Zero-dark-thirty in some alleyway, "it" will make a difference between going home and injury or not going home "it" being you your mindset, attributes and skills. Ain't no time out my brothers and sisters in blue; you go to war, as they say, with the army you have, not the one you wish you had.
Top of the list is old fashion street sense head in the game, scanning the playing field looking for trouble. This is hard to maintain in the daily routine that tends to wear down the best of awareness levels. Col. Jeff Cooper said it far better than I, "Constantly scan your environment and what comes into it as the threat it presents to you."
There are people out there that will kill you if you give them the opportunity through lack of awareness. Don't do it; stay vigilant and ready.
Whether you have fast twitch muscles or are a little slower, whether you're large and capable of generating power or smaller and highly agile, your genetics cannot be changed. You cannot change the body and physiology you were given, but you can maximize your attributes through training.
For instance, large muscular officers tend to wrestle with suspects. What happens when they encounter a suspect that's a skilled striker? Frequently it means that they get punched or kicked several times. All of us can benefit from making the most of our attributes as well as developing those areas where we struggle, to maximize our potential
In Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown; 2008) he examines the old question: Is the successful __________ (fill in the blank) person that way because of nature, or nurture? In other words, what does it take to be successful in any endeavor? From Mozart to the Beatles, what makes people achieve at high levels, and how can we learn from it?
How does this apply to law enforcement and that dark alleyway, life-or-death encounter? We can begin to answer that by asking a couple of simple questions: Are you the kind of LE officer that believes they can never achieve advanced skill with your pistol? Or do you believe that suspect control or DT tactics will never be your strong suit? If so, or even if all you desire is to improve your skills, then Gladwell's quest for an answer to "nature versus nurture" is yours as well.
Gladwell quotes from research done by K. Anders Ericsson and associates at Berlin's Academy of Music. Ericsson and his associates could not find elite musicians that didn't practice their derrieres off. Natural talent was not enough; they had to put the practice time in. From the Outliers book, "Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."
Ericsson published a paper called The Making of an Expert in which he examined how people get really good at sports or other activities. He states, "You need a particular kind of practice deliberate practice to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can't do well or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can't do that you turn into the expert you want to become."
According to Ericsson, an important part of deliberate practice is working with an instructor, coach or mentor. Finding the right person to help you develop your skills is crucial. Says Ericsson, "The development of expertise requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback." The right coach or instructor pushes you fast and hard just enough.
Years or a Lot of Hours
Gladwell and Ericsson both look at the time and effort equation as being more important than natural ability. Both comment on a decade or thousands of hours of training as being required for high-level skill development (hence my title).
All of foregoing research means that high-level skill at shooting to save your life or controlling a resistant or assaultive suspect can be attained but it takes time, effort and the wherewithal to keep practicing and training over the years. Immediate benefits are gained in the present with future benefits being expertise and the ability to be able to apply those skills in increasingly more dynamic situations.
Start now at improving your existing skills but also give due diligence to those skills and areas that you aren't good at. For your entire career, for your lifetime engage in deliberate practice in preparation for zero-dark-thirty, life-or-death encounters with dangerous suspects in dark alleys. To win you must prepare and to prepare you must train.