Putting The “Real” In Reality Training: A “Scientific Approach” To Scenarios

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A Scientific Approach to Reality Based Training is a guidebook that will help you create realistic, effective, stress-infused scenarios to train and test your officers’ use-of-force skills under pressure.

Authors, certified Force Science Analysts Dr. Terry Wollert and Jeff Quail, lead you step by step through research-supported methods for designing and conducting powerful simulations that hone the “four core performance elements” they say are needed for controlling life threats in the real world.

These are: situational awareness…decision-making…physical skills…and communication—and all are dependent, the writers emphasize, on the ability to manage acute psychological and physiological stress under time-pressured, high-risk circumstances.

Wollert and Quail bring much more than academic theory to their 226-page handbook. Wollert, now president of the Performance Improvement Institute, was for years the principal investigator of stress research at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Quail, a former Canadian LEO and use-of-force trainer with a master’s degree in applied psychology, is the inventor of the Shocknife and other innovative training aids.

Supplementing their own expertise with findings by other law enforcement researchers, including Force Science’s Drs. Bill Lewinski and Alexis Artwohl, the authors provide a framework for realistic scenario training, which traditionally has tended to evolve more from instructor intuition and subjective preferences than from foundational principles of human behavior.


The book leads with a thorough, practical analysis of acute stress: its cause of “over 1,400 physiochemical changes in the body”; the physiological, emotional, and cognitive impact it can have on performance when it “hijacks” the brain; and the vital role they believe it should play in scenario training.

Training under stress “is one means to ensure that individual skills and competencies meet or exceed [real-world] demand through the development of self-efficacy,” the authors explain. “Self-efficacy increases an individual’s confidence that he or she can successfully deal with the threat, transforming it into a challenge and regulating the level of [detrimental] arousal experienced….

“In general, the more information an individual has about reactions to stress and the likely effects of stress on task performance, the more likely he or she will be able to anticipate them, and the less distracting they will be in the operational environment.”

In one early chapter, the authors itemize some 40 suggestions for building stress into training scenarios. These involve employing time pressure, noise, distance, task load, ambiguity, novelty, role conflict, sensory deprivation, and other proven stressors.

While building the case for “Stress Exposure Training,” Wollert and Quail wisely underscore two important cautions:

  1. to maximize efficient learning, initial instruction and the development of basic competency in physical skills should not be conducted in a stressful environment;
  2. when training advances to the scenario stage, stress should be introduced incrementally into simulated encounters. “Students should be challenged but never overstressed,” they write. “Training that incorporates no stress and training that incorporates constant high-intensity stress are both likely to be counterproductive.”


The core of the book focuses on how to put the “real” in reality-based training and how to measure the outcome of stress exposure so trainee performance can be improved on an individualized basis.

Across more than 100 pages, from pre-event briefing to after-action debriefing, Wollert and Quail offer in-depth guidance on developing the structure, content, and related trappings of live-action, “high-fidelity” scenarios; that is, those that mirror real-life experiences so closely that students become fully engaged in each confrontation.

Among other things, they provide insights on how to:

  • develop “preparatory information” that will help trainees experience less anxiety, more confidence, greater flexibility, and fewer performance errors in stressful environments;
  • use flash scenarios and isolation drills to introduce a three-prong stress management approach to enhance performance;
  • employ half a dozen different time-line templates for incorporating stress into scenarios;
  • design and script comprehensive, unpredictable scenarios that include gray-area challenges and no-shoot situations that may require less-lethal and intermediate weapons, empty-hand tactics, and tactical communication;
  • identify desired goals and objectives, including legal and policy considerations, for each exercise;
  • ensure the inclusion of core performance elements and a “critical skills inventory”for testing:
  • remember environmental, contextual, physiological, and psychological script details that promote a high-fidelity atmosphere; conduct “student-centered feedback” that constructively explores areas of strength and points for improvement promptly after completion of a training session.

A valuable component of the book is six pages devoted to a little-discussed but critical subject: the selection and deployment of role players in live-action scenarios.

“Even the most perfectly designed scenario can be reduced to utter disaster by ineffective role-playing,” the authors warn. “For this reason, we highly suggest developing a role-player course that trains personnel to perform properly during reality-based training.”


To evaluate trainees’ performance, Wollert and Quail recommend what they call the ADAPT Model. Visually, this is depicted as a circle of arrows leading from Assess to Diagnose to Prescribe to Train and back to Assess—essentially a configuration like the familiar OODA Loop.

In text and tables, the authors explain in detail how to use this model to:

  1. score officers on the various skills called for in successfully resolving the scenario challenges they’ve experienced;
  2. identify the root cause(s) of performance deficiencies;
  3. develop a plan for correcting these shortcomings;
  4. establish a remedial training procedure tailored to a trainee’s individual needs and abilities.

“The ADAPT Model provides scenario designers and trainers a methodology to continually evaluate, diagnose, and prescribe training solutions that will improve performance,” the authors state. “Students should receive checkups a minimum of once per year [throughout their entire careers] to examine their ability to perform critical skills.”

To help make all this work, purchasers of A Scientific Approach to Reality Based Training are entitled to receive free, user-friendly software that will guide them through the process from start to finish.

The book is available in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon.com. Click here to go to the Amazon order page.

For additional reading on reality-based training, see the classic text on the subject, Training at the Speed of Life by Kenneth Murray, a certified Force Science Analyst and Executive Director of the Reality Based Training Association. It’s available in paperback, new or used, on Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon order page. In addition, Murray offers instructor-level courses on safe and effective Reality Based Training methodologies. You can visit his Web site at: www.rbta.net.

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