How an effective SWAT firearms instructor tailors training

Certain training tenets work well for training academy cadets — or even seasoned patrol officers — but may not work quite as well when training SWAT officers


In my time as a trainer, one lesson about conducting training and qualification has become clear: most SWAT members are – generally speaking – difficult to train. My teaching methodology underwent a change in order to ensure SWAT team members receive the information I want them to and are able to apply it correctly.

The training journey for cadets and in-service personnel is fairly standard when it comes to achieving goals in firearms training and qualification, but they don’t necessarily work quite as well when training SWAT officers. Here are the most effective training tools for SWAT.

Positive reinforcement sparingly or in short dialogue

As instructors, we’re taught to give positive reinforcement for a job well done (or even a job that was close to being well done). This method is very effective for new recruits or even in-service training. A pat on the back or a “Great job!” is warranted even if your student is performing at an average level. 

But tactical officers are typically thick-skinned and can smell bologna from a mile away. If you give a SWAT cop an “attaboy” for mediocrity then be prepared for them to call you out on it. Praise should be given when a team member performs exceptionally well. 

Individual praise in front of the team

As an instructor, one of the best ways to give applause to a tactical team member is by giving it in front of the entire team. If you run a firearms drill and a team member performs remarkably, you should take the time to gather the team and point out that member’s performance. Something like, “Did you see Alex’s movement and shot placement? That’s what we’re looking for. Nice job.” This type of training fosters two things: competitiveness and leadership. 

Punishment as a team

Unlike new recruits or in-service personnel, punishment can be an effective way to get a point across to a tactical team member. When I run firearms training every month we have a motto: zero misses. For our team, that is the only acceptable amount. If one team member misses, the entire team will be punished. This type of training fosters two things: accountability and team building. 

Use “cop humor” more often than not

Using humor while teaching any class is a good way to bring down barriers and to help make points. One thing you need to be aware of when using humor or even making light of another team member: be prepared to have it thrown back at you. 

Use as many “high-speed, low-drag” comments as you can

Like other professionals in a specialized unit, we have become accustomed to terms, phrases and acronyms that are not readily identifiable by others. 

Using terms that are only used in the SWAT community gives team members a sense of camaraderie, ownership and pride. 

A phrase such as, “On the ‘fire’ command, double tap the chest, give one to the head, follow the threat down to ensure it has been neutralized and make a tactical move toward cover” is not an abnormal line of instruction prior to a drill. 

I have found that this sort of dialogue actually motivates team members to perform at a higher level than they would if it were said differently or in a plain speech sort of manner. Try it sometime and judge for yourself if it works for you. 

SWAT team members are more difficult to train than cadets or in-service personnel. Give it your all – others depend on us. 

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