Teaching Upstream


Let me start by saying that I have NO clue as to whether this sort of teaching method has been explored or not, to what extent it's been researched or disproved, or what if any academic name has been assigned to it. I'm writing this today to share some positive experiments with training others in complicated physical tasks.

I began my "teaching" career as a police firearms instructor in 2000. I was selected partially (arguably mostly) because I was good shooter. The five (5)-day instructor certification course did little to help me grow skills in others. I was pretty much on my own to read up on the subject. I used the firearms ranges as my own learning laboratory.  

This is something we tinkered with about dozen years ago:

We had broken down some of the basic physical movements of drawing, presenting, and firing a pistol into five (5) steps in a linear chain. Some very basic. Some complex motor skills requiring coordination. Some fine motor skills requiring dexterity. When taken together the sequence required agility to smoothly transition between each link in the chain. 

The traditional method was to teach Step 1 first. Then progress to Steps 1+2 in combination. In the end, learners would finish with 1+2+3+4+5. 

But then we switched that. We began starting with Step 5 first. Then progressed to Steps 4+5. Then added in Steps 3+4+5. In the end, and in the same way as in more traditional methods, learners would finish with 1+2+3+4+5. We essentially built the skill in reverse steps, but flowing forward....if that makes any sense.

If any analogy exists, it's as if multiple locks or dams on a river were being opened, in order from downstream locks to upstream locks.

What we saw was positively increased, accelerated, efficient growth of skill. And we had no understanding as to why. The method made me more deeply consider Stephen Covey's Habit #2, from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the end in mind.

We took this approach to other areas of police tactical training: Close Quarters building searching; team arrests; person-down rescues; vehicle takedowns; all sorts of individual and team technical, choreographed movements. 

I've now taken this same approach to teaching my kids various physical skills in their respective sports. And it works. (Probably has nothing to do with my boys excitement when hearing that the same method of learning is how SWAT officers learn to shoot guns, right?) Can I say it's better than teaching from Step 1? With no control group and N=3, I only have a loose theory that it's superior. 

I'm looking for research on physical, linear skills teaching methods like this above. Heck, I'll even be happy to learn if this method has a formal name in academia! If you've got it, please send along in comments below. 

Regardless, I recommend trying it with your learners. In the right domains and contexts, of course. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model


Popular posts from this blog

Presentation Hack: Your Last Slide(s)

Presentation Hack: "For those of you who don't know me..."

The Generalist versus The Specialist