Having optimal performance, especially in competition, takes more than just physical strength and ability. It also requires mental competencies.Soldier and Veteran athletes participating in the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas receive performance training in addition to physical training leading up to competition.Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert, Adam Skoranski, with the Fort Bliss Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center, worked with the athletes each day, offering them mental skills, reinforcing their training before heading out for a ride.One skill Skoranski emphasized throughout training was Integrating Imagery, which is mentally rehearsing successful performances to program the mind and body to performance automatically and without hesitation."When you're cycling, sitting on the bike, specific things are happening to get your body moving a certain way," said Skoranski. "When you imagine yourself going through those same motions, you're activating the same levels of your brain."Skoranski helped the athletes identify and practice the three factors that contribute to effective imagery: perspective, vividness, and controllability.
"The more you practice [imagery], the more the brain-performance pathways fire and more communication goes back and forth. That communication becomes smoother, and it will be easier to cycle and do the right things," said Skoranski. "That's why [mental] practice makes you better," he said.The Army Trials competition kicked off on Sunday, March 29 with the cycling competition.Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Sifuentes, a helicopter pilot with Headquarters and Headquarters Company Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Riley, Kansas put the skills into practice during the competition."As I started the race, I visualized the entire race, to include the win," said Sifuentes. "I found a way to pace myself, control my heart rate and control my stamina throughout the race so I could finish strong."Sifuentes, who is also competing in swimming, discus and shot put during the Army Trials, added that he uses the skills daily to "just to keep a positive and a professional forward movement in my career and in life."Sgt. Josh Wirth also found the skills useful on day one of the competition. "I definitely used [the skills] today; I got my breathing and my form down," Wirth said.Wirth, a Soldier with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Gordon, Georgia, believes sports, like cycling, are more mental than physical."[Cycling] is like 99 percent mental. If you get the mental part down, the physical will come with time," he said.When putting Integrating Imagery to use on competition day, Wirth said the skill helped him remember and visualize what he needs to do, what he needs to focus and concentrate on while he's racing, noting it's important to focus on things you need to think about before the race, not while you're in the race.Wirth plans to also compete in the 100 and 200 shot disc competition during the Army Trials as well as the 1500 meter aquatics, wheelchair basketball and archery (using a recurve bow), but says these skills are useful for more than just sports."Sports are just like life. You have to practice how you play, just like in real life. Practice to live, make good habits and just go with them," he said.