Does your classification represent your skill and/or match performance?

photo © Norah Josephsen
photo © Norah Josephsen

Many of the major Action/Dynamic shooting sports, including IPSC and USPSA have what’s known as a classification system. This system ranks competitors, mostly in a way that’s related to their performance on standardized Courses of Fire.

Some competitors expect their classification to correspond well with how they place at major matches, and are disappointed when that isn’t the case.

In this post, I’ll be looking at the IPSC Classification System (ICS), since I’ve yet to shoot a USPSA match, and isn’t USPSA classified. However, many of the issues discussed here is applicable to any classification system using standardized stages.

Submitting results to ICS and getting classified has been free for a while, and may bring more shooters and results to ICS.

Here’s how IPSC describes the current classification system:

The primary reason for the development of the IPSC Classification System (ICS), was the member demand for a national and international ranking system that provides a vehicle for true peer-to-peer recognition.

ICS is a dynamic system meaning competitor classifications will move up or down based on their performance.

Classifications are calculated by Division. Competitors will need to submit scores for each Division in which they wish to be classified.

Classifier Stage results are calculated by comparing a competitor’s Classifier Stage hit factor to the highest hit factors for that Classifier Stage. The competitor’s Classifier Stage results will be their hit factor divided by the top average hit factor for that stage. As ICS develops and the best competitors record their scores, the class percentages will better reflect a competitor’s performance. This will accurately exhibit improvements in both equipment and technique as the sport evolves.

Notice how there’s nothing in there about match performance?

If your classification doesn’t reflect your match performance, will it be higher or lower? That’s hard to predict, since there’s several factors influencing this:

  • The highest hit factors (HHF) may not reflect the hit factor the stage would be won by in a match, even if it was shot by a world champion. Since the classifiers are public, and limited in number (there’s currently 28 classifiers stages available for download), anybody can set classifiers up, and practice for hours on them. This would tend to push the HHF up, and push classifications down for the average shooter, who doesn’t specifically practice the classifiers, but conversely push classifications up for shooters who practice classifiers.
  • A similar issue is, that shooters may have a tendency to “go for broke”, since ICS discards the worst 4 results of your last 8 results. This could push the HHF up.
  • Many classifiers are of the “stand here, shoot this” short course design, with corresponding high hit factors. If you’re good at moving through stages, your match results may be better on stages with movement than your result on the majority of classifiers.
  • If you attached value to or have pride in your classification, you may be trying too hard to do well on classifier stages, or get nervous when shooting them, leading to deceased performance.

So, can you do something to have your classification reflect your match performance better? Yes, there are several options:

Practice the specific skills called upon in most classifiers:

  1. The draw
  2. Fast transitions from target to target
  3. Reloads
  4. Firing as fast as you can, while still hitting the A-zone
  5. Shooting strong and weak hand, and transitioning to both.

Any improvement in the first 4 of those will also play a major role in improving your performance in matches — but this may trap you in a virtuous circle of improving both match and classifier performance 😉

Obviously, you can also set up and practice the specific classifier stages.

If your problem is trying too hard, you need to convince yourself to relax more. I’d suggest reading Brian Enos’ Practical Shooting : Beyond Fundamentals

If “stand here, shoot this” isn’t your strong suit, you could try to have the match organizers include more of the classifiers that require movement. They’re a bit more work to set up, but will provide more variety in the classifiers you shoot.

Since results from lv. III and higher matches can be included in your classification score, if certain criteria are met (a minimum of 10 competitors per division, a minimum of 30% of competitors already classified), you can try to get more shooters classified, and have match organizers submit the results for classification.

So, does your classification represent your skill? To a certain extent it does. If you looks at the classifications for your IPSC region, you’ll no doubt see top shooters at the top of the classifications. What your classification certainly represents, is your skill at shooting classifiers, compared to the best shooters in the world who’re also shooting classifiers. Is this a comparison that’s interesting for you? That’s for you to decide. Your score on classifier stages can offer you one additional perspective, your improvement over time. Since there aren’t that many classifier stages, it’s likely that you’ll shoot the same classifier stage again, perhaps a couple of years from now. Since the stage will be the same, you can compare your performance than and now, and hopefully marvel at your improvement 🙂

Does your classification represent where you can expect to finish, percentage-wise, in a major match? Not in my experience. I have yet to achieve a classifier score as high as my finishes at the European Handgun Championship in Serbia and Portugal, where competition was pretty fierce. My best classifier scores typically range from 6-10 percentage points below these match finishes.

If you’re interested in a different way of comparing your results to others shooters, and you participate in level III matches, you can check out They calculate a moving average based on your performance at matches, compared to other shooters and initialize their calculations from the World Shoot results. This seems like an interesting way of doing this, and their results look good to me, when I look at Standard division which I compete in. Competitors I usually finish behind are ahead of me in the rankings, and vice-versa.



I've been shooting pistols since 2002, and shooting IPSC since 2004. I'm a NROI Chief Range Officer and instructor. See full bio.