a few more thoughts on competitive shooting . . . .
I shot in a local USPSA match on Saturday. We shot 1 classifier (CM09-02 "Diamond Cutter") and 3 high round count field course type stages. All of the field courses were more complicated than they needed to be, and two of the stages had some significant problems in the way they were designed.
(I'm a cop and much prefer simpler stages involving use-of-cover, some targets partially obscured by hard cover and some no-shoots. I like the IDPA course design philosophy, actually)
We had several fairly new shooters. A few things I observed:
(1.) Make sure your gun works. Come to the range with the gun clean and lubed. If using a water-based cleaner, don't store your gun in your gun bag in the trunk overnight in January in up north. Firing pin safetys may freeze up. If shooting outdoors in cold weather, don't use a heavy grease or slide glide. Both will thicken up in the cold and cause the gun to cycle slowly and malfunction.
(2.) For self defense or competitive purposes, make sure that you use quality ammo. Now that ground combat operations in Iraq have nearly ended, ammo is more available and the cost is coming back down. Consider using generic factory ammo or good quality commercial reloads (UltraMax, Black Hills, BVAC, etc.) for matches. If you're reloading for yourself, make sure you know how to resize the cases and properly seat the primers and seat the bullets to the proper OAL and etc.
(3.) Wolf primers are apparently very hard and don't always go off.
(4.) Buy a gun of reasonable quality that will be reliable.
(5.) Get a decent holster!!! IMHO, don't buy any product that says "Fobus" on it! Buy a good quality leather or kydex holster and a sturdy belt to mount it on. Get a belt at least 1-1/2 inch wide. (My preference is 1-3/4 inch wide leather garrison belts like they sell at the police equipment store) If you are using a less-common brand of gun, you may have difficulty getting a good holster for it.
(6.) Buy some pants with big pockets in them, so you have a place to put extra ammo or magazines or whatever. Buy pants that are loose in fit so you can move and drop to kneeling without binding up. (I prefer khaki or green BDU type pants provided that the rear pockets are really big and the pants have a "regular" rise. If the rise is "long" it doesn't fit me right. YMMV) Some guys have to wear suspenders attached to their belt to hold all that stuff up, depending upon their physical build.
(7.) Tuck your shirt in so it doesn't get in the way of your holster or other equipment!! If shooting from concealment, then wear a concealment garment long enough to properly conceal the gun.
(8.) Learn how to run your gun. I was surprised how many people shot their auto pistol to slide-lock and then looked at it in confusion. Or how many people had a malfunction while shooting and had absolutely no idea how to clear the stoppage or what to do next.
(9.) There are many good books written about tactics and self defense and every aspect of the shooting sports. There are many good web sites that have lots of good information. Consider doing some research and some reading. If you are diligent, you can self-educate yourself to a high degree. And if you do get some kind of formal training at some time, prior study will mean that you have a greater understanding and grasp the concepts quicker.
(10.) Practice before the match. Practice strong-hand-only and weak-hand-only shooting. Practice at distance. Shooting lots of rounds at 7 yards really won't teach you much under most circumstances. You have to get back to 10 or 15 yards (or farther) to really learn how to integrate sight picture / sight alignment / trigger control, relative to the size of the target you are engaging and the distance of engagement.
(11.) If you don't reload, and want to practice for cheap, get a .22 conversion unit for your auto pistol. You can also practice lots of gun manipulation skills dry fire or with an air soft gun.
You can only learn from experience if you pay attention!