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Are We Training Figure Skaters or Hockey Players?
RedMan Training - Thursday, March 10, 2016


Teaching officers how to win, when their opponents want to knock ‘em down. In defensive tactics training, every level of a simulation is broken down into steps. The instructor must choreograph the training drill or scenario and repeat the technique with each student until the students demonstrates proficiency. The instructor watches the stance, the body position and the overall accuracy of the drill or strike. Creating step by step isolation drills is a core component of the building block approach in training. In order to properly prepare officers for real life encounters, instructors must complete the scenarios by introducing dynamic interaction, forcing the student to make in the moment decisions on which move or level of force is necessary.

If officers are not given the opportunity to test their skills in an environment where someone is trying to interfere with the clean pretty steps they’ve learned in training, they are set up for failure. Think of it like this - you have a figure skater and hockey player. Both figure skaters and hockey players need to learn and apply the basics of skating: Go, stop, turn left, turn right, jump, and spin, all while staying balanced. Both the figure skater and the hockey player move on to more advanced skills in his particular area of expertise. But figure skaters and hockey players operate under different mind-sets. If a figure skater makes a mistake, judges take points off their score. If they fall down, they may still get up and finish, but the chances of winning are slim. Figure skaters are judged purely on technique and mastery of their skills. Hockey players fall down all the time.

They get body-checked against the rail. They get smacked in the face with sticks and pucks—actually have their teeth knocked out. They don’t have to look pretty skating up and down the rink, but they do have to get back and keep moving. At the end of the game they may be bloody, but they’re holding the Stanley Cup over their heads. This is why we see hockey players take all kinds of abuse, but get right back into the game—the fight, if you will. It is known as a winning mindset. All the great hockey players have it. They do what they have to do to survive.

They want to WIN. How do hockey players develop that winning mind-set? A hockey player must test his skating skills in an environment where other players try and interrupt his ability to perform. This kind of practice is called a scrimmage. The scrimmage is a dynamic, realistic, interactive training session that simulates a real-life game. As trainers, we conduct scenarios with Simunitions® and Active Countermeasures with Redman® gear. However, we spend most of our time choreographing drills, in a vacuum, like the figure skater. That’s why I encourage the scrimmage. Scrimmages force the players to hone their skills under real-world conditions. It’s one thing to diagram a play on the blackboard.

Running that play when you’re looking into the eyes of a 285-pound third-round draft pick defensive man who doesn’t want to get cut is some- thing else altogether. You can scrimmage in any number of ways. To teach tactical use of cover, for example, you can use a paint-ball shoot-back system. There’s nothing like a round of paint splatter to convince a student to use proper cover, or “slice the pie” before making entry to an area containing a possible threat. The scrimmage also allows us as instructors to measure our students’ capabilities. After each training evolution, we should always ask some hard questions. When things go well, we have to ask why they went well. Was it because the officer did good?

Or, was the officer lucky? When things don’t go well, we have to ask the same questions. That way, we can learn from our mistakes. At the end of training, debriefings provide some of the most important lessons about what works and what doesn’t. Finally, trainers need to remain flexible as their training program evolves. Just like the students you train won’t know the scenarios they face, you can’t pre-program every move in training. The great Wayne Gretsky never pre-programmed his game plan. He seized opportunities as they occurred by assessing the situation and then using his skills to prevail over his opponents. Dynamic, realistic training works because it completes the training cycle. It takes students beyond the building blocks, beyond qualification and puts them inside scenarios where they have to apply the skills they have been practicing under real-world conditions. It is the element of dynamic interaction in training that ultimately will—and does—save lives on the street. Why? I said it in the beginning, and I’ll say it again: Dynamic, realistic training teaches officers how to handle more than their weapons. Dynamic, realistic training teaches them how to handle situations. To quote Russian Field Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevich Suvorov once again, “Win with ability, not with numbers.”

Written by: John T. Meyer


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