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Skill Atrophy

Discussion in 'Tactics and Training' started by Jedburgh, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. Jedburgh


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    Sep 2, 2009
    You train hard, perfect your skills and develop new ones. You’re a modern day warrior poet, a gunfighter. Always remember:

    Is not life a fleeting existence in the present?
    A split second separate the past from present,
    The present from the future, now and unknown.
    The past gone, the present now, future unknown.

    Life is fleeting, and so are your skill at arms. Without regular maintenance, how long until your hard-fought skills begin to atrophy? Which skills will degrade first?

    A Navy study on the degradation of skills of their Aviation Anti-Submarine Operators showed that the skills and knowledge had “degraded significantly” when tested after 29 days. Interestingly, both the factual and computational portions of the test showed similar levels of atrophy while the classification portion of the test showed no loss. Obviously, I’m not comparing being a pistolero to being a Navy geek but I’ve personally experienced a similar phenomenon. If I’ve gone a month or more without training I can still classify different parts of the pistols and discuss fluently the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. The loss occurs on the line when I’m engaging “threats.” Both accuracy and speed suffer from the time away from the range.

    The Army conducted a similar study on Nurses in an attempt to understand the retention of both Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). Following certification in both skills, the nurses in the study (133 nurses assigned to Fort Sam Houston) were retested 3, 6, 9, or 12 months later. The findings show that while theoretical knowledge of both BLS and ACLS skills remained strong, performance skills suffered greatly. The basic skills were retained at a higher rate and tended to atrophy at a slower rate. 63% of nurses retained BLS skills after 3 month and 58% after 12 months. Only 30% of nurses passes ALCS after 3 months with just 14% after 12 months. My takeaway is that your basic firearms skills will degrade more slowly than your advanced skills. My guess is we tend to practice our basic skills more often. Basic skills tend to be easier to train on at most ranges. Many ranges specifically prohibit skills needed to maintain advanced weapons proficiency. Drawing, rapid fire and shooting while moving can be difficult to train on because of range constraints. The result is that we’re all better trained on basics than advanced skills.

    There has also been several studies that discuss the general decline of “skilled work” in our industrialized and computerized society. The craftsmen and artisans of 50 years ago are being replaced by technology, lasers, and robots. Is it possible that it’s becoming more difficult to develop true skills in our modern society. Not necessarily apropos for the current discussion, but still fodder for discussion around the squad or team room.

    So how do we develop a firearms training program that will maintain the highest level of proficiency? It will obviously have to represent a realistic commitment. We can’t spend all our time working to be good at our job. Whether we like it or not, we actually have to leave the range from time to time in order to do our job.

    Just like in other areas of our life, we have to prioritize and focus our efforts on our needs even at the expense of our wants. There’s a natural tendency to work on things that we like to do, and we tend to have better skills at the things we work on (because we like them).

    We won’t be assaulted at the time or place, or in the manner of, our choosing. In order to best prepare a solid foundation of basic skills needs to be developed. Built on this foundation will be the advanced skills necessary to dominate and survive a violent encounter. Shooting while moving, shooting from barricades, shooting at moving targets, shooting “disadvantaged” (i.e. shooting after being hit by your attacker), and shooting from alternate positions should all be the focus of your program. The advanced skills will atrophy at a faster rate than basic skills. To counter this trend, spend minimal time working on stationary targets from static positions.

    Don’t train on what you want. Train on what you need.

  2. jhoagland

    jhoagland That's right! Lifetime Member

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    May 4, 2007
    south carolina

  3. David Armstrong

    David Armstrong

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    Nov 3, 2002
    Lake Charles, LA
    That is something we have talked about in some training circles for years, and part of the push behind the "focus on the basics" and "work with natural reactions" school of thought. Basic skills are easier to acquire and easier to retain. Advanced skills are nice, but more difficult to retain, plus provide less utility. My $.02.
  4. Gallium

    Gallium CLM

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    Mar 26, 2003
    Jedburgh, you're leaving an awfully great impression on me sir (ma'am?). :cool:
    Now I'll have to seek out the rest of your meager posts to see what gems of luminescence you've bestowed on us, that I have missed!

    Fundamentals are just that - things on which you build on.

    In addition to more advanced skills decaying at a faster rate than basic skills, (and I can use music as an easy example of this), if the fundamentals were never securely "locked in" place, those questionable fundamentals are not going to be a great platform in supporting more advanced techniques.

    One easy way to assist in retention of basic fundamental skills, is to use them often. There was a study out there (forgive me, because I don't have the web-link) about how long, on average repetitions are required for the neural pathways in our brains outwards to have these tasks almost embedded (often called "muscle memory", but muscles themselves do not of course, have "memory" look at someone/something immediately after decapitation proves this point) in our memory.
    If memory :) serves me correct it was somewhere in the region of 1200-1700 proper & focused repetitions - ie, doing it while grossly fatigued or seriously impaired from drugs or intoxication does not usually count.

    So the best way to lock in a skill - basic or advanced is to repeat that skill until you can almost do it "unconsciously". In reality, you will arrive at a point where you can perform that skill subconsciously - wherein it is not at the forefront of thought. Of the 5-6 shooting fundamentals (depending on what school of study you follow), only sight alignment is difficult, some say impossible to process subconsciously. The rest of tasks associated with firing a gun (even seeking cover or concealment) can be processed by the subconscious mind. The human mind is capable of processing only one thing completely and actively with the conscious mind. Folks who play piano/guitar and sing are able to do PARTS of these tasks in the subconscious and conscious realm, switching where necessary (say singing a complicated part or playing a complicated part, the easier role is handled by the subconsciousness).

    Where was I...? Yes - the best way to lock in a skill, is to consciously and cognitively practice and repeat that procedure enough times until your subconscious can complete that task. Examples would be, some folks get to work and do not remember putting the key in the ignition, backing out the driveway, changing lanes, etc. Another example would be walking. When we were (hopefully) at that age designated as "toddler" we mostly all learned how to walk, but it required not only deliberate conscious thought from us, it also required conscious deliberate assistance from a "trainer" (typically a parent). Yet another example is anyone who's ever received any sort of debilitating injury, where large scale physical therapy was required (ie, re-learn how to eat, sit up, walk, run, climb). Many of the basic ambulatory AND respiratory functions we take as a given, were functions that required conscious thought - but we no longer think about it - we simply do it.
    Yet another example is breathing with s.c.u.b.a. apparatus. There is a discrete learning curve one has to transgress.

    In short, the goal of those wishing to be proficient in the use of firearms is to get as many of those fundamentals and processes outside of conscious thought, to subconscious thought. The implications for firearms instructors therefore, are staggering. A proficient firearms instructor (FI) has already made that transition in shooting where all of the fundamentals, except for sight alignment are handled by the subconscious - or some part of the brain where it's almost totally out of the conscious realm, but said FI also needs to be able to recall just how complex and involved it was to learn all of those fundamentals, so that he or she can efficiently guide the student candidate thru the maze of learning, and encoding these fundamentals. Often times the more enmeshed one gets with an activity is the harder it is to get back to that point in time where YOU are able recall and relate the difficulties, traps and tricks of those skills.

    Maybe I am an anomaly, but I don't see those oft cited degradation of skills from periodic furlough. For example, I travel a lot, and I have an automobile in a foreign country, where they drive on the "left", and all of the driver controls for the vehicle are on the "right" (pedals are oriented the same way, but the manual gear selector falls under the left hand, although the sequence of gears still start from top left to bottom right for four, or six speed). IF I THINK ABOUT IT, before my flight lands, all I have to tell myself is, "Drew, you are in XYZ now...folks here drive on the LEFT, controls are on the RIGHT, windshield wiper is on the LEFT, turn signals are on the RIGHT, etc etc.) When I get in the vehicle, I take all of 15 seconds to properly orient the mirrors, and it's as if I was driving that way all of my adult life.

    When I re-enter the USA, same deal - as I am going thru immigration, I remind myself that the vehicle in long term parking is an automatic (or stick), that we drive here in the USA on the RIGHT, my turn signal is on the LEFT, wipers are on the RIGHT, there is NO CLUTCH, :), etc etc...and I spend 10 seconds checking the mirrors, the controls, and I'm good to go.

    Much of the same applies to when I shoot - does not matter if it's punching paper, multiple hits on multiple targets, decison based shoots (shoot no shoot), incapacitation drills, shooting on the move, shooting with a team, transitioning from malfunctioning long gun to handgun, switching sides with the long gun, clearing stoppages with dominant or non dominant hand - it simply does not matter. I've trained long and hard enough (I hope!) where those skills-sets are almost truly ingrained.

    Shooting an unfamiliar platform is something else. My preferred long arm of choice is the AR-15, or the Mossberg 500. If you gave me a M-1 or a FN police shotgun, there would be a brief (or longer) WTF moment while I figured out my *** from my elbows. Same applies if you take away my single point sling. I guess I don't train hard enough!


  5. Gallium

    Gallium CLM

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    Mar 26, 2003
    ...if you (all) could bear with me for another post, something I forgot, and I avoid editing, unless it's for grammuah and pucntitation.

    The FI has to be able to assist the student in emptying the mind of past procedures and techniques in shooting. I find the WORST students are the ones who know that they already know it, and are incapable of letting go. Classic examples of those are

    - men.
    - young men.
    - law enforcement officers...especially if they find out you (me) are not a cop.
    - older men
    - folks who've been shooting for a long while.
    - folks who THINK they have a "type A" personality. :faint:

    I find the easiest thing for me to do in these circumstance is to shoot, and seriously and disproportionately out shoot them, under all and any (limited) circumstances, using their guns. :supergrin:. Most folks that attend my classes... (I am referring to NRA Instructor classes, and in particular, Pistol Instructor courses), ...I tell them in advance they can keep what they already know if it works for them, but they should listen to what I have to say, and see what I do with and open mind, and that I am going to take THEIR GUN and outshoot them on the range under damn near any circumstance that my range allows.

    Then, we go out on the range, and I out shoot them with their guns, sometimes shooting groups with only thumb + trigger finger on the gun, shooting with my non dominant hand.
    That seems to work. The underlying implication therefore is, that a proficient instructor will need to shoot well under the most adverse of conditions (not slept for 19 hrs, hungry, on feet all day, tired, etc), with 5 or 50 sets of eyes on him/her, and to seal the deal, should be able to apply those fundamentals you are "preaching" about, to use someone else's gun and execute those fundamentals properly. Proper execution of shooting fundamentals = consistent hits on designated targets, or consistent, efficient & fluid execution of specific non shooting procedures.

    That is, without a doubt, one of the easiest ways to get someone to listen to what you have to say.

    Tell them what yer gonna tell them,
    Tell them HOW you're gonna tell them what you're gonna tell them
    Tell them how they'll recognize how they'll know when they got what you'll tell them
    Tell them what you told them you were gonna tell them
    Ask them about what you told them
    Have them regurgitate what you told them
    Summarize/review what you told them
    Quiz them on what you told them

    You sure told them!

    (one could also substitute "show" for "tell").

  6. DaveCharlie09


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    Nov 6, 2009
    It so true, you should see some of my friends shooting their Glocks, because they don't train often. I typically out shoot the full size guns with my 26.:wavey: