Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC)
Performance Psychology for Tactical Professionals
Psychology for Tactical Professionals
Nancy L. Graber Ph.D., M.S.
Chair: Exercise / Sport Psychology SIG
Peak Performance in professions that
require tactical prowess needs individuals who possess physical stamina, skill,
specific training, and talent. However, perhaps equally, if not more important are
superior cognitive and emotional skills that often make the difference between
life and death. Military personnel, police officers, firefighters, paramedics
and all first responders must make split second decisions every day in order to
best respond to life threatening situations. Doubt is not an option. In these
very important professions that most Americans take for granted, finding a
better way to perform is a key factor in performance. Psychological Skills
Training (PST) has become the new standard for Tactical Peak Performance. The
term “tactical athletes” was coined by the former chief of staff of the Army
George Casey (Army Times, April 2, 2011 as
cited in ).
Training comes primarily
from the field of Applied Sport Psychology (Zinsser, Perkins, Gervais, Burbelo, 2004). This article provides only a
very brief introduction to the field of Applied Sport Psychology in the many
important tactical based professions.
sized stress levels are the norm rather than the exception for those who engage
in the tactical professions. Recognition, understanding and awareness of one’s
own increased psychophysiological levels of stress are absolutely imperative
for the best rapid response in any given situation (Taylor, Mujica-Parodi, Padilla, Markham, Potterat, Momen, Sander,
& Larson, 2009). Changes
in physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses appear to react
simultaneously in dangerous situations. These are mind-body interactive
biological and neurological changes affecting the individuals thought process,
attitudes, feelings, and resulting behaviors. Being able to stay focused,
emotionally stable, and make the right decisions during a mission on the
battlefield with bullets flying and IEDS exploding, facing criminals with a
loaded gun, saving a child in a burning building, or providing emergency
medical service in a critical auto accident on a freeway are skills which can
be and are taught through various stress management courses and performance
enhancement training programs (Tillman, Rvizza, & Statler, 2011).
hardiness or often referred to as Mental Toughness is viewed as one of the most
important factors related to the ability to successfully perform under a
multitude of extreme circumstances among the special forces (Bartone, Roland,
Picano, & Williams, 200. The
ability to remain calm, focused, confident, and in control of one’s emotions
under extreme duress are key mental skills that are often equated with mental
toughness(Jones, Hanton & Connaughton,
2007; 2002 as cited in Center for Performance Psychology).
The United States Military Forces are
leading the way in instituting “Performance Psychology” training for soldiers
at all levels. The Army Center for Enhanced Performance (ACEP) trains soldiers using
their version of Mental Skills Training (MST). Training comes primarily from
the field of Applied Sport Psychology. The focus of this training is increasing
the mind – body connection enhancing soldier’s performance. Increased
confidence, attention, and managing one’s emotions and corresponding energy
levels are key components in these training programs. In addition, speedy
learning facilitation is also emphasized during the training (Hite, 2008. Applied
training in military drills using these new mind – body skills are integrated
into combat drills practice in order to gain the automatic use of these skills
before being deployed in real missions. The Navy Seals are no strangers when it
comes to mental toughness while engaging in top - secret high performance
missions. Lieutenant Commander Mike H of
executive officer of SEAL Team 10, says, “Today, our primary weapons systems
are our people’s heads. You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the
physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually
screens you out.” (Fear and mental toughness, n.d.)
A brief history of
these programs began at The United States Military Academy (USMA) at West
Point, NY. This was the focal point of creating the first official military Center
for Performance Enhancement (CEP) psychology training programs in 1993. The
purpose was to train its
cadets to excel in the classroom, sports, and military training. The curriculum
was created using a combination of sport psychology and academic applied
techniques. Training soldiers in the field using Mobile Training Teams (MTT)
became popular from 1999 – 2004. The demand to sustain this type of training
became overwhelming to continue in this manner. Therefore, ACEP training sites
were added starting in 2006 at Ft. Bragg, NC. Subsequently, twelve more sites
have since been added to locations throughout the country. The ACEP program was
integrated into the CSF Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program
(CSF-PREP) in 2010, which is run from the Pentagon.
Psychology / Mental Skills Training (MST) Programs frequently include: Goal
Setting, Imagery, Visualization, Confidence Building, Attention Control, Energy
Management, Breathing Techniques, Bio-Feedback, and Neurofeedback Training to
name a few (Hite, 2008.
Training is provided systematically
in each area building from learning the basic skills to more advanced skills.
The USMA program begins with the foundations of Cognitive processing. Soldiers
gain knowledge as well as applied psychology training for specific skills and
tasks. This course involves a basic foundation of cognitive processes and
restructuring. These skills address self-talk, maladaptive beliefs,
self-confidence, and self-image. The remaining four parts of the program focus
on the other components regarding goal setting, attention control, stress
management, and imagery skills (Zinsser, Perkins, Gervais, & Burbelo, 2004). The Navy Seals also
implement a similar training program applying these training concepts and
testing under vigorous and extreme situations in order to prepare them for
missions as well as rule out potential candidates (Akil II, 2009).
There are full-time
positions for employment available as a Performance Enhancement Specialists
working for companies like SAIC who are contracted with the military to provide
mental skills training and applied sport psychology. More recently, Athletic Performance Training Centers around
the U.S. are now getting into the game hiring Sport Psychology Consultants as
Mental Conditioning and / or Tactical Trainers for military training. Athlete’s Performance and IMG are two
of the larger centers now searching for qualified professionals. Credentials and experience for obtaining
employment Techniques usually require a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Sport
Psychology or a human performance related degree. These companies also prefer AASP Certification as well. They
also look for professionals with previous performance enhancement skills
training experience as well as working with the military are also desirable
There is much more to
be read, researched, and discussed regarding how applied Sport Psychology and
Mental Skills Training can make a positive impact for all professionals who
everyday must perform at their peak to save lives and protect our nation.
II, B. (2009). How the Navy Seals increased passing rates: better passing rates through simple psychology. Retrieved
Bartone, P. T., Roland, R.R., Picano,
J.J., & Williams, T.J.
(200. Psychological hardiness predicts success
in U.S. Army Special Forces candidates. International
Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16
(1), 78 -81.
Hammermeister, J., Pickering, M., & Lennox, A. (2011). Military applications of performance psychology
methods and techniques: an overview
of practice and research. Journal of
Performance Psychology, 3.
B. (2008. Mental training for combat engineers: from the classroom to the battlefield.
Engineer, July – December, 23 -24.
Mujica-Parodi, Padilla, Markham, Potterat, Momen, Sander & Larson, (2009)
predictors of acute stress symptoms during intense military training. Journal
of Traumatic Stress, 22, (3), 212–217.
Tilman, Ravizza, K. & Statler (2011) Clear your
mind to clear the way; managing the moment. Engineer,
January – April, 46 – 49.
Ph.D.; Perkins, L., Gervais, P., Burbelo, G. (2004). Military application of performance-enhancement psychology.
Review, September-October, 62 – 65.
and mental toughness. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://navyseals.com/nsw/fear-and-mental-toughness/
Source Men’s Health.
(2013). Retrieved from http://jobs.saic.com/key/sports-psychology-jobs-navy-seals.html
Hello Members of the TASC SIG!!!
I was invited by your chair to submit an article on Performance Psychology related to Tactical Professionals. I am Dr. Nancy L. Graber, current chair of the newly formed Exercise & Sport Psychology SIG. I am also a Sport Psychology Consultant and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in Florida.
I would like to invite you to read the article I posted. Please ask questions, make comments, and add to the discussion. Also, if you have any other additional questions or topics about Sport Psychology, I welcome you to post those here as well. I will be facilitating your forum this month.
Please join the Exercise / Sport Psychology forum and post comments and/or questions there as well. We Welcome all of you to join our SIG. We can certainly be of support and help to one another.
You may also contact me personally if you would like more information.
"Believe it... the Best is Yet to Come!"
Nancy L. Graber Ph.D. LMHC
I appreciated the insights your provided in your article. Also, thank you for including a Microsoft Word document of the article. I agree Sport Psychology is overlooked and this is even more so the case with Tactical Athletes. To our credit I think NSCA has recognized the need for greater discussion and research on the mental aspects of performance. Hopefully this desire gains traction.