6 Myths Of Police Training That Inhibit Effective Learning

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As police training moves toward a more scientific base, certain widely accepted concepts in the teaching of physical skills are being challenged as myths that actually impede learning and, most important, retention.

Robert Bragg Jr., manager of fitness, force, and firearms training for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s academy, called out some of these flawed premises during a presentation on applying science to psychomotor skill instruction at the latest annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Assn. (ILEETA). Recently he elaborated on the subject in a conversation with Force Science News.

“Relying on myths that are commonly perpetuated in training can be more than just a waste of time,” Bragg says. “They may seem logical and time-tested. But in reality they create a gap between what works in the gym and what’s needed in the real world. They can lead officers to develop a false sense of security by overestimating their capabilities.”

With 35 years’ experience in training and a master’s degree in exercise physiology and sports medicine, Bragg defines “skill” as “the ability to bring about a desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy and/or time.”

He identifies six beliefs and practices he says undermine officers’ ability to grasp and retain physical skills that could be decisive in life-or-death confrontations. “As an instructor,” he says, “you’re not likely to get more time than you’re currently allotted to train officers, so you must make the most of the time you have by using the science of motor learning and performance to improve the training you deliver.”

MYTH #1: Perfect practice makes perfect performance.

This oft-repeated bromide “suggests there’s ‘a’ perfect rep that can be practiced over and over in a stable, predictable environment with no variables,” Bragg says. “In a sport like gymnastics, that may be possible, but police work is the ultimate in variability. Rather than repeat the same movement over and over again, you need to build your ability to vary and adapt your physical skills to surmount a wide range of situations that are hard to predict.

“Instead of trying to master a perfect Weaver or isosceles stance that you’ll probably never use in real-life gunfights, you’re better off building experience in shooting under stress from many different positions in many different environments under many different conditions. You may not always perform with absolute perfection, but you can learn to perform with practical proficiency to get the job done.”

MYTH #2: Slowly practicing a movement that needs to be delivered fast is beneficial.

“There may be some value in this in the very early stages of learning, to help you understand the motor movements involved in a new technique,” Bragg says. “But spend very little time practicing slowly, especially where forceful movements are involved.

“The neuromuscular demands of slow versus fast perception and movement are very different, and slow practice does not transfer effectively to fast performance. Your brain tries to keep pace with the feedback it’s accustomed to at the slower pace and it quickly becomes overwhelmed. It’s like practicing only slow tai chi and then trying to fight at real speed.

“There are very few skill-based actions in law enforcement that take place at slow speed. Train at the speed at which you need to deliver, using realistic role-playing scenarios. Through repeated trial and error you’ll eventually learn what works best for you and how to do it. Your retention will improve when your practice environment mirrors the conditions in which you’re expected to perform for real.”

MYTH #3: Blocked instruction speeds learning.

“High-liability motor skills like shooting, driving, and DT are often taught in a blocked format–intense cram sessions where officers are expected to grasp techniques well enough to replicate them shortly afterward to prove they’ve been ‘learned.’ It may be months or a year before their performance is tested again,” Bragg says.

“In the short term, the learning seems to happen faster, but the long-term retention rate where physical skills are concerned is dismal.

” ‘Distributed’ learning, where instruction and reinforcing practice occur over time, works much better. Short, spaced, mini-training sessions–15 minutes once a week, say–tend to dramatically improve skill retention. Some flexibility and creativity with scheduling may be needed, but the results are worth it.”

MYTH #4: Immediate and frequent feedback hastens improvement.

Bragg believes the science shows that an instructor who offers immediate and frequent critiques of a trainee’s performance “programs the learner to depend on external feedback and does not force him or her to ‘seek’ feedback from their own body and behavior, which they ultimately must do in the game on the street.

“A really good instructor doesn’t say a whole lot. He forces you to answer questions yourself: ‘Based on the information your body just gave you, what do you think happened?’ You have to learn to self-diagnose, because then you’ll know how to fix yourself, even in the midst of battle when there’s no one there to correct you.

“Feedback that’s intermittent and delayed is most helpful for skill retention.”

MYTH #5: Muscles have memories.

” ‘Muscle memory’ is a catchy phrase,” Bragg admits, “but it suggests that muscles are the only thing involved in mastering a physical skill. It’s a concept that usually accompanies the block-teaching approach, and it gets you thinking that all that matters in learning are reps.

“To really learn, your whole nervous system has to be involved–your brain and your neuromuscular network.

“When you’re learning a new physical skill, you tend to be stiff and robotic. Over time, you train your brain to activate only the muscles you need to perform the required movements and you get rid of what’s unnecessary, so you’re smoother and more efficient.

“You need to stay mentally involved. Once your brain is no longer engaged, you’re just going through the motions. You cease to learn.”

MYTH #6: Repetition is the key to learning.

Forget the claims that it takes 3,000 reps to learn a new physical technique or 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, Bragg advises. “People have different abilities and learn at different rates. Yes, repetition is essential–you’ve got to get the reps in–but what you do before and after the repetition may be more important to learning than the mere repetition itself.”

He recommends this approach: “Form a mental image of the movements you want to make. Imagine and feel the movements before you do them. Then do them. Then analyze how you did. How close did your performance match your imagination? Was your attention focused on the right things? That makes a valuable rep, not just going through the motions.

“This can be a laborious process, much harder than thinking you can just do a lot of reps and magically get better. It takes mental work to learn a physical skill. But at some point, you’ll find that your performance becomes reliably automatic and can be replicated without conscious thought when you’re under real-world stress.

“That’s not to say, though, that you reach a point where you can afford to stop learning. Motor learning is a process that never ends.”

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.