Setting High Expectations

Aim small, miss small. Students will only achieve what you expect of them.

In the two disciplines that I teach, martial arts and firearms, I’ve encountered both good and bad teachers over the years. When I myself became a young teacher many years ago, I tried to emulate those teachers that I had met who consistently produced skilled practitioners under their tutelage.

Early on, one thing I noticed is that these teachers possessed two particular qualities. First, they had a sincere interest in seeing each of their students excel. These teachers were like artists, genuinely desiring to produce a masterpiece from each and every student. Second, because of their own high expectations upon themselves, they held their students to a similarly high standard. They expected great results from their students and that is typically what they got.

Everyone that is a skilled practitioner today, in any field of study, was at one time a total beginner. They knew nothing of the subject matter, had no skill, no experience and were unsure of what expectations would be placed upon them.

It was the experienced instructor or coach, who knew what could be achieved, how to motivate them, and how hard to push them, that brought out their true potential. For this reason, I believe it is important to expect the best from one’s students from their very first lesson. It not only sets a high standard, it sets them up to succeed.

For the purposes of this blog post, it is easier to illustrate this principle as related to firearms than to martial arts.

At the gun range, I’ve routinely watched another instructor teaching his students who prefers not to use a bulls-eye target. Instead, he turns the target over and draws a large 8″ x 8″ square on the back of it. He then tells his students, “don’t worry about hitting the bulls-eye, just try to get your shots inside the square.”

The first time I saw this, I must admit that I thought he was joking. Coming from a military background, the phrase we most often heard when training in firearms was, “aim small, miss small.” If the expectation is that you will hit a 2″ bulls-eye you and focus on achieving that, you’ll typically come pretty close when shooting at close range. It has been my experience that most beginners who attempt to shoot a handgun at 3 yards can easily hit the bulls-eye within their first lesson. Often, most of their early shots are only 3″-5″ away from bulls-eye in the first place.

The results I have seen when the target area is 64 square inches (8″ x 8″) are dramatically different. Not only do very few shots even make it inside of the square, they are typically nowhere near the middle of the box. By setting an extremely low expectation, the students are guaranteed to perform poorly. When I see this, all I can do is cringe.

In conclusion, the human being is an incredible creation and is capable of extremely high levels of physical and intellectual achievement. Each of us can accomplish the unimaginable, but only if we surround ourselves with others who expect the best, and ultimately if we expect the best from ourselves.

Good luck in your training!

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