Athletes succeed by working as family, sports psychologists say
May 16, 2013
By David Vergun
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Army News Service, May 15, 2013) -- All the physical fitness, practice and acquired skills won't ensure athletes succeed individually or as a team until they get the family functioning part right, say Army sports psychologists.
Nine such psychologists have been here at the 2013 Warrior Games all week. They've also been working with wounded warrior athletes in every sport long before the games started, helping them get in the best mental state of mind possible for their competitions.
The Army calls these coaches master resilience trainer performance experts, and there are dozens of them spread out at installations Army-wide, said Coreen Harada, Warrior Transition Unit and Research/Evaluation lead for Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness.
Throughout the year, they provide all Soldiers -- wounded or otherwise -- and their families, one-on-one and group coaching on a variety of resilience skills needed to succeed on their athletic teams, Army units and within their own families, she said.
All are contractors who have master's or doctorate degrees in sports psychology or related fields and all receive follow-on resiliency training from the Army before working with Soldiers, she said.
Two of these coaches -- both with the wheelchair basketball team and both based in Fort Jackson, S.C. -- discussed what they do to help the athletes achieve peak performance.
RICHARD HARRIS JR.
The Soldier athletes at the Warrior Games are learning how to succeed on the playing field, but more importantly, they are learning how to succeed in life, said Richard Harris Jr., who has been working with them for more than five years.
Each wounded warrior gets personal attention and a unique training program, Harris said. He helps Soldiers with building confidence, developing mental focus, setting goals, managing energy and learning to cope with their emotions.
Working with wounded warriors is not much different from working with other Soldiers, he said.
"I don't see any difference," he said. "I don't see disability, I see different ability. They want to win. They're motivated just like other Soldiers."
He compared the team to a family. On the team, "you're more than just battle buddies. You become family."
Families will have conflicts just like these wounded warriors sometimes do, he said.
"But how you manage those conflicts is what is important," he explained. In the end, each wounded warrior has to be able to express their feelings and rally around each other for support.
The team is there already, he added. "They genuinely love each other and rally around each other through triumphs as well as struggles."
DR. JOHN EVANS
Dr. John Evans agreed with Harris in that he too believes members of the Army's wheelchair basketball team have formed relationships similar to those in a family.
The team has developed cohesion and they're "clicking now," he said.
But getting the team to that place took some coaching, Evans said.
Sometimes the athletes get too overstimulated and waste energy that could be directed when and where it's really needed -- during practice and play time, he said, adding that stimulation at the right time can be very healthy.
On the other hand, he said, athletes can be experiencing some raw emotions and become under-stimulated.
A lot of wounded warriors experience shame because of their wounds and injuries, he said. Others fear re-injuring themselves and still others fear not living up to their full potential.
For that, he helps them work through their feelings and encourages them to set goals and realistic expectations.
Evans observes each athlete to see that he is in that right zone of stimulation.
Integrating new players into the team can be a challenge as well, he said, and that's where conflict management comes into play.
Also on the support staff are physical therapists, nutritionists and, of course, the coach. The supporting staff must also coordinate their activities and discuss the progress or lack thereof of the team and individual athletes, he said.
Evans said he and the supporting staff believe the wounded warriors are right where they should be right now.
And, he said, he's really proud of all of them, "they're like family."