Teaching Adaptability…and Firearms Training


“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” ~ Peter T. McIntyre

On June 15-19 2015 I conducted a week long firearms training/qualification course with a cadre of officers from Mount Wachusett Community College. Mount Wachusett Community College is moving from unarmed to an armed police department and is made up of approximately 11 officers. Participating in this week’s training were four members with the rest to participate in an upcoming August class.

The outcomes sought for this training is to qualify MWCC police officers with the Smith and Wesson M&P .40 caliber pistol, develop their understanding and mastery of the fundamentals of the firearm and become familiar with other force options, as they solve tactical problems using principles that underlie sound policing tactics.

I decided to use a method the military has been using known as Outcome Based Training & Education (OBTE) and the Combat Application Training Course (CATC) in an effort to not only make marksman out of those in attendance but also marksman who can think and solve tactical problems. It’s a method I had not used before while teaching marksmanship training and I admit some apprehension as I have always been very linear and step by step, tell folks what to do on the range. This was an apprehension I am glad I got over because the outcomes are well worth the effort.

What is Outcomes Based Training?

In simple terms OBTE focuses on the identification of the ultimate outcome of the training desired. It breaks that training down to the required basic tasks/skills. OBTE then focuses on coaching and mentoring to obtain mastery and understanding of those basic skill sets culminating in an officer who understands the task and its application in a variety of scenarios related to a policing environment.

Through this focused approach the officer develops confidence and competence and other positive “intangible attributes” (responsibility, motivation for learning, problem solving, discipline, initiative, skill transference and others) guided in a coaching and mentoring environment. This training approach builds in challenge and intensity as the officer learns and improves, creating a more “adaptive” officer.

The Municipal Police Training Committee MPTC standards remain the baseline for training; however, they are no longer the primary or exclusive goal of training. Within this idea is the realization that a generalized standard designed for the success of policing at large may be less than is required for the success of the individual or small unit in unique situations. In this manner, the task to be trained is looked upon as an opportunity to develop officers, primarily by creating a foundation of understanding that allows them not only to perform the task to standard but also to take ownership and mastery of the task and to exercise problem solving skills. The term mastery defines reasonable ownership of a skill in terms of knowledge, expertise and application.

The program of instructions abides by MPTC standards and the following outcomes based training and education principles:

  • Training to grow problem-solving teaches officers to “teach themselves” the skills necessary to the success of their mission.
  • Training to increase intangibles develops the intangible attributes of confidence, accountability, and initiative.
  • Training to increase understanding and awareness teaches the contextual understanding of the task and its mission application.
  • Training to increase deliberate thought conditions officers to always exercise a deliberate thought process while under stress.
  • Training to increase lifesaving performance conditions officers to overcome the psychological and physiological effects of conflict and violence.

Teaching a police skill results in mastery of that skill when presented as a relevant problem-solving exercise. In this manner, the teacher guides the student to discovery of a desired solution or outcome through established principles or demonstrated facts, and with student-generated evaluation throughout the weeklong learning cycle.

Mastery of the skill results in:

  • Confidence, accountability and initiative; and
  • An introduction to the skill of conversational reasoning and the norm of problem solving.

All skills taught during the weeklong program of instruction were facilitated with these principles in mind as a foundation to improve the professionalism, confidence and character of the officers who participated.


How do we make those changes in training?

In simple terms training needs to focus on “why” rather than just “how.” Traditionally the police train its officers by strict procedure and method. However a new and emerging threats and guideline on training centered on use of force that mandates officers need to understand outcomes and why those outcomes occur. Applying critical thinking skills become paramount, especially on the street. No longer are officers required to just simply know “how” to do something, but now they must understand the methodology around it.

Traditionally, people retain more information and develop skills quicker when they can analyze and understand methods rather than just accepting rote procedures. An example that the military uses is the SPORTS (slap, pull, observe, release, tap, shoot) method of clearing a rifle. This is a linear method to un-jam a weapon. The key question is why. The overall answer is obvious. Fire the weapon. This experience manifested itself (only with the pistol) and police use SLAP-RACK-READY method of clearing over the first few days of this 5 day training program. The student shooters through trial and error, mini discussions and after action reviews were able to walk themselves through the process successfully. The same held true for all aspects of the week from pistol nomenclature, malfunction drills, drawing and holstering the firearm, movement and barricade drills, shooting around obstacles, soft and hard focused shooting as well as other shooting and thinking drills they performed.

Outcomes based training and education demonstrated when an officer can walk through the process and make logical assessments, then that officer can truly begin to understand the methodology. The officer is required to think through his actions, understand the usefulness and apply the appropriate action. When the officer can independently think through a process then that officer becomes more confident with his/her skills.

Officer’s from Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) in attendance all interacted and showed true professionalism, during the program of instruction. They all participated actively in the learning process throughout the week long training. All built confidence in their knowledge and ability to think through problems as they qualified and showed safe and effective handling of the Smith and Wesson M&P .40 caliber pistol. They also demonstrated the willingness to continue their quest for mastery of their firearm and the attributes described above.

As an instructor of over 30 years I was highly impressed at the learning rate of shooters using the Outcomes Based Training and Education Method. Initially all who participated was very nervous about QUALIFYING (Passing the Test). But the OBTE method had them quickly focused on learning and developing their skills. The shooters took ownership of the class, designing shooting drills and took charge of the areas they believed they need improvement in. They improved greatly by doing this. They built confidence so well they were able to qualify on day 3 of the training. In the normal linear tell them what to do approach qualification day is the last day, day 5. We were able to use the last 2 days of training to develop their skills further in shooting and decision making.

A write up from the Chief on what his officers thought of the training and the Outcomes Based approach:

“Thank you, Fred. Nice write up. Always a pleasure working with you. We really appreciate your demeanor and expertise. The officers really felt comfortable with you and even stated that they didn’t feel they would have learned as well if it was someone else with a different teaching style. Kudos to you for another excellent job…well done!”

Effective teaching incorporates as many of the following guidelines when conducting outcomes based training and education:

  1. Infuse enthusiasm
  2. Craft tactical proficiency and interactive perspective into the scenario or skills presented, different tools can accomplish different traits of the program of instruction.
  3. Demonstrate mental agility and adaptability
  4. Stimulate and maintain interest
  5. Integrate mentorship into the program of instruction
  6. Manage officers and scenario (Get them Involved)

Enthusiasm is the ability to realistically paint the scenario and place the participant into the play is crucial. Enthusiasm is contagious and absolutely necessary to effectively build the scenario.

Proficiency and Respect is when the instructor knows the skills and abilities of the participants, the POI through the appropriate delivering tool can be used to challenge cadets without overwhelming them. It is absolutely crucial that the instructor not to over design the POI and pick the right delivery tool beyond the scope of their capabilities. An instructor should conduct a self-analysis of their own skills and abilities, and keep the POI to where it generates positive results, not professional embarrassment.

Mental Agility and Adaptability are paramount. The instructor should demonstrate the ability to react to unanticipated solutions and responses. Incorporating critical and creative thinking requires the instructor to adapt to the response and redirect the play as required. Becoming mentally mired in as the facilitator could limit the decision-making and experiential learning potential.

Stimulate Interest starts with design and development, but finesse in execution is even more important. Do not beat concepts or observations into the ground. Keep the play and discussion rolling at a light and brisk pace. Leave room for mental maneuver (adaptability).

Ideally, the instructor will be approaching the program of instruction from the position of a mentor. Positive communication and approach increases the effectiveness of lessons learned.

I also want to thank Don Vandergriff for his encouragement and insights as I considered this outstanding approach to firearms training.

Stay Oriented!