Practical Pistol Coach Course review –my thought, observations, suggestions, and random ideas.
Just recently, I participated in the NRA’s Practical Pistol Coach training course. It was held at the NRA’s national headquarters (NRA HQ) in Fairfax, VA on December 4-6th
. I found out about this through colleagues on the NRA Training Counselor Facebook page I co-administer, and on my NRA Instructor’s admin portal. After reading the short description about the course, I was curious and reached out to Dan Subia, who was the instructor. Dan told me that the course was geared toward helping Certified NRA Pistol Instructors become better at working with students in a 1 to 1 setting and also to assist the instructor with better evaluation skills and skill development ideas for their students – in a defensive handgun genre as opposed to sports. Hmm. OK. Now I am a bit more interested.
After talking to Dan, I looked up the current NRA Pistol Coach program and read though it. I imagined taking what was in the current program and I applied the defensive firearms instructor thought process to the material and started to see more about what the possibilities were.
So I registered. I actually think I was one of the first five people to commit to the new program.
Afterwards, I kept my ear to the ground and kept looking for references to the new program to see what, if any chatter, was going on regarding this new idea. I found that only one other workshop had been done back in October of 2015. Only one? Why? Why the 2 year gap? Recognizing that this could be a new advantage for instructors, why was there such a long timeframe between courses? Turn out that the first one was a test run/invitation/shake the bugs out format. It took some time to collect what they learned in the first one, more convincing to the NRA higher ups of the merits, and waiting until they got the go ahead to run another one.
Let me try to work though the story and timeline and have it make sense.
The lead up and prep time:
Prior to the workshop, I found out that the minimum criteria to attend were that I had to have taught 5 successful Basics of Pistol Shooting (BOPS) courses or a total of 25 students. Check that one off. I’m good. Then, as information rolled out, it was apparent that we would have to shoot the NRA Pistol Instructor Qualification –at a minimum – to prove that we had the basic skillset and fundamentals. OK, I can do that too. If you’re wondering what that is, you have to shoot an 8” diameter target on an 8.5x11 piece of paper at 15yds. 16 out of 20 hits must be inside the 8” diameter ring and your group size must not exceed more than 6” total. Essentially, you have to be able to produce a 6” group at 15yds. We were also told that there were going to be two other qualifications that we would have to pass in order to complete the course.
OK, so there was a basic expectation of competency. That made me feel better. There’s nothing like going to a class, expecting to work for results, only to find out that someone got a seat because they were able to string together a few words on an application or find a way to hit the backstop a few times in a row. In general, if I’m going to a class that is advertised as an intermediate or advanced level course, I expect that everyone sitting in the room had to step up and pass a test to get the privilege to be in their chair.
So, off to the range I went. I wanted to be absolutely sure I was dialed in, my equipment was working and I was working as expected. I made my practice a bit harder. Some days, I’d shoot an 8” target at 25yds, some days I would use a 6” plate at 15. A few sessions were just finite trigger control and 3 to 5yd shooting where I would work to achieve a one-hole group. I mixed all of that in with my regular range practice. A good estimate is that I spent anywhere from 4 to 12 hrs a week on the range with a lot of dry work in the office. That included drawing from my new Safariland Level 3 holster (for another project) and my normal IWB carry gear. If you had called me any time leading up to the course, there would have been a good chance of hearing a lot of clicking and clanking in the background!
As the course got closer, we got more information. Our loadout, or required equipment list arrived! We were to bring 250rds of ammo (Yay for shooting!) 3 magazines, our EDC (every day carry) gun and holster, a magazine holder, eye and ear protection, and note taking materials. Of course I brought 500 rounds. Why not? Can’t a guy be excited about shooting? What the list told me was that this was definitely oriented towards defensive skill training and that we would be doing quite a bit of shooting. I was excited! Let’s learn some good stuff AND shoot!!!!
I thought about flying but that was going to be too much of a hassle with the range gear, ammo, and my regular stuff, so I chose to drive. 6 hrs is not a bad drive and it was a straight shot out of NY State, right across Pennsylvania, Maryland (be careful), and then into Virginia. After loading up, I headed out. It was a pretty uneventful drive.
After arriving in Fairfax, I got my room at the Courtyard Fairfax Fair Oaks location. The NRA had arranged a group rate that was better than I could have found, so I went with it. Besides, the hotel was less than a half mile from NRA HQ. At the hotel I met up with a couple of the attendees, Gordon and Dan. We hung out in the lounge for a while and just as we were thinking about grabbing dinner, Grant showed up. We all headed off to a local eatery and had food, traded stories, bragged about feats of strength and courage, and decided what songs needed to be sung by future generations about our glorious endeavors. Actually, we just ate and got to know one another. It just sounded better the other way. Afterwards, I hit my room, got caught up on business while doing more dry fire and draw practice, and relaxed.
A few of us met in the lobby for a quick breakfast and headed out to NRAHQ to get settled in. Upon arrival to what some people call HQ and others call “The Mothership” we checked in at security and got to the classroom. We were placed in one of the many board/meeting rooms in Tower B. There were a few others there already and we all got to shaking hands with new people, bro-hugging those we knew and have not seen in a while, and just got to chatting. One of my colleagues, Klint Macro was there to assist Dan in the course. No, he did not tell me he was coming, but it was good to see him there. He brought what I think is the largest collection of SIRT (Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger) pistols outside of Next Level training as well. I think I have as many Glock pistols as he has SIRT pistols!
Just before things kicked off, we had a couple visitors pop in: Mark Richardson and Andy Lander. These two guys pretty much keep the wheel churning for the Education and Training end of the NRA, along with John Howard and a few others. Although I have spoken with these guys fairly regularly by email or phone, it was nice to see them in person. The last time I saw them was in my Training Counselor workshop in late 2008.
In attendance were 13 other people. We had a mix of Training Counselors and instructors present. People traveled from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia. Out of the 14, we had one woman present. She came all the way from California too! One notable attendee was Larry Quandahl. He was responsible for creating and writing the NRA’s Personal Protection Inside the Home and Outside the Home courses. Not a bad feather to have in your cap! Our backgrounds ranged from civilian and military, to law enforcement. We had a lot of experience in the room.
Larry Quandahl and I. Great guy!
First, we started off with the standard NRA icebreaker: Introduce a speaker. We are all assigned someone next to us, and I got Gordon. He and I moderate the NRA TC (Vetted) FB group and have trained together, so this was easy. Once that was out of the way, Dan and Klint got into the course. We started off with discussing the differences between coaching and instructing. One is where you provide information, or knowledge, and the other is where you refine that knowledge for more efficient use.
Then, we took the first of our tests: The NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting exam. My initial thought was: “Why not the PPOTH or PPITH?” but I figured that this was just to start aligning our thoughts with the program so I just went with it and buzzed though it. I actually re-read some of them to make sure that Dan wasn’t tricking up by changing some of the questions. Turns out, we all did fine. Actually, he said that we all SHOULD be able to nail this exam at 100%. I never saw anyone’s results but my own so I have no idea how the others did.
We talked about being a good shooter and having to break down skills to a new shooter and also knowing how to decipher skills at the microscopic level to better refine performance and efficiency. We did a directional exercise that showed just how much detail goes into teaching a skill and how difficult it may be.
Moving into more of the Coach theory, we discussed working in a one to one capacity with someone. Essentially, this focused on the mindset and theory of how to transfer the larger format class or range experience to one solitary individual. Other topics delved into subjects like: The Taxonomy of Firearms Use. Dan came up with this list of 10 different ways firearms are used. I felt that this was a good way to break the ice with a client in order to help them understand their place in the gun culture as they developed. One idea was brought forth that does indeed ring true: You cannot be a defender of the Second Amendment if you only believe in one specific use. I...