Every law enforcement trainer needs to read the book Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of REAL TOUGHNESS by Steve Magness. In fact, this book should be mandatory reading for every law enforcement academy trainer and every person in the chain of command at every law enforcement academy in North America, ideally before they assume those roles.
If your reaction when you read the book is, “This is crap. He is suggesting we make our training soft and all touchy-feely.”, or the classic, “He doesn’t understand the realities of our profession.”, then it may be time for you to move on from training and find a new assignment.
I cannot remember the last time I highlighted so much content in a book. Below are just a few of the passages I highlighted in the book. When you read these passages, and when you read the book, replace the words parent and coach with trainer and replace the words child, player and athlete with officers or trainees.
“Contrary to our old-school expectations, developing toughness doesn’t involve training camps from hell or exercise as punishment. It doesn’t involve cruel, demanding bosses with little appreciation of the individual. It doesn’t involve strict, one-way-communication parenting with little feedback from your child on their needs.”
“If you’re thinking, “Hmm, this runs contrary to what Bear Bryant, Bobby Knight, and my middle school gym teacher professed about creating tough teams,” you’d be right. Being a demanding dictator? You’ve stripped your athlete of their autonomy, taking the decision away from them. Using fear and punishment or pushing people toward defaulting to surviving doesn’t create intrinsic motivation; it creates the opposite. Yelling, screaming, getting in someone’s face to push them forward? Same result: motivation via fear or pressure, which may seem to work in the short term but ultimately fails when it matters. Using control and power to force obedience? It falls by the wayside when it counts. Creating bonds through mutual suffering without true support? The old-school method of toughness runs contrary to just about every one of our basic needs. Could our middle school football coach really have been so wrong?”
“Increasingly over the past decade, we’ve seen a rash of player deaths and injuries partially from a misguided belief in developing toughness. Rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo for short) is a once-rare condition where damaged muscle products leak into the bloodstream, putting an unusual demand on the kidneys to process it all. In extreme cases, death can occur. A disease once primarily caused by infections or drug use has transformed into a somewhat common occurrence, thanks to a bevy of cases caused by extreme workouts. Endless push-ups, squats, burpees, and other exercises designed not to improve fitness, but to “test” their athletes. As professor of sports business at Ohio University B. David Ridpath described, the true notion of these workouts is not conditioning: “Taking a cue from a head coach with a desire to either toughen up the current players or weed out a few to open some scholarship slots, the strength coach often will ‘condition’ these players with a vengeance and a mandate to make them suffer.” While we may think we’ve come a long way in athletic performance, the extreme workout in the name of toughening up is alive and still causing harm.”
“Fear is easy to instill. Trust is much harder. Instead of relying on fear and control, real toughness is linked to self-directed learning, feeling competent in your skills, being challenged but allowed to fail, and above all, feeling cared for by the team or organization. In other words, toughness comes from the same building blocks that help create healthy, happy humans.”
“Contrary to decades of ingrained ideology, toughness isn’t developed through control or punishment; it’s developed through care and support. If we take Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory and put a performance spin on it, then we’re left with three key needs that leaders have to satisfy:
- Being supported, not thwarted: having input, a voice, and a choice
- The ability to make progress and to grow
- Feeling connected to the team and mission; feeling like you belong”
“Controlling coaching and leading don’t just harm performance; it harms the person.”
Read the book. Share it with fellow trainers. Reflect on the message. Look in the mirror. Engage in discussions about the content. Have the courage to accept there may be a better way to develop mentally tough and resilient professionals. Fear in training and fear of trainers is Finite Game thinking. We need to engage in Infinite Game thinking for the sake of our people and our profession.
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