I believe the goal of trainers and training should be, “To help the men and women we train become dextrous, adaptive problem solvers.”
Let’s break this down.
I adapted the term Dextrous from the philosophies of Nickolai Bernstein, a Soviet neurophysiologist and one of the pioneers of motor control and motor learning, who described Dexterity as, “The ability to find a movement solution for any external situation….that is to adequately solve any emerging movement problem effectively, quickly, rationally, and resourcefully.” I look at Dexterity in policing as, “The ability to find a solution to any external situation or emerging problem that is effective, reasonable, and lawful.”
Adaptability refers to the ability to continually adapt to new and novel situations, in a wide range of environments, often in tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances, and very often with limited information, limited time and limited resources and under high levels of scrutiny. Adaptability is also about resilience and the ability to adapt to the numerous challenges of the policing profession while staying healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Police officers, by the nature of what they do, and what they are asked by their communities to do, are problem solvers.
Dexterity, adaptability, and problem solving are all skills that can be learned and must be developed throughout an officer’s career, starting at the pre-service academy.
The question then becomes, “How do we do that?”. Here is a list of some of the elements I believe are important in this journey:
- Look at training from the perspective of the long game, the Infinite Game; from pre-hire to post retire.
- Break down the silos in training and implement the concepts of interleaving so everyone understands that all the elements covered in training are interconnected.
- Help learners and trainers embrace the struggle and accept that friction and struggle are part of learning. This means embracing Robert Bjork Ph.D.’s philosophy of Desirable Difficulties and developing a Challenge / Growth / Stress is Enhancing mindset built on a framework of self-efficacy, control and approach goals, instead of a Threat / Avoidance / Fixed / Stress is Bad mindset.
- Start decision training at the pre-service academy and continue it throughout officers’ careers.
- Focus more on principles and concepts that can be applied in a wide range of situations and less on techniques that require specific elements to be present to work.
- Embrace variability as a core tenet of training so officers are continually working to solve new and novel problems.
- Make mental preparation an element of total preparation for police professionals by incorporating imagery, If Then / When Then thinking, and strategies for managing the internal dialogue (self-talk).
- Implement the elements of spaced practice and do a little a lot.
- Effectively utilize the principles of stress exposure training, using a scaffolding approach, and increasing the complexity of the challenges and problems officers face as they progress through training and develop their competence and confidence.
- Making training representative of what the officers face in their daily activities by incorporating the contextual and environmental elements officers will face in the field, into training.
- Introduce Tactical Decision Games early in the academy and continue their use throughout the academy. Also implement the use of Tactical Decision Games into Shift Brief and In-service training.
- Use effective video breakdown throughout academy training, field training and in-service training as a method for interleaving a variety of topics and to enhance sense making and decision making.
- Have officers understand and embrace the importance of sleep for learning, mental health, physical health, decision making and performance.
- Weave wellness (physical, emotional, and psychological) into the culture of your training and your organization.
- Work to build a supportive and psychologically safe training and working culture.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is a start.
Continue to ask yourself, “What’s the smallest change I can make to my training that will make the biggest difference?” and continue to think W.I.N? – W.I.N? (What’s Important Now? – What is next?), while helping the men and women you train to become dextrous, adaptive problem solvers.
Winning Mind Training – Providing practical training to law enforcement professionals in the areas of instructor development, Performance Enhancement Imagery, leadership and mindset.