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Training the SWAT Mind

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Training the SWAT Mind:

 By Corporal David Blosser, City of Kennewick, Washington

As SWAT Officers we train for and prepare to provide a tactical resolution to a variety of high risk incidents.  Ultimately SWAT must be prepared to use their training, equipment, and expertise to go head to head with an armed suspect(s).  This is where there are no second chances, and very limited time to act.  How then do we prepare ourselves to think on our feet, make quick decisions, and have the winning mindset?


Our traditional firearms training has placed the focus on how to shoot.  It is now time to place our focus on improving our performance in applying our skills in real life deadly force encounters.


Basically put, we must win every time!  How then do we not only train our skills but also train to have that winning mindset.  To start we can look at professional athletes focusing mostly on those that constantly win.  A statistical fact is that in competition ninety-five percent of all winning is done by only five percent of the participants.


What makes the five percent different?  It is my observation, after competing against and teaching the worlds best, that the only thing that separates the winners from the others is the way they think.  Winners are convinced they will finish first.  The others hope to finish first.


Lanny Bassham

 American, World, and Olympic Gold Medalist / Rifle


In Police work SWAT Officers are the professional athletes.  We are looked upon to be the best at the physical performance tasks associated with our job.  We are expected to be in the best physical shape, be the best at using weapons, and the most knowledgeable in tactics.  Any professional athlete will tell you that what they do is mostly mental.  It is no different in what we do.


To improve performance we must understand how our mind works and how to train the mental aspects of our performance.


Mental Aspects:


According to Lanny Bassham, author of With Winning in Mind and Saul Kirsch, author of Thinking Practical Shooting a Guide to Outstanding Performance there are three areas of the mind that directly effect performance.  Both authors go into great detail in reference to the mental aspects of performance and how to improve it.  Even though their focus is not for tactical performance we can benefit by applying these three mental aspects of performance into our tactical thinking.


1.  The Conscious Mind This is the source of your thoughts and mental pictures.  It is what you picture or think about, the images that you hold in your mind.


The Conscious Mind can only have one image or thought at a time.  For example if I was to say dont miss this shot your mind will have an image of you missing the shot.  Because of this you should use the conscious mind to reinforce positive thoughts about performance.  For example you can hold the thought of shooting the perfect shot.


2.  The Subconscious Mind This is the source of your skill and power to perform.  All great performances are accomplished subconsciously.  We develop skill through repetition of conscious thought until it becomes automatically performed by the subconscious mind.


The subconscious mind is capable of performing numerous tasks at the same time (pistol draw, moving focus to sights, picking up sights, obtaining proper sight focus, holding gun steady, and pulling the trigger).  Basically the conscious mind is the thought of what you want the performance to be and the subconscious carries out the performance.


3.  The Self Image This makes you act like you.  The self image is the total of your habits and your attitudes.  Your performance and your self image are always equal.  Why do winners win?  They expect to win and their self image is that they are going to win.


For a great performance one must truly believe and expect the great performance.  Expecting to win in competition does not mean that you will, however if you do not expect to win you will not.  In real life situations you must have the self image that you are better than any suspect and that you can not be beat.


If these three areas are in correct balance then the great performance can be achieved.  In competition you can think the thought of shooting a good shot, you could have the skill to carry it out, but if your self image is that you are not a good shot then most likely it will not happen.


Ones self image can be changed.  You simply force the change by telling yourself what it is you want.  For example: I shoot above 95% on the SWAT qualification course.  Simply repeat this many times daily until you truly believe it.




Applying the above concepts can greatly affect your performance when it matters most.  Imagine yourself about to make entry on a hostage incident where the decision has been made to confront and stop the suspect.  If your self image is not solid your conscious mind can easily think about the things that you are afraid of, or the mistakes that can be made.  This programs your subconscious mind to carry out exactly what you have consciously thought.  Chances are the results are not going to be as favorable as they should be.


On the other hand, taking the same incident, apply the above concepts to insure a great performance.  Your self image is that you are properly trained and ready.  You are the best at what you do and can not be beat.  Knowing how your conscious mind works you program yourself by thinking through what you need to do (make entry, find the suspect, clearly see what you need to see to access the threat, and then aggressively and appropriately deal with the threat).  Your conscious mind can only think about each task separately, but when entry is made your subconscious mind takes over and can carry out the performance doing many tasks at the same time.


This is not saying in any way that when we perform we are not thinking or processing what it is we see and hear.  Just the opposite occurs.  We train our conscious mind to perform specific tasks to the point that we can perform the tasks subconsciously, such as shooting accurately.  This way in real life you can focus on everything else and do not have to focus on the many steps of placing an accurate shot.  If what you see visually dictates that you need to shoot someone, all you have to do is decide to shoot.  Your subconscious mind already knows how to shoot and can carry out the physical skills without conscious thought on sight picture, trigger pull, etc.


Basically you need to think things through and work the skills in training.  When it is time to use those skills as part of a tactical resolution your mind will be free to process information in the present (what you are seeing, feeling, and hearing) and not slowed or trapped mentally.  Most Officers Ive talked to about shootings they have been involved with can explain what they saw and did, but do not recall thinking out specific tasks such as front sight focus etc.  This is because we naturally perform using the subconscious mind.  Therefore we should train it.




By applying the above concepts you can tailor your weapons training to focus on mental preparation.


Conscious Mind Build specific firearm skills and improve them through repetition until the skills can be simply performed without conscious thought.


Subconscious Mind Test your skills through competition and other drills where there is pressure limiting the ability to consciously think out the physical skills to be performed.  The emphasis needs to really focus on seeing the threat, making appropriate deadly force decisions, and then simply using a firearm to carry out what has already been decided.


Self Image You alone control your self image.  If your self image is not where it needs to be, simply change it.  Decide what it needs to be and tell yourself it is that way over and over until it is true.  Always reinforce good performance and do not dwell on bad performance.  During training when you do something well say to yourself that it like me.  If you make a mistake you need to recognize the mistake so that it is not repeated.  Then tell yourself that was not like me and move on.  Do not dwell on bad performance.  Instead use it to simply point out where you need to improve.




A certain amount of stress is good and helps you perform at your best.  Do not worry about stress.  The feeling of nervousness when the pressure is on is your bodys way of preparing to fight.  Welcome that feeling as your bodys way of letting you know that you are ready to go.


It is very important to stay in control.  Control your thoughts and your attitude.





Practical Shooting, Beyond Fundamentals.  Brian Enos

Thinking Practical Shooting, A Guide to Outstanding Performance.  Saul Kirsch

With Winning In Mind, The Mental Management System.  Lanny Bassham


About the Author:

David Blosser has been a Police Officer with the City of Kennewick, Washington since 19994 and currently holds the rank of Corporal.  He has been a part of The Benton County Regional SWAT Team since 1997 where he currently is assigned to the Entry Team and Training Cadre.  He provides training in the area of firearms and tactics to his Department, SWAT, along with other agencies and organizations who have requested his instruction.  David shoots competitively representing Larsen Firearms.  www.larsenfirearms.com


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