The Failure Point Cycle

Push Till the Wheels Fall Off (taken from The Art Of Instruction- Your Complete Guide to Instructional Excellence

I recently taught a class in Hampton, South Carolina, and in this course, I had a repeat student. Repeat students are often more advanced because they have gone through training before. I had a class that was highly varied in its skill, meaning I had some very low-level students who were quite new students; but I also had a couple of very high-level students with considerable skills.

We’ll call one of these higher-level students Paul, and I wanted to challenge him on a skill we were working on—the concealed draw process. I set up a little game, designating the combat effective hit on the target—we had to hit inside the circle to count—in a progressive drill. We would call out the number of hits required, and then he would initiate his draw process as quickly as he could. As talked about previously in the “catch up” game, I would try to draw and beat him to getting a hit on the target. If I beat him, then it was his turn to try to catch me. (Remember with an advanced student I play this game and we take turns back and forth.)

The first two or three repetitions of the drill, I tried to catch him—to draw and fire and get a good hit, with me starting when I saw him start to draw. That pushed his pace, and he started to make mistakes. Then, when it was my turn to go first, he tried to catch me—and he made even more mistakes. He thought he was pretty good, and my intention wasn’t to cut him down—it was to show him where his skill broke down and needed more work.

Here’s what happens when we are really aggressively pushing the pace and are outside of our comfort zone, no matter what skillset we’re practicing—we find the mistakes. When we find weaknesses in technique, we can address them. I call this “pushing to the failure point.”

Paul’s trouble came with the portion of the concealed draw process where he was to sweep his shirt up and out of the way and get an effective grip on the handgun. If you miss your sweep or you miss your grip on the handgun, you’re going to be behind the curve or not have a solid grip for accuracy. If he missed either of these things, it affected his performance—so we knew this was what he needed to work on at normal speed.

“Sorry, that was a bad shot,” he said at one point.

“Well, what happened?” I asked.

He knew. “I missed the grip on my shirt,” he told me. He knew he’d then rushed everything else. Learning at speed had uncovered a mistake he could work on with more repetitions at a deliberate pace to refine his fundamentals.

The point of these drills isn’t necessarily who wins or loses them; again, it’s to help bring mistakes in form or style to the surface so we can address them. A lot of times, an advanced student will not be challenging him- or herself during the normal class drills because of his skill and confidence. He probably also will realize that he is more advanced than most of the students in the group, which makes the training environment stress free. But when I go up against him and start pushing his pace and add that stressor, he will start to make mistakes. The key component is that once he makes a mistake, ask him what he did wrong right away, while it’s fresh. If you’ve done your job as an instructor, he will often be able to tell you—if not, let him know how to correct it and move on.

What you’ll find more often than not is that when students start to make mistakes and the wheels fall off, they’ll get it and know what they did wrong. This is a very powerful way to help students learn, and if they can self-correct like that, it’s huge kudos to you—you’ve done your job, and the students understand the technique.

I like to leave students with this thought after challenging them: “This is the pace I want you to push—I want you to push to your failure point, and then I want you to correct the technique. Back off the pace, correct your error, and then push your limits once again.”

The process is a cycle: push – fail – fix – push.

Another great technique is to line the students up with the really good shooters on one end and less skilled shooters at the other. This way the students are often near someone close to their skill level, more advanced, or less advanced. I will then pair the group up have the students do this Catch-Up Drill with each other, pushing the pace of drill and finding failure points.

We often learn when we are trying to do a skill at speed. When students try to push

This picture shows the failure point cycle, a key to improvement during goal-ceentric practice.
This picture shows the failure point cycle, a key to improvement during goal-centric practice.

against you, they will make mistakes. Teach them to continue but then to evaluate what they did wrong—and then to refine their fundamentals with more repetitions. Students will benefit from performing drills at speed, and their ability to recognize good or bad technique will improve with challenges like this. This concept can really be applied to any type of drill, as long as it is done safely.

How Pushing Makes Us Grow

In a previous chapter, I showed you a chart on 57. Challenging a student pushes them into Zone 3, which is where we go into the redline. We should not try to operate or compete from here, but when students get into this zone during training, we can see holes in their skillsets from performing outside of the confines of what they can control. Note, I do not mean “unsafe”—we’re talking about a zone where they are going too fast to be in total control, while still remaining safe. Sometimes we must push into that uncontrolled zone to go to the next level.

Near the beginning of the book in my Theory of a Miss, I talked about negative triggers that decrease our performance. One of these was the fear of failure, and this is an excellent time to teach your students not to fear failure but to embrace it and learn how to use it to make them better. Remember, fear of failure is the most common emotional trigger, and students will tie failures to their self-image if we don’t help them learn how to channel it into a positive.

Failure is part of life—but we typically only fail when we try to do something we haven’t tried before or when we push ourselves. We don’t want our students to not push their skills, but when we challenge them they will eventually fail and make mistakes. Challenges are the perfect setting for training this positive view of failure as a training tool.

We change the fear of failure by changing the way students think. We can train them so see failure as something so positive and powerful that, if used correctly, it will drive them to future success. Remember, failure is the motivation that has driven all great successes.

Challenging your students is an incredible way to help them learn. It creates great experiences for them and in pushing them, you can help them see the holes in their techniques. Teaching them to self-correct is very important, and it’s a life-long skill that will serve your students well. I think of it as being like that old adage: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

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Until Then- Train Hard!

Mike S. 

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