As any law enforcement student knows and prepares for entering the training academy there will be a big focus on physical fitness and physical abilities. Some necessary topics are covered in typical academies; some aren’t. Were all of these covered in your academy class? Tactics, marksmanship, driving, criminal justice, nutrition and pre-shift stretching. No you did not read that wrong; it’s just that while on-duty-nutrition, pre-shift stretching and safe tactical fitness should be taught at the academy level but they usually are not. As long as you are able to perform and pass everyone is happy; that is until you have been on the street for a while and now you are tired, stressed, gained a few pounds and your back probably hurts.
Instead of keeping our health and wellness on the forefront we are sadly reactionary to our own wellbeing. That reminds me of a great experiment on behavior. A school of barracuda was placed in a giant tank and allowed to swim around for a few days getting nice and hungry. The experimenters took a clear glass tube, filled it with water and put a school of bait fish in the tube, then sealed the ends. The experimenters put the tube in the water and waited. Naturally the barracuda got excited and began to attack the tube, slamming against it again and again but to no avail. This behavior continued for a few days until the barracuda retreated off to the sides of the tank, defeated but still hungry. At this point the experimenters pulled a lever on the tube to open one end and pulled the tube out of the tank, the bait fish are now swimming freely among the hungry barracuda. Can you guess what happened to the barracuda? They all died of starvation!
When it comes to our wellbeing as animals (humans are animals too) even though there is a direct threat to our health, wellness and life we will often not change the behavior that is harming us. When it comes to training there is a major disconnect between passing and positive behavioral changes. When was the last time your instructor or a guest speaker taught you how to actually eat properly while on duty? Did your academy instructor or your FTO teach you how to stretch before shift to prevent injury while improving tactical performance? Was there a chapter in your training manual that instructed you on what the best exercises are to improve career longevity? Sadly the answer is no, this is a clear case of what should be and what is.
For the past few years I have been writing extensively on officer.com and teaching at the enforcement expo on just how to incorporate all these necessary learning modules into your career and your training so please go back and read those articles. Take it a step further, as training officers and FTO’s part of your job as trainers is to teach those that do not yet know how to survive their career and have a healthy body left over to enjoy their retirement. So I challenge you to challenge yourself for the ultimate benefit of your peers and trainees to add proper nutrition on duty, stretching pre-shift and on duty and to doing proper tactical exercises that will not contribute to injury. Lead by example and look the part and by all means practice what you preach. Young officers are impressionable but they often have preconceived ideas, part of being an effective trainer is to re-program and teach these officers what they do not know. Part of being an educator and trainer is constantly seeking out and learning new techniques, methods and ideas for training, essentially making your message and lesions stick.