Sport Psychology and the Military

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“Mental Skills Training is extremely important to today’s Army. We need toinculcate it into our culture; broadly, to the Soldiers and their Families… PeakPerformance is not a destination; it is a constant in life. We need to get good atit by applying these principles to the whole unit and the Army as a culture. Thisneeds to be part of our everyday lives.”

– GEN Peter J. Schoomaker Former Chief of Staff, Army

SPINw Sport Psychologist Eric Bergreen recently left Portland to work on contract withthe US Army to help set up mental skills training programs for soldiers. Using his experiencewith athletes and performance, he is helping soldiers to perform at their highest level everyday in the CSF-PREP program.  SPINw checked in recently with Dr. Bergreen to see how things were going.

SPINw:  How did you get the position with the Army?

Dr. Bergreen:  CSF-PREP has been an expanding program within the Army. I had previous contacts who have been contacting me to see if this might be a population I would be interested in working with. They were interested in my experience with athletes as well as high performers from the corporate and academic domains.  

SPINw:  How is it going so far?

Dr. Bergreen:  It has been a fantastic experience. I have worked with Soldiers from all walks of life; from Special Forces to the Wounded Warrior program. The diversity of needs has been challenging which makes for a great learning opportunity.

SPINw:  What similarities have you noticed between soldiers and athletes?

Dr Bergreen: High performance is not specific to athletics. Whether its combat, academic success, or managing life, attaining a high level goal requires the same mental skills.  

SPINw:  What differences have you noticed?

Dr. Bergreen:  I think the main difference comes from the traditions within the Army culture. They are very accustomed to the technical, tactical and physical training required for success.  They are less accustomed to thinking about specific mental skills required to perform at a high level.  When presenting the science behind mental and emotional competitiveness, there is often an initial resistance.  Once they grasp the nature of high performance psychology, they become very enthusiastic.

SPINw:  Are there any sport psychology techniques that are especially helpful for soldiers?

Dr. Bergreen:  First, it is important to understand the difference between training and high performance moments. One must recognize how the brain operates when in the “zone.” The programteaches how to regulate thoughts and emotions so that one is most likely to achieve an optimal performance mindset. Then it becomes an issue of focus and continued self- regulation.

SPINw: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about sport psychology since taking this new position?

Dr. Bergreen:  I think it about the versatility of the mental skills. Emotional regulation, situational confidence, attention control, etc., all play a role in high performance. These skills give you an edge in any performance situation from high stress combat, an academic test, even an awkward family get-together.

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