Sport Psychology for the Soldier Athlete: A Paradigm Shift

Vanessa M Meyer
Military Medicine 2018 July 1, 183 (7-8): e270-e277

Background: Competitive athletes train body and mind in preparation for competition with mental fortitude often providing the "winning edge." Similarly, the current-day warfighter faces significant physical and psychological challenges and must be prepared to respond to life-threatening danger with mental and physical agility. Sport Psychology for the Soldier Athlete recognizes the soldier as an elite athlete and provides training required to perform at the highest caliber. Through this curriculum, mental skills coaching in goal setting, imagery, positive self-talk, and heart rate control is integrated into routine physical fitness training. These skills commonly used by professional and Olympic athletes for optimal performance provide soldiers with the ability to manage every day military stressors. Sport Psychology for the Soldier Athlete supports GEN Milley's top priority of readiness and decreases the cost of Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) failures.

Procedures: Soldiers from a large military treatment facility participated in a 6-wk sport psychology mental skills training program led by an Army occupational therapist. The training that was integrated into regularly scheduled physical training consisted of 10 min of physical readiness training, 10 min of mental skills coaching followed by push-up, sit-up, and running drills focusing on the mental skills learned. Semi-annual APFT scores following the sport psychology training were compared with the five previous semi-APFT scores for the same company using analysis of variance.

Findings: Results comparing company APFT scores to the previous five semi-annual tests showed statistical significance of 0.001 with the intervention group achieving an average 13- to 14-point improvement. Post-training survey showed 91% of participants recognizing the benefit of these "life skills" in other Army tasks such as weapons qualification, combat medic tasks, and career planning. Soldiers acknowledged this curriculum as quality hands-on training with the suggestion for further development.

Discussion: A proactive approach to incorporating mental skills training into the military culture, Sport Psychology for the Soldier Athlete, is in direct alignment with The Army Human Dimension Strategy of developing mental and physical proficiency. This paradigm shift is both timely and necessary for answering readiness and resilience needs of U.S troops and provides additional tools for attaining optimal physical and mental endurance.

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