The Developmental Model presented here is the work of 1SG Joe Garcia, a successful shooter and coach with the National Guard.

Plan: Identify threats, conditions, requirements which necessitate capability requirements.

Resource: Determine what resources are required to deliver capabilities.

Train: Imparting of knowledge through lecture, study, reading, interactive learning, understanding theories, terms, concepts, characteristics.

Practice: The doing. Applying knowledge gained during training in a practical application in order to move from conscious competence to unconscious competence – the subconscious mind executes tasks correctly in the most fluid and efficient manner.

Compete: The pressure test in a controlled environment. This is the part of development that presents individuals and teams with an opportunity to apply the skill (both conscious and unconscious) through adversity. The individual or collective skill that being pressure tested is gained through planning, resourcing, training and practicing, and challenged through controlled ambiguous and stressful circumstances in competition.

Although these are described in linear order, or in a cyclical fashion, the best administration of this development model blends each of these so that they are happening concurrently to maximize efficiency and quality of production.

In training discussions, we come back to competition so often to so much aversion because many of us are binary in our thinking. Like a tack in a shoe, they walk so far with that impediment that even after the tack is removed they still walk with a limp. It’s always either/or, never “all.”

From my perspective in these discussions the opinions expressed regarding competition understand competition in only the most pedestrian, basic, sense, indicating competition is seen as a separate, adjunct, entity. Dismissed as a game. That tells me that I may be asking you to imagine a concept outside your frame of reference. I have hope that I can help you see it differently, and I think it’s important that you do, otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time.

The competition “game” as a separate event is the way many have executed competition, unfortunately. Yet, like most things, it is not the best way to incorporate competition into skill development. I too was merely once a small arms instructor with no understanding or appreciation for how competition is actually the essential part of development.

As a group, by and large we seem to view competition as separate from “training.” I really don’t like the word “training” as it’s used by the Army… I know… doctrine…boo!! I don’t like the word as the Army uses it because it is very limiting as it is applied.

There is more to development of individuals and organizations that training. NCO’s and Leaders drive the Soldiers and the organization towards a pie in the sky destination called “Mastery” through development, not just training. Training is really only a part of human individual and collective development, and not the most important part either.

The reason most of the Army never gets past a skill level that I would label “familiarization” is because it’s always “training,” metaphorically stuck in a low gear.

We’re on the edge of 2020, “training” like this (more correctly labeled as basic familiarization instead) is not enough to get to Mastery! The Army will never come close to mastery through training like this alone.

Train, Practice, Compete are the key elements in the development of humans. But they don’t need to happen in a linear or cyclical fashion. Ideally they happen at the same time, in the order and amount as dictated by the level of measured unconscious competence of both the student and the instructor. By unconscious competence, I mean doing a thing correctly and efficiently without deciding to act or being aware of the steps required to act correctly, they just do, there is no decide, it’s the right action given the circumstances on the face of it, and it’s done correctly, and efficiently in any conditions or circumstances.

Often we read in our Facebook discussions that “competition” is maligned as a “game.” If that’s what you believe, then I believe you’re in the wrong business. Isn’t mastery the goal? If the goal is the execution of training for the sake of training, then you can do that all day, standing on your head. I think that’s what we’ve been doing, it’s why Army-wide we’re not satisfied with individual and crew-served gunnery. Soldiers and leaders are really frustrated because Americans believe that skill at arms is a birthright of all Americans. In each of our hearts there is a Soldier wanting to fight like he’s Jason Bourne on Red Bull. The fundamental, rudimentary, unrefined thinking regarding development stifles that tremendous American fighting spirit.

Creativity allows us to build development plans that include training, practice, and competition simultaneously and incrementally, with each of those three key elements as one yarn in a single blanket. In practice, ideally, we would fit the competitive element to the level of unconscious skill the trainers believe the student ought to have at the phase of the development we are in AND the level of competition the trainers can conduct given ability, time, and resources. Like a check on learning, competition is like a practical “Ask, Pause, Call” it challenges the learner to demonstrate successful adaptation to the training and practice as it was imparted to him.

Competition most often meshes well with qualifications but doesn’t have to always blend with qualification. Qualification is an activity associated with practice. It is not competition because there is no ambiguity to a test, no uncertainty. Competition introduces an element of stress through a challenge that often presents the learner with ambiguity, but doesn’t have to.

In the least desirable implementation of the developmental models containing all three key elements, training, practice and competition, each element is separate, and each element is conducted in rudimentary, linear fashion: “this follows that.” It’s not supposed to work like that!

The focus of competition is an incremental challenging, finishing, and sustaining exercise in the development of Soldiers and crews. Key to good competition is exposing Soldiers and crews to real life problems, new scenarios, uncertainty and ambiguous conditions, ideally with the pressure of their peers and the scrutiny of their leaders applied.

If done correctly as an integral part of the developmental process, competition sustains unconscious competence and builds cohesion, confidence, morale, and esprit de corps. No skill developmental strategy will ever produce mastery in soldiers and crews without a deliberate, scalable, carefully built competitive element to pressure test and sustain them.

Competition shows us what we can do, not what we have to do. Healthy competition inspires us to keep digging, keep pushing to find a more efficient and effective way to outdo what’s been done before, in the process elevating everyone’s skill by unleashing their own creative warfighting spirit to adapt and overcome any challenge.

We leave behind the basic concept of information fed to us by a metaphorical mother Army, and we advance by taking that spoon fed knowledge and knowledge gained through practice and then we apply it all in our own unique ways when faced with challenging, ambiguous, and stressful competition in a controlled environment.

Comments like “golf game” are dismissive, myopic, and unfortunate. It can be a game if you want it to be, but ideally, it’s an integral part of development, they’re never going to be as good as they can be without it.