. Nor have I ever heard of this behavior happening. I can’t definitively say it never takes place, but I think it’s safe to say that type of behavior is the exception rather than the rule.

Competitors attend matches to have fun and compete. Every single competitor I’ve met has only been helpful and welcoming. Sure, there will be personalities that aren’t compatible and clash. Even then, interactions remain cordial and even friendly. The thing is that folks in the community are among the best folks I’ve known. A new competitor is going to make new friends and perhaps even develop some friendly rivalries. There is no way around that.

What I’m attempting to say is that fear of ridicule or embarrassment shouldn’t be a barrier. However, if fear remains a barrier after reading this, then going to a local match and observing should help one overcome that fear. One will see first hand the interactions between competitors and other new shooters. While it is unlikely, one may also get the opportunity to see how a disqualification is handled. 

To summarize, the barriers of entry to competitive shooting are more often than not self imposed and are far lower than most folks who have never competed think they are. So stop overthinking it. Find a match and go participate. Chances are one will have a good time and catch the competitive shooting bug.


  1. I keep hearing the word “community.” From what I have witnessed, it is more like a dysfunctional family. USPSA thinks that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. The same can be said for IDPA, IPSC, law enforcement, and military veterans. All of this “welcoming-the-new-guy” stuff is unknown to me. I was just one more person there. I watched, listened, taped targets, stood the fallen metal ones back up, etc. As far as anyone lending me anything to participate, well that wasn’t happening. Out of 60 people, I was the only one with a production gun, which I left in the trunk of my car. Everything was carry optics, pistol caliber carbines, and unaffordable “John Wick” guns. A real turn-off. For those that enjoy it, drive on.

    1. That sounds like an awful crummy first experience. It’s not something that I’ve seen but all I can write about is my anecdotal experiences combined with the “mission”, if you will, of the clubs and ranges I’m a member of.

      I can confirm that carry optics and PCCs tend to dominate attendance along with race guns in USPSA in the matches I have attended (both local and major). The cliques mentioned also exist and they certainly favor their preferences oftentimes in a boisterous manner. Perhaps it’s my personality projecting but I shoot what I like and, while I do often stick with carry optics myself, I also dabble in other divisions for fun. In fact, I will be shooting in the ISR (iron sights revolver) division in Steel Challenge this coming weekend and fully expect to be at the bottom of the score sheet at the end of the match.

      I will encourage you to get back out there and go have fun, but in the end that is entirely up to you.

      1. Believe me, I know that it is 2023 and things have changed a great deal. Some good changes, some not so good. It just seems like more working class guys participated in the old days. Guys with limited time and money for practice. Now they have been replaced by people that shoot 52 weekends a year and three times during the week. Shirts with manufacturers/sponsors names all over them instead of t-shirts and blue jeans. I guess being 61 is not helping.

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