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Training: It’s All In Your Head

Training is an important component to surviving and winning conflicts in law enforcement. It’s a proven fact that training, or lack of it, can mean the difference between life and death. Thankfully, technology has evolved to the point where we can simulate practically any environment imaginable, and immerse our colleagues in situations they are likely to encounter on the job. Virtual reality simulation affords cops the ability to rehearse and interact in the most dangerous and precarious incidents without actually placing themselves in danger.

Shock vests and shoot back capability add realism that is invaluable, both for the participants and trainers alike. Simmunition training, combined with tactical training, makes for the kind of preparation that ensures we’ll be at the top of our game.

What all of these techniques have in common is that none of them are one and done. You don’t conduct training once a year and think you’re good to go. Infrequent training, or even poor training, is sometimes even the same as no training at all. And, with the sequestration phenomenon presently chipping away at training budgets, it becomes a personal responsibility to maintain our edge and ensure we are locked and loaded for any challenge we face.

So what’s a cop to do when training is sparse or non-existent? Might I recommend what I refer to as PVT, Personal Virtual Training? What is that? PVT is old school—it’s what we used to do before we had all of the fancy doodads and electronic gadgets that we think we absolutely must have to train. I’m being facetious, but think about it. I come from a time in policing when we all used wheel guns. Six rounds in the gun; six rounds in the pouch. Training was not something that had a high priority, in fact, other than the initial academy recruit training, yearly firearms qual was it.

So what did we do? How did we keep ourselves ready to meet a challenge? Visualization, aka, PVT. Yeah, we thought about stuff we might encounter—the “What Ifs.” When did we think about it? Whenever. My sense has always been that the best time for me to rehearse tactics, and what I should do if confronted with X, Y, or Z, is while lying in bed just before I drop off to sleep. A million “What Ifs” run through my head before the Sandman gently takes me.

Sounds rather simple, right? You mean I can train myself without actually physically being in a training environment? Uh, yeah, the mind is a training environment. Constantly repeating scenarios and tactics in our mind, allows those things to remain in short-term memory, rather than long-term memory. Short-term memory is what allows us to react quickly, make quick decisions and take decisive action. In other words—it’s what will help us win on the street.

What is short-term memory? It’s a way of keeping things fresh in our mind. Think of a file cabinet. The information we need is stored in front, so we can access it quickly. Stuff we don’t need, or don’t use very often, is stored way in the back of the drawer.

When we do repetitive actions, take for instance, driving, we do things automatically. How many times have you driven somewhere and not even remembered driving there? That’s because it has become automatic. Your brain has been programmed to perform certain functions quickly and accurately. In other words the repetitive action of driving becomes “a no-brainer,” in today’s vernacular.  It’s in the front of the drawer, no need to search for it.

A great example of short-term memory is what happens when we’re driving down a residential street and suddenly a ball rolls out from between two parked cars. What do we do? Speed up and try to hit it? Of course not. Short-term memory combined with experience tells us the appropriate action to take. Step on the brakes. A child will more than likely be running out to fetch the ball.

he PVT might also be referred to as visualization, a tool used by people in all walks of life. The executive who is about to make a pitch to his CEO, visualizes what he will say and what answers he will give to any questions that may arise from his presentation. The athlete before game day visualizes himself performing at his very best and winning his event.

Having been a trainer for decades, I have used and taught visualization. It works. I’ve had several former students relate incidents, where through short-term memory and visualization, they were able to come out on top.

A huge proponent of visualization is  Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman. In his invaluable “Sheepdog Tip of the Day,” he recently told the story of Officer Stacy Lim of the Los Angeles PD. She was attacked in her driveway by a group of gangbangers intent on carjacking her. This heroic cop immediately went into combat mode and ID’d herself as a police officer. The result: a .357 round in the chest that penetrated her heart.

Stacy Lim didn’t give up and die. Hell no. Stacy Lim is a Warrior who not only didn’t curl up and die, she attacked her aggressors and began firing at them. She shot one man repeatedly and scared the other thugs away. It was only then that she called for help on her phone. After making the call, Stacy began losing consciousness, so she stripped her mag from her weapon and threw it as far away as she could. Why? Because that’s what she’d been taught, and that’s what she continued to rehearse in her mind as to what she should do if she ever found herself in that situation. She was not going to be killed with her own weapon.

Bottom line: Stacy lived; her attacker died. Why did Officer Lim survive? She had a plan and she stayed in the fight. She refused to lose and she visualized herself winning.

Still think you can’t train without physically being in a training environment?

Stay Safe, Brothers and Sisters!