The “If” and “When” of Tactical Training
by Scott Cee
With the new year starting and people starting to look at their training plans for the year, lets briefly discuss 2 of the types of training you encounter: “If” and “when” training. Whether it’s tactical training such as pistol and rifle skills or even tactics based training; medical training and refreshers to stay current, physical fitness classes or driving skills they all fall into one of those 2 categories. Let’s examine them.
“If” training is the most common of the two types. It is based upon the mindset that the course is good “if something bad ever happens to you.” These courses are usually designed for the beginner with a slight emphasis on training for reality. They are like fire drills but with guns/medical/etc… You hear things from the instructors like “if you get into an encounter…” or “if you encounter a patient…” and that mindset drives the entire course. Students are pushed to succeed or get faster times/complete the drill with better accuracy, etc.
The course continues on with that philosophy and everyone has fun during their “training.” After the course the students will get pictures with the instructor to post on social media to show their newfound prowess, some will even become Facebook friends with each other or the instructor so they can tag them in their memes.
The students take their certificates home to put on their walls or add to their “training resume” like a new set of armor, all shiny and ready for that moment, “IF” it ever happens. When they leave, they are excited that their new skills can carry them over until they take another “if” class, whenever that is.
On the other end, there are the “when” classes. These classes are based upon the mindset of “when it happens to you.” Beginner skills are still reinforced, often under stress, and expected to be done flawlessly and subconsciously. They aren’t drills rather recreations of often real events and scenarios designed to push the student’s ability to process information, complete tasks, and solve a variety of unique problems under stressful conditions.
Usually, the instructors are there with them the whole way to guide them and if needed, let them fail. Failure becomes embraced as a valuable learning tool in these types of classes. At the end of a scenario, most students in this type of course want to do it again, even pushing through exhaustion as anything less than perfection is unsatisfactory to them. Tired, cold, and cracked hands begin instinctively loading magazines again without being told; gear is refit or adjusted as necessary.
The instructors don’t become their friends, rather their peers and both have earned the other’s respect. Students leave beaten, battered and knowing where their limits were previously and where they are now. They know the second they leave the class their training could be put to the test either driving home or going on shift that evening. The certificate, if given, isn’t worth anything other than ink on a paper. The knowledge they learned about themselves can’t be articulated on a piece of paper and no certificate will help them when the time comes anyways. They leave wanting more; more from the instructors and more from themselves, and most importantly they are ready for when it happens.
While I may have made it sound like the “if” courses are useless, that is completely untrue; they are starting points. They are for those who probably will never be in a “when” situation, or so they think. We never expected to be in an actual fire one day when practicing fire drills in school. And for most people, that is as far as they need to know. They don’t need to go to the Fire Academy in order to live out their daily lives safely.
However, consider the difference between a basic first aid or CPR class (“If this happens”) vs. the same class for medical providers (“when this happens”). Big difference between those two very similar courses in regards to mindset of how to use the same skills. Not everyone is going to be a medic nor needs to know that information.
Not everyone carries a firearm on a daily basis or if they do, most treat it as a “safe space” for them to make them feel better (because their training certificate tells them so), therefore an “if’ course is exactly what they need. There are limits to what we need, and more importantly, what we want to know. We determine what is relevant to us based upon or worldviews, daily needs, and expectations (good and bad). However, do not let the premise “because it hasn’t happened yet, that it won’t” be the deciding factor.
As you decide what training you are going to take this year, first decide what training you need (if you haven’t already figured that out) and then decide what level you need: “if” or “when” training. Not everyone is ready to be fully tested in a “when” course, and I don’t encourage everyone to take one…yet. If you may need that particular skill at some point in the near future and other people’s lives depend on it, then you should be taking some “when” courses.
If you need familiarity or brushing up on skills than an “if” course should do you fine. If you are a professional who has never tested your skills under stress recently or especially taken any reality based training, then you are seriously remiss and doing a disservice to those you serve with and for. You are a liability and not an asset. So, ask your instructors, are they teaching you new skills “if” you need them or are they testing you for “when” the moment happens?
This first appeared in The Havok Journal January 23, 2017.