Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Being A Shooting Instructor

Many years ago I had an opportunity to train military pilots how to shoot a pistol. After going to a gun show last weekend I was reminded of some of my experiences training pilots.
I love to teach about guns and shooting. I love to learn about guns and shooting. Regardless of my years of experience and age I know that there is many, many, many things I don’t know. Shooting is very personal. You can teach basics of grip, stance, breathing, trigger control, etc. but it really can come down to personal style. I’ve seen people shoot well in ways that if it was me, I could never hit the broad side of a barn with those techniques. When I was younger I played a lot of basketball. I was an adequate player. I remember watching Rick Barry shoot free throws underhanded. Underhanded in the NBA! We called that “granny” style when I was a kid. He led the NBA in scoring for many seasons and when he retired in 1980 held the record for free throw percentage with .900. Learning the basics and finding a successful way of doing things is not wrong or bad, it’s just what works for you!
As I was at this gun show looking at guns I ran into many personalities. Some were very friendly and did not talk down to anyone. Others were know-it-alls with a narrow view of what is and is not. As I was talking with a particular guy we did not agree on a particular point. I tried to explain that this particular shooting style has been adopted successfully by many young shooters. He insisted it was wrong and that with his “experience and vast knowledge” of shooting that he knew this particular point. I told him I disagreed and as we talked we realized that many years before he and I competed against each other. We figured out a particular match that I used the style we were disputing and beat him and won the match. We should always be careful about “what we know.”
Anyway, in teaching pilots to shoot I ran into some real hot shot go-getters who were arrogant and over confident. They thought they knew best in how to shoot without yet mastering the basics. Often they would fail their qualification, which would stop them from flying. Flying was their lives and I was the cause of their not being able to fly. It wasn’t until they had been humbled a little, would acknowledge some weakness, accept constructive criticism, and make the corrections that would re-qualify them.
There are few jobs in the world as influential as a firearms or combat instructor.
Unlike any other subject, the teaching of dangerous or even lethal force carries a responsibility like no other topic. Add to that the fact that students in these courses could be called on to use the information provided within hours. This is a serious dose of reality and a reminder that lives can be at stake.
Teaching can appear to be an easy gig. You just stand there and tell people how to do things. While this is an oversimplification of the attitude, it is essentially true. Few will see the methodology used to pass on this critical information in a relatively short amount of time. While the core of this section could fill an encyclopedia, there are certain areas we can focus on, and they are known as the three “P’s.”
The Three P’s
Presentation of the given material must follow a logical and methodic path. Skills and principles should build successively on each other until the student has been exposed to
multiple layers of information. A great way of putting it: Make the pieces of information bite sized so they are easily taken in.
Professionalism has become a cliché in much of life, but it is a cornerstone to building solid shooters. Unless it is a military course, boot camp is over. Yelling and screaming accomplishes nothing other than boosting your ego. Treating students as professionals is the best way to develop a solid product. Be firm, consistent and develop a strong rapport with students.
Performance is the final part of this trilogy. As a professional instructor, you should be able to do anything you ask your students to do cold. This means that, without any warm-up, you should be able to walk to the line and perfectly execute whatever it is that you are teaching. This is a standard that I hold myself to, as does every other serious professional in the training business.
Keep Your Edge
The refinement of technique and philosophy should be at the forefront of every instructor’s mind. Times change, weapons improve and society evolves. What was very good information 20 years ago can in many cases now be antiquated. It is important to make sure you are teaching students the most current and relevant information available. To do that, you must continue to train yourself. We need to park our egos and put our “student hats” on as much as possible. Seek out training by a variety of respected instructors around the country. While there are many big names on this list, do not be quick to dismiss smaller instructors who quietly provide world-class training. In many cases these instructors will be much more current on related techniques and tactics.
These skills are perishable and must be maintained. Even beyond taking part in other courses, master instructors need to practice the craft that they are teaching. Once again we will look at one of the “P” principles: performance. This does not happen magically. It can only be managed through serious training and repetition. Holding yourself to a high standard will not only put you in elite company, but it will also make you a strong role model for students in your classes.
Be Constructive
There are many schools of thought on teaching methodologies. Regardless of what style is being used, it is essential to provide the students with feedback. If your students are professionals to begin with, you will rarely gain any ground with them by being demeaning and loud. These people have already been through their basics and should be treated as such. As you work the class through drills, you must provide students with feedback on their performance and how it rates in comparison to what you require of them. Make corrections and keep them on track for success. Be quick to praise and slow to punish. The mistake you just saw a student make may have been the only one they made up to that point, but you happened to be there to witness it. If it becomes a pattern, make corrections. Students undeniably respond better to positive contact than negative. Do not confuse this with coddling students, which is equally as destructive and builds a false sense of confidence. But, in simple terms, let them know when they are doing it right. Set high expectations and show the students how to meet those expectations.
Run It Right
When you run a training course, you must be serious about what you are doing. Having set beginning and end times as well as lunch breaks is essential to building a sense of professionalism in the class. Once again, you are setting the standards that many of these students will emulate. Being late to class, having extended lunches or running late is simply unacceptable. A phrase I consistently live by is, “If you are five minutes early, then you are ten minutes late.” Instructors need to be in the class long before the first student arrives. This not only sets a good example, but it also allows the instructor time to get everything set up for the class. It can also prove to be a very useful time to get your head in the game. While some will just “wing it,” you will be better served by taking time to review the curriculum and revisit your game plan to get it covered.
Follow Up
Take time to follow up with your students when possible. More importantly, make yourself available for questions after your students move out into the training field. You can be an exceptional resource for them in dealing with challenging students and situations. By offering this assistance, you once again put yourself at a level of professionalism that can be rare in today’s world. More importantly, you could end up helping an instructor teach a student that may have never succeeded without you.
What you say as an instructor matters. While you may think it is an off-the-cuff remark, people will remember it. The standards that instructors are held to are much higher than anyone, and rightly so. The consequences for poor instruction can cost someone their life. Be thoughtful and humble about your techniques. Always remember that a student might be called on to fight for their life with your training. This should never be forgotten.
Last but not least is safety. This is what I do. I have a chart with the safety rules that I go over when I start the class. I have the students repeat the rules several times. These are the rules I use:
1. All guns are always loaded. Act accordingly with them.
2. Never let the muzzle cover (point at) anything which you are not willing to destroy
3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger and out of the trigger guard until ready to shoot
4. Always know your target and beyond
I talk about those rules a little. I explain that rule 1 is the most important. The other 3 rules are in support of rule 1:
“Why do you keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot?” “Because rule 1.”
“Why do you keep rule 2?” “Because of rule 1.”
Then randomly through the class I “quiz” students on the rules. I make sure that during that class they know, and follow, all 4 rules. Some instructors add rules to this. I do not. I want to keep it as simple as possible so they can actually remember and apply these rules. I have certain policies that I emphasize. Use the proper ammo. Maintain your guns. Never shoot and drink. Use eye and ear protection always. These are some of the policies I use and some can be linked to the safety rules. “Always keep your weapon pointed downrange because of what rule?...”
“Rule 1 and 4.”
To help them to understand the seriousness of the rules I give what I call the “3 Strikes plus.” I will give you 3 infractions of the rules, after the 3rd you’re out of the class. The plus is up to the range safety officer or instructor. If I deem your violation to be of such serious disregard or negligence, you may be asked to leave right away without discussion. Generally, rules 2 and 3 are the ones that are broken, which of course breaks rule 1. If I see someone breaking a rule with total disregard for their or their fellow students I will expel. I’m not a jerk about it, and I’m not crazy strict, but sometimes you see people who are adults, and I know they know better, being stupid and dangerous. In my time of instructing I’ve only ousted two people for not being safe. Only a few more have received 2 strikes, and many have received 1 strike. Of the 2 expelled, 1 thought they knew it all and the other just didn’t care. I was actually caught once breaking rule 3. In my defense I had been handed a gun unsafely and was trying to manipulate it to be safe.
I try to inject as much humor as I can into the class. I’m serious when it is serious but having a professional humor puts people at ease and makes them want to stay.
Being an instructor of something that enables others to take care of themselves is very fulfilling.
If you're interested in becoming an instructor contact the NRA. They have a very thorough training program for instructors.

Semper Paratus
Check 6