I am often asked my thoughts on using exercise as a form of punishment for “inappropriate behavior” of officers during training. My answer is always the same. I am strongly opposed to it.
If you want officers to be fit and to make a lifetime commitment to fitness then why would you use fitness as a punishment? Ever wonder why some officers hate going to PT or working out on their own? The exercises most often used as punishment are pushups and wind sprints or some other form of running. Pushups are a great exercise with almost an endless number of variations. They can be done with very little space and at no cost. So why would you want to turn people against them. Running is another exercise that is easily done for either aerobic or anaerobic benefit at little cost other than a good set of runners. Once again why would you want officers to view this form of exercise as punishment rather than having them embrace the benefits.
In every class when I bring this up the discussion always goes to individual views and experiences of the trainers in the room. Some law enforcement trainers state they have no negative association to learning based on having to do physical fitness as a punishment. Others have told me they hate pushups, sprints or running in general as a result of it being used as punishment in training. Some of the trainers with military backgrounds talk about the value of ‘pain assisted learning’ based on their basic training experience.
Trainers have argued to me that there has to be consequences in training. Their argument is that If officers are not punished how will they learn (The theory being that being punished somehow improves learning.) My question is whether punishment changes long term behaviors or, if people learn to adapt in the specific training environment to avoid the punishment. This type of punishment often results in officers having a negative attitude towards training, and may in fact ingrain less desirable or dangerous behaviors in officers. A case in point, a friend of mine in the Canadian military related a story of a soldier who dropped an empty magazine on the ground in the middle of a fire fight in Afghanistan. The soldier stopped, went back and picked the magazine up and then returned to the fight. When asked about it later he said “All I could think about was how much trouble I was going to get into and how much paperwork I was going to have to do if I lost a magazine.” This is an example of a negative behavior ingrained by punishment in training and has resulted in the Canadian Army revising their training.
I understand that on the street there are consequences to certain less desirable tactics. So let the consequences take place as a natural part of the training rather than implementing artificial consequences. By artificial consequences I have seen physical punishment used in training if an officer drops a magazine on the range while reloading, or if an officer drops a handcuff key, a baton or some other piece of equipment. These are not natural consequence when this happens in the street.
I believe (based on my 23 years experience as a trainer) that most officers will have one of two thoughts when they drop a piece of equipment and they know physical exercise as punishment will follow:
- Shit. Oh well, push ups are no big deal. I can do pushups all day long.
- Shit. Now I have to do pushups. I hate pushups.
On the street, both of these thoughts are less desirable. If an officer drops a magazine in the middle of a gunfight, and I am sure it happens, I want them to be conditioned to immediately fix the problem, not be concerned about pushups. I am sure that is exactly what every other trainer wants as well. My question then is why do we seek to punish people rather than train them to solve problems and get back in the fight. Even if that thought concerning the pushups only lasts a few seconds those are valuable seconds better spent fixing the issue.
Now, some of you are saying we don’t do THAT in our training. Great. Do you use other forms of punishment? Regardless of what area we teach we all need to step back and continually ask ourselves if we are ingraining the most desirable real world behaviors in our officers during our training drills.
Thought Leader, Speaker, Trainer, Author
President of Winning Mind Training – Leading the fight against mediocrity through Life’s Most Powerful Question – What’s Important Now?
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