Trainer's reflection: Who is it really all about?

Early in my police career, I signed up to take a new “hands on” tactical class being offered in my area. This would be my first since graduating from the academy and I was excited about learning something new. The night before the class, I made sure I ate a healthy meal and got plenty of rest. I showed up at training the following morning with an open mind and a great attitude, ready to work hard and improve my skills.

The instructor, dressed in a tight t-shirt and cammo pants, spent the first 45 minutes of class talking about himself and all of his many accomplishments as a martial artist and trainer (he had never been a cop or in the military). He spent the next 45 minutes telling us that most cops are out of shape, don’t use proper control techniques, and don’t really know what they are doing. So far, I wasn’t learning much, and my positive attitude was waning.

When we got to the “hands on” portion of the class, I thought “Great! This is what I came here for!” The instructor proceeded to show us a series of complicated moves and strikes designed to control an uncooperative subject. This involved a lot of arm twisting, pushing, spinning, and counting. He was really good at it but the rest of us were not, and as the day wore on, none of us got much better because instead of teaching us how to perform the maneuvers, he just kept demonstrating how good he was at performing them. By the end of the day, all I had really learned was that the instructor was a fairly talented martial artist with nice biceps who didn’t really like cops. I’m pretty sure he was the only person who walked out of the classroom that day feeling good about himself and his abilities; in other words, the class was not about us, it was all about him.

This is a disappointing phenomenon that I continued to encounter throughout my law enforcement and training career, and it’s something that every trainer needs to ask themselves on a regular basis: who is this class really about?

I recently asked this of my own students in my ILEETA class “Training and Managing the Female Crimefighter,” and of course everyone’s answer was “the student!” Whether you’re an FTO training a new recruit or you are the headlining speaker with 1000 attendees, take a minute to reflect

How long is your opening biography? If you take more than five minutes at the beginning of class to tell the attendees about your many assignments, certifications and accomplishments, you risk giving them the impression that the focus of the training is going to be you, not them. I once sat through a two hour keynote talk at a large trainer’s conference where the speaker actually showed pictures of his family, his house, and himself (dressed in full tactical gear in various risky locations around the world) as part of his opening biography. To this day, it’s the only thing I remember about his talk. I walked out of that session knowing that the instructor was proud of his family, his lifestyle and his travel experiences, however none of this helped me in my own police career.

I’m a big proponent of teaching by storytelling but make sure that most of your stories are not about you. It’s also not a very good idea to use yourself as an example of someone who does everything right. For example, if you are teaching a police fitness class, it’s okay to use your “I-lost-a-hundred-pounds-through-diet-and-exercise” story to inspire them, but it’s a bit over the top to regale them with a list of all the marathons you’ve run since. There is a fine line between being a role model and being arrogant. Students quickly become fatigued by hearing “I – I – I” out of a trainer, unless you’re trying to be self-depreciatingly humorous. It’s always better to make fun of yourself than to tease your students. And with regard to humor, make sure your training class doesn’t turn into a comedy routine. It feels good when people laugh at your jokes and stories, but if you’re going for a laugh at the expense of the training point, re-think the way you’re presenting your material.

A good trainer uses the classroom (or the range or the mat) not to showcase their own skills and abilities, but to transfer that confidence and competence to their students. The best trainers I know are also the most humble. Your goal is always to bring everyone up to their highest ability based on their potential, and if some of those trainees become even more skilled than you are, then consider yourself a damn good trainer. In this economy more and more police officers are paying for training out of their own pockets. We owe it to them to make it worth their money, their time and their effort.

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