Tactical athletes, such as military and specialist police personnel, frequently carry heavy external loads when engaging in marksmanship activities. Although studies have suggested negative relationships between load carriage and marksmanship, there are no known studies comparing subjective expectation (i.e. perception) of marksmanship performance with actual objective measures. The purpose of this investigation was to explore relationships between the perceived effects of load carriage on marksmanship accuracy and objective measures of marksmanship in specialist police officers during an operation-like scenario.
Six men (mean age = 34.0 ± 7.4 years, mean height = 184.2 ± 3.3 cm, mean body weight = 96.3 ± 6.4 kg) from a police Tactical Operations Unit participated in a two-phase investigation. The first phase involved recording objective marksmanship measures for primary (p) and secondary (s) weapons during a short move (Sh) and following a tactical mobility task (Mob) in fatigues only (FO) or tactically loaded (TL) conditions. Marksmanship accuracy was assessed by measuring from the fall of each shot to the centre of target and divided by the number of shots (DCOT). Horizontal and vertical shot dispersion (X- and Y-dispersion, respectively) was the measured distance between the two furtherest shots along their respective axis. In the second phase, subjects were asked to assess perceived impacts of load carriage on marksmanship for primary and secondary weapons using a 10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS).
There were no statistically significant differences in objective marksmanship measures when TL with either weapon. Officer's perceived that their marksmanship would significantly improve when TL for primary (VAS mean = 3.00 ± 2.53 cm, p = 0.016) and secondary (VAS mean = 2.83 ± 2.93 cm, p = 0.039) weapons when compared to the FO conditions. While not significant, trends toward negative correlations between perceived improvement in marksmanship when TL and objective measures of marksmanship existed for primary weapon X-dispersion (r = −0.561, p = 0.247) during the mobility task, and secondary weapon Y-dispersion (r = −0.756, p = 0.082) and DCOT (r = −0.631, p = 0. 179) during the short move. This means that as perception towards improvement increased, marksmanship measures decreased in size (denoting improved performance).
Tactical police operators perceive that their marksmanship accuracy is improved when carrying load with objective measures trending toward supporting this belief. Continual marksmanship training while carrying an external load can ensure appropriate confidence in marksmanship performance when carrying load.