Top Mistakes Trainees Make at the Academy


This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list. We work with some interesting characters who come up with all sorts of creative ways to get themselves in a jam. Just when you think you’ve seen all the mistakes that can be made (either at the academy or at your station), someone will always be there to show you otherwise.


With this list, I’m just trying to alert you to some of the more common issues you could run into at the academy in hopes that you won’t make some of the mistakes either I or my classmates made. Here goes:


Hanging out to watch the new trainees arrive.

Ok… I’m not going to act like this one isn’t fun to do. You’ve already been through it on your first day. You know they’re entering a world of pain and are about to be screamed at like never before in their lives. The difference is this time it’s not you, so it’s hilarious. Just don’t get caught watching the show or you’ll be dressed down in front of the new class.

Putting yourself in sketchy situations.

The academy has neighbors and a lot of them aren’t very fond of you. Like it or not, trainees before you have probably given you a bad name at one time or another. But it doesn’t even necessarily have to be that. Whether it’s on the road, at the local dive bar, or the bowling alley, trouble is out there waiting to find you. For the rest of your career, you’ll be encountering people who don’t know the first thing about you as a person but they hate what you represent.

It’s common for these people to try to bait you into a fight or some other form of misconduct. Why? Because they know the academy has little tolerance for that sort of thing and they want to get you fired. Don’t give them that satisfaction. Try to avoid putting yourself in these situations whenever possible. Remove yourself from the situation if you find yourself in one.

If circumstances warrant reporting it to your immediate supervisor, be sure to do so. Remember when you were wrestling with your siblings as a kid and one of you knocked your mom’s favorite lamp over and broke it? You both went running to get to her first, because whoever did got the edge by blurting out their side of the story. This is a lot like that. You want to get to your supervisor before the other reporting party does.


Relying too much on your memory.

Take it from me: there are way too many pieces of information coming at you to plan on remembering them all. Keep some form of a calendar, whether it’s a paper or electronic version. Even today, I use a smartphone app like Evernote to collect all my thoughts and Google calendar to make sure no important dates slip my mind.

The worst mistake I made at the academy was thinking I would remember all the little schedule changes during our last couple weeks of basic training. I remember the moment it hit me that I had royally screwed up my schedule and was going to hear it not only from my classmates but from my law instructors as well.

Panic struck as I realized I was the only one in the locker room at our normal PT time. I started to think back to what we were told a couple days before: We were to pick up our dress uniforms at some location at some time on some day. That was about the extent of what had stuck with me. I found out shortly after that I was the only one missing and I could pick my uniform up at the instructors’ trailer (shudder).


Not only did I get chewed out before being allowed to leave with my gear, but the lead instructor thought he would share that story with my dad on graduation day. Just make detailed notes of your schedule… you’ll be glad you did.


Trying to memorize information by looking at it in a list format.

Speaking of memory, I was recently reading an article by author Tim Ferriss on training recognition vs. recall.

Let’s say you’re training to learn various sections of Title 21 of the U.S. Code. You have the sections listed in numerical order down the left side of your page with their definitions on the right side of the page. By learning the terms in a fixed list, the surrounding words act as what Ferriss refers to as a “recall crutch for your target word.”

If you were asked to recite the fourth line of the national anthem or to say the 14th letter of the alphabet, you’d probably have a difficult time with that. That’s because you’ve been trained to depend on other preceding pieces to act as cues. My recommendation: take the time to make flashcards. You might feel like you’re back in high school and it might be time consuming, but you’ll get much better results in the end.


Staying out too late with your classmates.

This can be a tempting one. Sometimes after a rough day of training, classmates just want to get together and decompress. I’m all for that, but just remember what you have coming up in the morning. A classmate of mine seemed to forget he had PT first thing in the morning. About 15 yards into his run, he ended up with the previous night’s drinks and bar food all over his running shoes.


Flying your family in for graduation when it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re right on the edge of passing or failing one of your classes and it’s not certain that you’ll be graduating, spare yourself and your family the awkwardness. Tell them, “Mom… dad… I love you both and thank you for the support, but let’s celebrate in a couple weeks. I’ll bring you pictures of graduation.”

I say this because I had a classmate who actually did fly his family in, only to be pulled from our class picture on the final day because he missed the score he needed on the final exam by one point.


Stay Under the Radar

By following this advice and using a bit of your own common sense, you should be able to effectively fly under the radar. Don’t ever be afraid to make mistakes; just try to make them good ones.