Bull's-eye: Mental approach hits the mark
November 5, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Staff Sgt. John Hawes and Sgt. 1st Class Terry Blogg, both from Company B, 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, took more than their weapons to the Ninth Annual International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga. last month.
The Soldiers took along a resource they said was equally important during the weeklong competition - two specialists from the Army Center for Enhanced Performance.
"They really helped us deal with the pressure," Blogg said. "Teams that had been working together for years fell apart under the pressure, but because of the stress coping mechanisms the specialists taught us, we ended up handling it better than a lot of the other teams."
ACEP is a Fort Jackson program that applies the principles of sports psychology to teach Soldiers the logic behind the techniques, such as confidence building, goal setting and attention control, used to help them excel in the Army.
The objective is to assist Soldiers in becoming mentally agile under intense pressure, which was one of the many reasons the Soldiers felt it would be beneficial to take ACEP specialists to the prestigious competition.
The competition only invites the most elite two-man sniper teams from different branches of the military, and the duo was one of the 34 competing teams selected to participate this year.
Michael Gerson, senior performance enhancement specialist, and Dave Ricciuti, performance enhancement specialist, worked with the sniper team to prepare for the competition.
The pair began helping the Soldiers chart their course for success in June - using techniques such as biofeedback, relaxation and attention control exercises - and continued to coach them on ways to improve their performance until the end of competition.
"One of the first things we did was ... evaluate the Soldiers to better understand what they do as snipers, how they think and what aspects of being a sniper require a lot of mental and emotional strength," Gerson said. "Then we had to help them open up the channels so they could communicate their goals, styles of sniping and expectations from the competition."
Gerson holds a master's degree in clinical psychology, with an emphasis on sport-psychology, as well as a doctorate in psychology.
Ricciuti, who also holds master's and doctorate degrees in sport psychology, said he felt that opening the Soldiers' communication lines was extremely important during the competition because of the short length of time the duo had been working together.
Hawes and Blogg had only been working together a few months before the competition, and usually sniper teams work together for a much longer time before competing, Ricciuti said.
"We did various communications exercises to help the Soldiers strengthen their ability to communicate with each other because our research found that success of sniper teams depends on them being able to communicate efficiently and quickly," he said.
Both Hawes and Blogg said they felt that the help they received was invaluable during the competition.
"They helped us develop into a cohesive sniper team after knowing each other since February -- something that usually takes years to do," Hawes said.
Currently, ACEP is used predominantly to assist drill sergeants in becoming more efficient leaders. However, Soldiers, their family members and civilians also have access to the program.
Ricciuti said he thinks the benefits of the program extend beyond Soldiers and can be used to achieve "peak performance" in any aspect of their lives, including professional and personal.
The team placed 8th in competition.