We were visiting a law enforcement training establishment where the students were undertaking the final day of an officer safety training course. The day was a culmination of four weeks of training and saw the students put through their paces in wholistic scenarios and reality based training exercises. As the end of the day approached, the course manager decided to put the students through one final exercise; a decision-making exercise that required the students to identify and assess a threat and then respond appropriately using lethal force in conjunction with effective use of movement and cover.
The exercise was carried out in a fairly benign manner that gave the students ample time to determine their response and react appropriately. We watched as the instructor ran each student through the exercise and were appalled to see almost universally mediocre performance. Despite the immediate threat of (simulated) death, many students were unable to make a decision and stood frozen, 3 metres from the role-player. Others took far too long to make a decision and when they finally did it usually involved standing in the open, belt buckle to belt buckle with the role player, trading shots. One student felt that superior communication was the best use of force option, whilst being shot to pieces. Of the entire panel of students, it would be reasonable to say that the performances ranged from fair (at best) to appalling.
There were multiple issues with what we saw that day (not the least of which was destroying the student’s confidence before sending them into the big, bad world), but the main point of this article comes from what we observed afterwards. The course manager said to one of his instructors “I don’t understand why they did so badly, we have given them all the tools they need.” And therein lies the problem. This statement lays the blame for failure on the student for not being able to perform as expected.
The reality is that if the students really had the tools they needed to succeed they would have succeeded. Instead what they had received during the preceding four weeks was training in a bunch of mechanical skills, taught in isolation, with very little attention paid to application. It would be the equivalent of teaching a carpenter by holding up a hammer, saying what it is, having them repeat the name, demonstrating the hammering action, having them practice the hammering action under instruction (being sure to overcomplicate the simple mechanical action into something extremely complex) then moving onto a saw. No-one would be under any illusions that a carpenter trained in this manner could build a house, yet that was exactly what was being asked of these law enforcement students. The expectation was that they had been taught the mechanical skills of pressing a trigger, throwing a punch and applying handcuffs so they should be able to win a fight and consolidate during the aftermath.
It is easy to lay the blame for poor performance on a student, but the reality is that more often than not, student failure is instructor failure. We were fortunate a few months later to be given access to a group of students, the majority of who had been written off as inept. We ran them through a day and half of training that was focussed on application of skills then, as an experiment, we put them through the same exercise that we had observed a few months prior. It wasn’t always pretty, but every student did exactly what we had trained them to do and was able to dominate the role player.
Kyle Lamb from Viking Tactics probably sums it up best “What you are saying as an instructor is that you are not up to the task of tackling difficult training. So who is the failure? You are. Get over yourself and train your people. Not everyone will be at the same level, but the goal is to train folks to win their next fight. It may be tonight.”*
*Lamb, Kyle. E. (2011) Stay in the Fight p 206