Confessions of a training instructor

We have all been in class with “That Guy.” Admit it: odds are you have likely been “That Guy” at some point in your career. There are as many types of “That Guy” as there are people: the guy who shows up to class without the right equipment, inferior ammo that fails to function, inferior equipment that he swears is “just as good,” and the guy that knows everything about everything and wants to argue with the instructor. Worse is the other version — the guy who doesn’t have a backbone and changes opinions with the wind. I have learned to accept and work around “That Guy.” But what if the instructor is “That Guy”?

Every good instructor lives in fear of being “That Guy,” worrying that he or she has misinstructed on something in the program that results in a student or bystander getting hurt. When small, bad things creep into a program, they are usually brought about by a desire for efficiency, as a result of ignorance or comfort, or due to ego. Let’s take a look at examples of each.

Efficiency can be brought about by good intentions. I’ll share with you how I screwed up in the name of efficiency. One day at my former agency one of my deputies and I were having lunch. About a year prior she had been involved in a shooting that included her trainee and ultimately ended in a SWAT call out. As we were sitting there, she decided to talk to me about it. Her trainee went to the front door of the house, the bad guy came out with a weapon, she drew and fired one round and then decocked and holstered her handgun. She realized then that her gun was no longer in her hand and had to draw again.

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as soon as she said it. I knew why she did that ... it was because of me. You see, we only had our deputies at the range for a limited amount of time. I wanted to get as much training done in the time I had. So, for example, when doing failure drills I would call the course of fire, give an up command and as soon as they had completed the course, I did not put enough emphasis on completing a good scan and taking time to holster up. I pushed them to get ready for the next drill. I was focused on drawing and shooting — not on finishing the fight. I had failed them.

I called for a meeting with the rest of the range staff and fell on the sword. Once the issue was in the open we found that I was not the only one who had failed in this regard. We immediately made changes to our program to rectify our deficiency. Thank God no one was ever hurt because of this, but I know range masters who cannot say the same. Time constraints or keeping a clean range are no excuse for teaching your troops bad habits.

Old faithful

Being ignorant regarding your subject matter, or staying stuck due to comfort can lead to problems in training programs. I once worked with a range master who introduced himself as a Tactical firearms instructor. If you knew him you would know he was a great guy, but there was nothing tactical about him. He had stopped learning a decade ago. Even after being sent to an outstanding instructor class he returned and continued teaching the same old things. It became an issue with our troops who naturally compared range masters and realized they were no longer progressing under his instruction.

His problem was ignorance. He was ignorant to the fact that he had become outdated, and his teaching techniques, tactics and procedures were no longer in line with the way things were done. His interests in shooting were no longer complementary to law enforcement, and he only gave lip service to the issue. I have met several instructors who fall into this same category. Some are lazy and some just don’t want to step out of their comfort zone. New range masters have this issue but they grow out of it. This is why I encourage my shooters to train with a wide variety of known tier one instructors to get a foundation and knowledge base, so they can evaluate other instructors and their programs.

‘New Hotness’

Another, yet polar, version of ignorance is the “New Hotness” guy. These types of instructors grab onto and preaches from the mountain any new piece of equipment, tactic or technique that comes along. They switch up their program so often they have no consistency. Their troops cannot master a technique because how they are expected to perform a task is switched up constantly. This guy holds little to no value on the basics, and a lack of subject depth is a form of ignorance. His program, not his words, will reflect this.

The problem with new ways of doing business is vetting. I know I sound like I am contradicting myself. In one breath I am saying to stay current and in the next I am saying be careful of something new. My point is to not jump onto bandwagons and bring something into your program before vetting it. Anything new should build upon your existing program and should be closely examined and experimented with prior to bringing it in. Discuss it in detail with your peers and with the experts you know, and only when you know it is viable, allow it in.

Ego maniac

The last “That Guy” I want to discuss is the Ego. I was shooting with a range master many years ago who would only teach his troops just enough to be good, but never good enough to beat him. He was a very competitive individual and this created some issues. Being the example and setting the bar often drives credibility in an A-type personality environment. The problem is when our ego and self identity become so fragile that we cannot accept getting beaten at our own game. When you take on the role of an instructor you have to set aside that aspect of your ego. Your goal must be to make every student better than you. You must give them everything you have. Their success is your success and you must derive your pride and satisfaction from them.

Think of an NFL coach. His function is not to play the game on the field but his actions often determine the outcome. You may be a great shooter — and you should work hard to be the best you can — but once you put on the hat of an instructor your students’ abilities and needs should overshadow yours.

I know one range master who is so fearful of not being the best in his department he games his qualifications. He works for an agency that is 100-percent plain clothes, everyone is a detective. He makes his troops draw from concealment and complete courses of fire under time limits. But when he steps up to the line he tucks his shirt into his pants behind his gun. Surprise! He always has lower times than everyone else. He has been doing this for so long it’s become the topic of conversation with many of us in the surrounding law enforcement community. His reputation with his own troops is diminished as well as within his industry. Maybe he feels that ill-earned bragging rights make it worthwhile, but it’s not in my mind.

Constantly evaluate

Focusing on the basics is not the issue, as the basics of any activity must be sold and our training programs must be grounded in them. The point is that we cannot become outdated and ignorant to better, more efficient and tactically sound ways of getting the job done. To do so only hurts our troops and serves to lessen our credibility with them. This can spiral into a lack of confidence by the individual officer in their shooting abilities, and that can get them killed. We must read contemporary thought on the subject, attend not only instructor but also operator level courses, and constantly evaluate ourselves and our program.

One of the areas I push very hard is that every law enforcement range master should be a factory trained armorer in every weapon system issued by the agency. My understanding of how the firearm operates from an armorer prospective allowed me to understand in a more intimate way how the human body and the tool worked together. I was able to diagnose equipment issues on the range and effect repairs and maintenance before they deteriorated into something worse. Some students are visual, and by explaining how the various parts interact with each other made the process of shooting easier for them to understand.

If you’re a range master or instructor of any kind, take a long look in the mirror on a regular basis. Don’t let bad habits or bad unproven ideas creep into your program. Don’t let your ego get out of check and remember your mission.

Be the best you can every day. Be the example of honor and integrity to your troops. Work every day not to be “That Guy”.