It is no surprise: becoming an expert takes a lot of time, dedication and motivation. Whether the goal is work-oriented or a personal hobby, such as becoming an excellent marksman or athlete, both require the same checklist. These list items below were presented by Lon Bartel, VirTra’s Director of Training and Curriculum, during the 2021 ILEETA conference:

Make Motivation

Personal motivation is a critical element. After all, you cannot force someone to become and expert in an area they do not care about—they will not put forth the effort or dedication necessary. Instead, people need to establish their own reasons to take part.

Set Goals

Before beginning, set measurable, obtainable goals. It is important to be specific while ensuring the goal is quantitative enough to be measured. For example, in regards to the marksmanship skill, having the goal to shoot with 90% accuracy or the ability to draw and fire 1 round at 7 yards in 1.75 seconds are both specific and measurable.

Utilize the Uncomfortable

As mentioned in a previous article, if the training doesn’t challenge you, it will not change you. People naturally grow and adapt when challenged, otherwise we become complacent and plateau. The feelings of unease and failure are necessary, but it is overcoming the struggle that allows people to increase their skills.

Regular Routine

Unfortunately, every person hits a plateau where they don’t see any growth or improvement. This is natural, though naturally, causes frustration. During times like these, you may want to blow off training, but this is when it is most critical! Frequent daily practice of dedicated focus will get you up and over the hump to a place where you can see great results again.

Find Feedback

Without feedback, how will you know the areas needing improvement? Or exactly how close you are to meeting your goal? The best types of feedback are coaches, videos and forms of measurable performance. Without feedback, you cannot efficiently learn or improve.

Require Recovery

This may not be something you thought of, but in the pursuit of excellence, you need to carve out recovery time. Rest for the body is just as critical as the brain, since it provides time for neural pathways to be consolidated. For most skills, a proven method is practicing with complete focus for 1 hour followed by an extended break.

Instructors and officers alike can apply these principles to whatever skill they are focusing on, whether it be personal or duty-related. Train smarter, train harder and train better with these tips on achieving expertise.

To learn more about becoming an expert, download VirTra Director of Training and Curriculum Lon Bartel’s 2021 ILEETA presentation.

Access the presentation here. 

Becoming an expert in anything—regardless of the skill—requires following a similar path. Whether your goal is to become an expert marksman or piano player, chances are, everyone is going to offer you advice. As you begin your pursuit to expertise, take note of these common misconceptions and phrases:

Lie: Practice Makes Perfect

The truth: practice makes permanent. Think about it—consistent practice does not guarantee that you are perfecting your chosen skill, but rather, that you are solidifying your practice. Consider this example: you decide to spend 30 minutes on a treadmill, 3 days a week, at the same speed and incline. After a few weeks, there will be no more improvement, since you adapted and met the demand.

If practice doesn’t challenge you, then it doesn’t change you!

Lie: He/She is Excellent Because He/She is Gifted

The truth: it is rare that genetics creates expertise. Granted, there are certain genetic abilities that provide advantage: height, limb length, visual acuity, etc. If the goal was to pursue basketball excellence, height would certainly help. But genetics is not what makes someone an expert.

Instead, according to Anders Ericsson¹, it is more likely these ‘natural talents’ displayed early were encouraged by positive feedback from peers, coaches, parents, etc. These motivators kept the individual going, which lead to achieving expertise. Late bloomers can still flourish and become experts as well!

Lie: It Takes 10,000 Hours to Become an Expert

The truth: it depends on the area of expertise. Some claim that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. However, Anders Ericsson disagrees, and for good reasons. First of all, this depends on the skill. Certain skills will require more time than others in the pursuit of excellence—becoming a skilled surgeon will take considerably more time than becoming skilled in the harmonica.

Also, how a person chooses to practice is key. If a person practices with a completely dedicated, focused mindset while taking the appropriate number of breaks, they will accomplish more in less time.

As officers choose to become experts in various arenas, it is important to keep these truths in mind. Whatever skill you choose to pursue, know that it will take time, dedication and must be challenging.

To learn more about becoming an expert, download VirTra Director of Training and Curriculum Lon Bartel’s 2021 ILEETA presentation.

Access the presentation here.


Anders Ericsson- “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” (1996)