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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 don't 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.
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
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.
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
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 I've 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 body's 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
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