Performance enhancement and resilience training change—and save—lives
The athlete steps to the line after his visualization routine. He draws in a deep, deliberate breath to steady his heart, knowing his squad’s outcome is on the line. He shoots—not to score a point, but to hit the bull’s eye. Because the athlete isn’t a basketball player. He’s a soldier in the United States Army.
A trio of Georgetown residents is at the heart of a uniquely robust program at Fort Hood that offers performance enhancement, resilience, leadership development, learning enhancement, and team-building to soldiers and their families.
Contractor Jon Metzler, PhD, develops curriculum while contractors Arlene Bauer, MS, and Marc Stevens, MS, train soldiers in the aptly named Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2). The Army-wide program is an integral part of the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign, which promotes physical and psychological fitness and encourages personal and professional growth.
“Fort Hood had an interest in developing a campus that modeled what CSF2 as a program is promoting,” Bauer says. “The Fort Hood Resiliency Campus has sport psychology consultants, counselors, financial consultants, wellness, and fitness. I love it here because of that.”
Boosting Unit Performance
SFC Torrey Spence participated in the Modern Army Combative Program when he was stationed in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Drum, New York. The competition adds a sport element to learning survival and hand-to-hand combat skills. Prior to 2010, facing a Fort Hood opponent in the 500-soldier tournament meant certain advancement, Sgt. Spence explains.
“Then in 2010, Fort Hood took the whole championship,” he says. “We thought, ‘Lucky shot. You got your year.’ But they did it again in 2011. I mixed it up, got some orders, and came down here, because I wanted to see what was going on. I wanted to train with the best and fight with the best.”
He saw little difference in the training—same skills, same hours, same intensity—until one day Bauer walked in and said, “I’m your performance enhancement coach.”
“Huh. That’s new,” SFC Spence recalled of his skeptical and surprised reaction.
In 2012, Fort Hood became the only base to three-peat.
But the most important results go far beyond an extracurricular competition.
Stevens worked with two field artillery units that had failed for the past three years to certify for a gunnery test simulating live combat. After five months of performance enhancement training, both units not only passed but were the highest performing units in the battalion.
An individual soldier seeking his Expert Infantryman Badge was performing below his ability. His squad leader consulted with him on his body position and sight picture. The soldier told Bauer and a colleague about his pre-performance routine and breathing strategies. Everything checked out but his score in the low 20s, a significant difference from the 36 required. Bauer suggested to the squad leader something else must be amiss, and it was. The weapon had not been zeroed out properly. Once it was recalibrated, the soldier shot a 35 and then a 36.
Soldiers who had worked with the consultants approached their Combat Lifesaver Course differently. “They tried to anticipate what they might see,” Metzler says. “They did a lot of contingency planning, which we hope would be applicable to the field as they roll into a village. If we can get soldiers to deliberately approach their performances in a very systematic way from a mental standpoint, they’re going to get the most authentic representation of their skill.”
SFC Spence, a platoon sergeant, signed his soldiers up for a course before major drills at the National Training Center. “I thought, ‘If I can benefit from it, so can my soldiers,’” he says. “We went from being on par with the other platoons to being the top platoon. It’s really significant the impact it makes on training and results.”
The Wichita Falls native went from resister—“I fight on the Combative team and then I go to the field and blow things up, and then you tell me this resiliency stuff works?”—to Master Resilience Trainer, because it really does work.
“When I started this, I thought we were going to learn to give out hugs,” he admits, “but the skills are life-changing. You learn things that not only improve the relationship and connection you have with your soldiers but also with your 13-year-old daughter. It’s almost impossible to leave without something that’s going to impact your life significantly.”
While CSF2 and its Master Resilience Trainers are Army-wide, CSF2 Training Centers are located on 18 bases, with expansion to other installations in the United States, Germany, and South Korea planned. Fort Hood is the largest center, with 10 trainers teaching a wide range of courses (see sidebar) for as many of the 50,000 soldiers and their families as are interested. Generally, a captain, major, or lieutenant colonel will contact the training center to learn more about their services, often after hearing about the success of another unit such as SFC Spence’s.
Metzler, Bauer, and Stevens experienced the positive effect of sport psychology during their academic careers. As they learned the language and tactics that could have made a difference for them, they developed the passion to help make them click for others, too.
“What’s so attractive is the application in our own lives,” Stevens says. “I came from a pessimistic home. Then I realized you don’t have to look at things that way. I can just focus on what I can control. That is so much weight off your shoulders.”
“Growing up, I choked under pressure,” Bauer acknowledges. “People would say, ‘Focus.’ If I’d have known how, I would have.”
“You get a language for what you experienced playing sports,” Metzler adds.
Metzler, the immediate past president of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, ran the graduate program at Georgia Southern before coming to Fort Hood, but he wanted to be more involved in shaping the industry.
“CSF2 contracts its training center personnel, and through its contracts, it is the largest employer of sport psychology consultants in the world,” he says. “I can help set the stage for how graduate programs are training their students. I worked with most sports teams at Georgia Southern, but going from that environment to helping soldiers with performances such as combat lifesaving—it’s more meaningful than points on a scoreboard.”
Because the shots taken from these lines aren’t free.
Performance Enhancement and Resilience Courses
Master Resilience Training trains leaders to teach their soldiers practical tactics to thrive and grow when faced with adversity
Performance Enhancement Training teaches skills in attention control, biofeedback, confidence, energy management, goal setting, imagery, rhythmic breathing, and more to ensure that soldiers perform consistently
Executive Resilience and Performance Course introduces and teaches the importance of and research behind the impact of performance enhancement and master resilience training
Leader Development Course provides leaders with the concepts and tactics of performance enhancement so they can implement the skills in their unit’s technical and tactical trainings
Learning Enhancement Course provides study techniques and test-taking strategies for soldiers in academic settings such as Airborne School or Ranger School
Team Building develops a unified mission, motto, and creed and clarifies individual roles and responsibilities to ensure unit cohesion readiness and performance
Spouse and Teen-Focused Resilience Training trains spouses and children of soldiers in techniques to thrive in and grow through adversity