Want to W.I.N.? Decide "What's Important Now"

As law enforcement professionals, we should ask ourselves this question 35 times a day

W.I.N. is a simple but powerful acronym that comes from the famous Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz. It stands for "What’s Important Now?" 

Holtz instructed his players to ask themselves this question 35 times a day. He wanted them to think about it when they woke up, and while they were in class, study hall, the weight room, the practice field, standing on the sidelines during a game and while on the playing field at a game. Holtz wanted his players to be able to learn to focus on what mattered most at any given time.

As law enforcement professionals, we should ask ourselves this same question 35 times a day. In doing so, we are forced to focus on what is important at a particular moment in time, enabling us to prioritize our mission, the threats and our actions. If we have the correct mindset, we will focus on what we need to do to win that particular confrontation.

As law enforcement trainers, we should ask ourselves this question because it helps us focus on what is important in our instruction, which areas of training need to be addressed and which have the highest priority. This focus is required for us to truly prepare our officers to be winners. Let us explore areas where we need to take a serious look at "What’s Important Now?"

Gaps in Training

It’s critical to examine our training programs to determine if there are gaps where we fail to allow the officer to take the situation (or action) to its conclusion. For example, during scenario-based training, do we stop the scenario as soon as the subject gets shot? In reality, the situation is far from over at that point. Trainers should have officers ask: 

  • Is the threat actually stopped?
  • Is the officer in the most desirable tactical position?
  • Does anyone else know where the officer is and what has happened?
  • Is the officer injured?
  • Are there other threats the officer needs to address?

If the training does not address these and other critical issues by having the officer complete those tasks within the scenario, it is incomplete. The result may be less than desirable, or it may be tragic. 

The same gap also occurs when officers are trained using video interactive judgmental use-of-force simulators. When the scenario ends and the screen goes blank, too often the training stops and the debriefing begins, again resulting in incomplete training. A more desirable way to use this training tool is to place other people where all the subjects were when the screen went blank and ask the officer to continue. Force the officer to assess the threat and their tactical position. Make the officer call for assistance and determine the next course of action. In doing this, we complete the officer’s mental loop and better prepare cops for the real world of the streets. We prepare them to win.

Close-Quarters Violent Encounters

Another area of concern is a close-quarters, violent encounter where the officer faces an attacker who is committed to killing the officer. These kinds of encounters may take many forms such as edged weapons confrontations, officer hostage situations and gunfights. They can happen in the confines of narrow hallways and small rooms. What is important at that moment in time is for the officer to use overwhelming violence to destroy the attacker. The officer must be the winner.

This may mean:

  • Violently attacking the subject’s eyes, making it impossible for him to see and reducing his determination to fight; 
  • Using a utility or rescue knife to stab the attacker, hopefully eliminating the threat; 
  • Firing the officer’s handgun at the subject’s head until the threat is stopped. 

If we accept that ferocity of action and overwhelming violence is "What’s Important Now" for the officer to win and go home to family, then we must ask ourselves, “Are we mentally and physically prepared to accomplish this?” 

Sadly, the answer is often "no" because that element is overlooked in use-of-force training. In many agencies, the closest an officer ever gets to a target that will be engaged with a handgun is about seven feet, and headshots are only used on command or in a pre-determined course of fire. The officer never practices striking a violent attacker in the throat or eyes. He is never taught to use weapons of opportunity (pens, knives, etc) in these situations. Worse, many officers have never imagined being in a close, violent fight for their life. Therefore, there are no programs or files in the subconscious mind that the officer can fall back on in these situations.

I often show a video clip from the Calibre Press movie "The Ultimate Survivors" during mental preparation classes. The clip is a re-creation of an event that took place in 1976 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where two officers are confronted by a subject in the bedroom of a home. At the end of the 10-minute violent confrontation, one officer and the subject are dead. In discussions that follow, the majority of officers are critical of what they perceive as a lack of action on the part of one of the officers (the one who was killed). 

After much discussion, it becomes clear that what they believe that officer (acting as the cover officer) should have done was to close the distance and make a contact shot to the subject’s head while he was fighting with the contact officer over his gun. While this is a sound tactic, almost no agencies are training their officers to do this. In my informal surveys, I’ve had only two officers that indicated their agency conducted this type of training as part of recruit training in the 1970s. Only a few said that their agencies trained this in the 1980s and 1990s and almost no agencies include this as part of their recruit training in 2007. 

If we are not training officers to use this tactic, how can we expect that in the heat of battle, in a close and violent fight for their lives, they can come up with the plan?


Time and safety are common excuses for not conducting this training. This is unacceptable. A drill can easily be built into existing training time in control tactics, weapon retention, defeating edged weapons attacks, weapon disarming (officer hostage), and/or building clearing. Safety in training must be of paramount. Start slow and build on the principles and concepts during the training program. When training officers to make close-in head or body shots, the officers can safely train with peers acting as the subject by utilizing plastic training guns (make sure they go through the motions of pulling the trigger).

The officers can then progress to using training dummies or photo-realistic targets using Airsoft weapons or weapons configured for nonlethal training ammunition (NLTA). From there the officers can proceed to carefully controlled and scripted live-fire exercises. Striking dummies can also be used to teach attacks to the throat and eyes, and create the opportunity for officers to strike these areas with power. By cutting out the eyes on the training dummies and replacing them with fake eyes the officers can get the feel of actually driving fingers into the eye sockets.

If training with other officers, make light contact to the eyes and imagine driving fingers into the eye sockets. Invest in swim goggles to help protect people’s eyes during this training. Instructors must stop making excuses and start doing the training. Excuses get people killed, realistic training saves lives.

After You Get Shot

The first indication you might have that you are in a gunfight could be when you get shot. Getting shot doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, nor does it mean that you are dead. If you are dead you don’t know it. If you have been shot and are alive to realize you are wounded, "what’s important now" is to get focused, get aggressive and win the fight. Once that is accomplished, move to a better tactical position, get help on the way, and assess and treat your wounds. 

In order to engrain this response into the subconscious, officers must be trained in these tactics by walking through them. They must imagine being in the situation, being shot and doing whatever is necessary to win the confrontation. Remember, officers can be put in realistic, winnable situations in training where they are also shot with NLTA and continue to function and win the fight. When these steps are completed, the officer is programmed to win. And they will do just that.

The same mindset training needs to be provided for edged weapons attacks. They must be conditioned to continue to fight and violently defeat the threat, even if they’ve been cut.

The challenge to every single officer is to continue to ask "What’s Important Now?" What is important is that we set aside our egos, take a step back and examine how we train ourselves:

  • Does our training reflect reality?
  • Are we training officers to win, or inadvertently setting them up to fail?
  • Do we train with imagination and emotion?
  • Are there gaps in our training?

W.I.N. – three simple letters with a powerful message for all of us.

Recommended for you

Police Training

Sponsored by

Career news from P1 in your inbox

Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the Police1 Careers

Copyright © 2023 Police1. All rights reserved.