Embrace The Pucker Factor

from the catwalk above a live-fire shoot house facility

Arguably some of the best police tactical training is held inside a live-fire shoot house. In such a venue, the walls are bulletproof, the ammunition is real, the decisions are quick, and The Pucker Factor is high. 

Whenever running live-fire shoot house training, I sense anxiety in the student attendees, my fellow instructors, and myself. Imagine doing dynamic team movements that must be trusted with loaded firearms behind you! Whether veterans to such exercises, or first-timers, each person experiences some level of fearful anticipation. And that's a good thing.

Fear can surely limit growth and learning. But it can also bring tremendous focus and concentration. When the bullets are flying (quite literally), you have to remain in control of your emotions, your body, and your mental processor. In the shoot house, we keep very low tolerances for mistakes, oversights, or missteps.  

We acknowledge fear. And then punch it in the nose.   

If a guest were to watch one of my shoot house sessions, and observe from the catwalk or balcony above, s/he might see a dozen or twenty officers entering the floorpan from multiple doorways, moving at a pace too quick for on-lookers to process. But what the on-looker would not see is the long days of preparation and progression that's gone into this "final product."

Before any officer gets into my shoot house, s/he has been exposed to a systematic (and often non-linear) progression of drills. Even inside the shoot house, there are many steps of drills! Each module brings a small bit of anxiety...in order to gradually progress from the previous. Overcoming these small slivers of fear is a necessary part of personal growth. 

No police officer can reasonably be expected to jump into a shoot house training session if the only exposure to firearms or tactical training is that of static drills. Likewise, no instructor should ever allow this. This would surely be a recipe for disaster...potentially death! 

As an instructor, I've had to embrace my own Pucker Factor. I'm just as vulnerable to the physical dangers inside or above the shoot house floor. I acknowledge that I must accept these fears in order for my learners to grow and progress. I could refuse to offer such training...as it would be more comfortable, safer, and easier for me. But that would stunt everyone's development.

Instead, I confront these fears head on. We talk about them freely in class. We are open and transparent about our preparation, our mindset, the "close calls," and even medical/trauma contingency plans. We acknowledge fear. And then punch it in the nose.  

I'm guessing that your organization and team members experience fear and anxiety. I suggest you purposefully-engineer a training system to make sure those emotions are consumed in small bites. 

When you embrace The Pucker Factor, everyone can learn. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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