The best police trainers never stop learning

Trainers and supervisors can play a key role in ensuring that our officers are properly trained and have high-levels of faith in their skills and abilities

One of the things I’ve noticed over my last few decades as a law enforcement trainer is that the good ones never stop learning. I’ve always tried to emulate that, but I must confess, sometimes it is pretty easy to just sit comfortably in my knowledge base and do training today the same way I did it yesterday.

I think that is why conferences and sites like Police1 are so important — they get us off our mental butts and getting us growing again.

I’d been getting behind in my reading (and growing) lately when my editor, Doug Wyllie, called to see if I was going to be on time with my article for today. I swore I would [Ed Note: Dave beat deadline by several days!] and wondered how he found out my middle name is Procrastination.

Practicing, Coaching, and Adapting
Going to my “to read” stack I had let get backed up, I grabbed a little tome I had been wanting to finish for a while and suddenly remembered why I had liked it so much.

Doug Lemov’s Practice Perfect is one of those books you can apply to your training programs, your leadership style, and your personal growth. So many times reading I would stop and think, “yep, that’s what I have been saying for years!” and a paragraph later saying to myself, “I wish I had said that!”

The premise of the book is simple, and whether you read it or not keep this mind.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, it only makes permanent. Ten thousand repetitions done improperly will leave you with a student who has some seriously bad habits. In our profession, such things can have dire consequences. Practicing correctly is the key and there are plenty of ideas in the book to help you design your training to be more effective.

But practicing isn’t the only aspect that matters in training — so, too, is how you coach the learner. Too many instructors have one method and one method only.

Being able to adapt to a learner is a sign of a great teacher. I remember a discussion several years ago with several top trainers, and we all agreed the greatest reward wasn’t how well our best cadet had done, but how our class had done (especially when we had one or two who seemed incapable of mastering almost any motor skill).

Proper practice using discrete skills, and enough repetitions, with effective feedback, can turn your apparently-hopeless trainee into a competent performer.

The problem is, we often don’t have enough time in the academy or in service training sessions to make a difference, so how we structure training and practice is very important. Getting the novice learner to a point where they can practice a skill on there is a huge step in developing skills.

Also, instilling a culture of learning and practice in our agencies is the other component that often gets ignored. Too often we just test, not train, in our in-service training. If we want learning and improving to become a basic part of our professional culture, we need to make it rewarding and not punishing, successful and not frustrating. How we design not only training but also supervision is critically important.

Continuing Education
Sergeants and supervisors have got to be considered a basic part of organizational training. They are law enforcement’s courtside coaches and should be trained to not only check paperwork but also all aspects of organization expectations including such things as officer safety, and tactics.

How many times have you watched a video of an officer getting injured or killed and wondered how did their skills get so corrupted?

I’ll tell you how — they’ve had routine erode their performance in repetition after repetition without any coaching from their sergeant. Feedback only works if it is given, and the closer to the performance it is given the more powerful the training effect!

Every activity is a repetition, and just as Lemov says in his book, “Practice all the wrong moves and your team will execute the wrong moves when it comes time to perform.”

He points out whether you are doing a skill or activity right or wrong, do enough repetitions and that skill will become a habit, and in law enforcement your habits are often the difference in life and death. Trainers and supervisors need to monitor performance and give feedback as quickly as possible to that performance.

Another key point is how that feedback or coaching is given is critical to long term success. Focusing on mistakes instead of successful performance simply leads to mistake-avoidance behavior.

The tendency to not try or grow doesn’t build a “success model” in the learner’s mind.

We are a high-risk profession and our folks need to have high levels of faith in their skills and abilities. Trainers and supervisors can play a key role. If you want to be a better trainer (and I believe all good trainers do), run over to the local library and check out Practice Perfect and be prepared to take notes.

Train hard, train safe, but always train correct technique!

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