DUANE “BUCK” BUCKNER, AIMPOINT’S US DIRECTOR OF TRAINING, TALKS ABOUT HOW TO CULTIVATE REAL, DURABLE SKILL THROUGH FOCUS, REPETITION, AND MEASUREMENT.
We call a lot of things training that don’t deserve that title. Just because you are shooting, doesn’t mean you are getting any better. In fact, very often we aren’t.
Until we take an intentional approach to what we are doing… we are subject to wide variables that can affect our outcomes – dramatically. Let’s make sure that we are keeping true to our biology and the best practices available to cultivate real, durable skill.
We at Aimpoint Professional Training (APT) use a continuum consisting of three headings: Focus, Repetition, Measurement. This, like Aimpoint red dot sights… works with your body, to accomplish the goals you set. It uses an understanding of the processes to put them to best use.
The first step of our training method is “focus.”
In shooting, focus has been used almost exclusively in the truest sense of the word: visual focus. While that remains important, it will not be what we are considering here.
For this mental exercise, use “focus” to denote the attention placed on the process we are building. This is where we will slowly remove inefficiencies and install efficiencies until our process is as good as we can make it.
There are a few things in that last sentence that bear repeating: “slowly” and “process.”
Go Slow to Identify Inefficiencies
Slow is important when we are trying to identify ways to improve ourselves. We have to see the inefficiencies to remove them…right? There will be plenty of time for speed later. Right now…Go Slow…it pays dividends.
Develop a Process Worth Repeating
Process is also vital. Before we get to the repetition phase…where our body “learns” or develops the skill, it’s important for us to tell it what to get good at. Our process has to be as perfect as we can make it so that when it becomes skill it is accurate to our expected outcome.
So, focus slowly on building a perfect process…see what we did there?
Next up is “repetition.” It’s often said that repetition is the mother of skill. In some sense it is…though the question should be: which skill?
The physiological process that essentially makes us “good” at things, has no way of measuring what it is that it’s enshrining. In other words, if you repeat the wrong process enough…you’ll become very good at doing the wrong thing.
So, repetition isn’t some mindless droning of movement, it’s a thoughtful and measured process that results in a desired outcome over time (like most worthwhile things). The way we harness repetition is to start slowly (painfully slow actually) and allow speed to come with process and naturally occurring, biological efficiencies. We, at Aimpoint Professional Training, refer to it as “organic speed.”
The initial phase is probably more vital to the outcome than any other because it shapes the effort going forward. This is where coaching (outside eyes) really helps. A coach will keep you “on the rails” until you can accomplish consistency on your own. Another thing that helps is purposefully moving up and down the speed scale. If you can’t replicate the process at slow speed, it’s likely that you don’t fully understand the process yet.
What we are looking for – to gain the most from repetition – is a certain “mindlessness.” Not in general, of course… but in the specifics of the motor function that you are trying to build. As you get better at something, look for a noticeable reduction in the “cognitive tax.” This frees you to consider outcome, problem solving, etc.
Finally, let’s measure the quality of our process (and effort) by exposing it to benchmark tests.
We call this phase “measurement” because we are literally gauging the distance toward our goal on all identified planes. Some of the most obvious metrics when calculating performance in shooting are accuracy and speed. These are fairly simple and can be served by any number of standard drills. The danger in some of those, however… is that they don’t allow enough concentration on what we would like to evaluate.
Get the Full Picture
Imagine a comprehensive test that took into account many disciplines but was graded using a single score. You would have a good idea of how your performance was in concert but not necessarily what you could do to improve it.
We like to separate the skills into individual, identifiable, and gradable modules. Take accuracy as an example. We would like to first see if the shooter understands the principles involved in delivering the required level of accuracy before asking them to do it at speed. This is a good way of isolating areas that need work going forward… and that’s what we are doing when we measure.
Don’t Rely on One Drill
A single drill or even type of drill can lead to a lack of that important information. We see a lot of people essentially training themselves “to the test,” in this way. They are good at the popular “El Prez” drill, but don’t know why and don’t really know how to get better.
The measurement phase is all about seeing how far we’ve come… but much more importantly: the way forward through a methodical, repeatable battery of granular tests that identify skill gaps we can train to close.
So remember, just because you’re shooting – whether it’s every day or every six months – doesn’t mean you’re getting any better. Try incorporating what we have suggested here:
1) Focus on your process through slow, intentional movement,
2) Implement Repetition to build skill, and
3) Measure yourself to a standard.
As always, train smart.
Duane “Buck” Buckner
After spending 25 years in the USCG, Duane “Buck” Buckner is now the U.S. Director of Training for Aimpoint. The Aimpoint Training Division conducts training courses for military and law enforcement agencies up to the Federal level as well as for the prepared civilian. Buck is widely known for his emphasis on brain psychology as it relates to combat and survival.
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Posted by Duane Buckner, Aimpoint US Director of Training on Aug 2nd 2022