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How to Choose a Trainer

How to Choose a Trainer

“My cousin can show me how to shoot, he’s ex-military/cop.” I hear this a lot. While this might work out nicely and cheaply, normally it isn’t the best way to go about learning to shoot. Here’s some thoughts to also consider.


The assumption is that because someone has been on the police force or enlisted then they know how to shoot a pistol AND have the ability to convey that knowledge in the form of a well constructed class designed to provide complete instruction. That normally doesn’t add up.


Not every cop of ex-military person is a “gun guy”. Just because someone has to carry a gun to do their job and has had some level of training, it doesn’t mean they are focused on it with any level of enthusiasm. Cops also use computers on the job but you might now want to take computer lessons from them. Many cops are largely indifferent to guns. They can pass the qualifying test but that test is so simple and the competency bar is so low as to be laughable. I’ve had security guards, cops and ex-military in my classes (good on them). Normally have the average beginner student skills. Not casting any shade there at all. It’s simple a fact that in-service training isn’t normally all that good.


The same is true for the military, especially handguns. Handguns are an “if all else fails and you have no other options” type of tool. Once you are past basic training, unless your occupational specialty is “rifleman” or similar, they spend the majority of their time being a clerk, cook, radio operator, mechanic, signalman or whatever their job requires. Marines typically can always shoot but that certainly doesn’t qualify them as civilian instructors.


Firearm Familiarity
Police and military are not necessarily that familiar with small arms. Most really only have a modicum of physical skill in handgun training. The new gun owner I most often talk to who rely on “acquaintance training” are young women without any other self defense training. What works for a SWAT or the Army Ranger isn’t going to work for her. In fact, the 30 something operator will have prowess that an eye sight challenged 50 year old male shop keeper with high blood pressure and 20 pounds overweight doesn’t. Still, that store owner my have been robbed one time to many and is highly motivated in a civilian sense to be a really skilled shooter. Weight or gender have little to do with shooting skills. Movement? Yes, shooting skills? Nope. I’ve seen very obese competition shooters that are extremely competent. Maybe not agile but they can nail the shots consistently.


In addition the cop or military people have legal protections that civilians don’t have and can leave you unprepared for the legal ramifications that follow a gun incident. They may not offer sound safe storage options to consider with children in the home or offer suggestions for gun/clothing combinations to men and women working in an office setting.


Skill Does Not Equal Teaching Ability
If our student gets lucky and the brother-in-law is a wealth of knowledge about all things handguns, does he have the ability to effectively convey that knowledge to you? Will it be organized with a well thought out lesson plan that builds skill upon skill in logical progression? Can he differentiate between learning styles the student may require, visual, auditory or participatory? How much information does the student need and how fast? What is the sequence it should be presented? How many students has he had to recognize and anticipate challenges or fears to overcome?


In addition, a family member, especially a spouse, child or parent typically are the absolute worst to rely on for firearms training. There is a preexisting relationship that can tax both teacher and student. It often ends up in resentment, anger or being ignored. In teaching life or death skills the teacher you don’t know will always outperform the person you are related to. The best thing the relative that knows how to shoot can do is drop the student off with someone with training to train. Stay and watch, take the class also along side, whatever you have to do. Should my own wife suddenly take an interest in really learning how to shoot I would send her to someone else. Sure, I’d check their work in her results but still probably shut up.


A Group Teaching Environment
One of the advantages of taking a class with others is you get some eye opening visuals watching other students that you can learn from. You can grimace at their mistakes when you see them and avoid doing them yourself. You will also see you aren’t the world’s worst shooter coming in. Maybe a four way tie for worst and that itself can bring some comfort it knowing you aren’t alone with a starter kit of skills. Plus we can laugh together at some mistakes. Some are really funny, yet no one is ever laughed at because the same or worse is being done by others. Students feed off each other that way. You can’t get that one on one with uncle Buck.


Women Training Women
Female too female training is excellent and a wonderfully comforting way to go for a women. Heck, I recommend it to. Main obstacle? There simply aren’t that many women instructors. If you have one available to you take advantage of it for sure. Hey, but I’m a guy, so… For that exact reason I’ve worked hard to not let that be a roadblock. I’ve learned over time how to help women feel very comfortable receiving instruction from me. No intimidation, just make it fun. Laugh a lot and recognize what some of those unique needs are.


NRA Certified Training
The NRA program is designed to produce trainers. It doesn’t simply test instructors for a baseline of gun knowledge, safe handling skills and advice on legal conduct when carrying. It also assures that teachers know how to teach. They have to teach other instructors during class time and do it with critique. That’s what makes it such an effective program. You learn how people learn and how to teach them based on their learning style.


That said, I do not teach NRA Certified courses. Since taking those instructor courses I’ve enrolled in numerous other defensive handgun skills courses. What I now teach is a combination of what I’ve learned from some of the best of the best out there. I remain a student, always will be.


When I instruct a course it is carefully organized through years of experience to build the student’s skills in a logical order and then learn to put those skills together too quickly be a competent shooter with the skill set to survive.


Police officers who are “gun people” can make particularly great instructors having a working knowledge of the law and how to interact with local law enforcement. Do your research, check with past students. Never ever stop learning or enrolling in classes. Even after years of teaching classes and constant competitive matches with USPSA and IDPA, I still have a lot to learn and I keep doing it.


Hope to see you at the range.

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