Practice to Succeed

Several years back, I had the opportunity to hear LTC (ret.) Dave Grossman speak at the Florida Gang Investigators Association annual meeting. Grossman is not just a retired soldier, but a student of violent behavior and an author of several books on the psychology of killing and violence. LTC Grossman is also one of the originators of the sheepdog analogy that has become popular in recent years. But an important point he made was to practice to succeed.

You won’t rise to the occasion; you’ll sink to your training.”

There is a lot of truth in that single sentence. I remember a time on the range several years back when I was on a tactical team. We’d recently switched to new load-bearing tac vests and that meant my pistol magazines were in a new location. In the middle of training, when it came time to reload my pistol, my hand immediately went to where my magazines had always been…and came up empty. I didn’t even think about it. It was automatic. I’d reached to that spot hundreds, maybe thousands of times before that day.

How many repetitions it takes for something to become “muscle memory” is debatable. A lot of trainers mistakenly say 3,000-5,000 reps. Studies say that number is more like 300-500. The truth is it will vary. Some may pick it up in 75 reps and some will take many, many more. Whatever that number is for you, it is important that we do enough practice to succeed.

Bad Habits Show Under Stress 

What we do over and over in training is what we’ll do under stress. Excellent practice makes excellent habits. Bad practice makes bad habits. As a trainer, I’ve watched this over and over. The habits we employ in training will be repeated under stress. We’ve seen footage of officers raising their hands when they experienced a malfunction in their firearm instead of going straight into an immediate action drill. Or trying to run around the front of a suspect because the only sight picture they’d ever experience was from straight in front of the target.

This isn’t just a firearms thing. It’s all around us. Ever rent a car with a shifter on the floor when your daily driver has it on the column? Or switch keyboards to one of a slightly different size and suddenly find you’re typing like a drunken chimp?

Practice it the way we want to perform

Whatever we practice, we need to practice it the way we want to perform when things go sideways. If the fire alarm goes off in our facility and we see people stare at the noise and it looks more like a zombie shuffle towards the doorway than a quick and orderly evacuation, we might want to make adjustments. (No, I’m not saying you need 300 fire drills). On the range, are we just burning up ammo or are we sending every single round downrange with the same intentional focus that we’d want to have if it were a life-or-death matter?

Focus on your training. Make your practice reflect the result you want when you need it for real. Practice to succeed. Then win!

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