By Ms. Stefanie Pidgeon (Ready and Resilient)March 3, 2016
FORT BLISS, Texas (Feb. 29, 2016) -- Athletes need to achieve and maintain a certain level of energy to be able to compete and perform at their best when it matters most. Knowing how to manage your energy is even more important for the wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans participating in the 2016 Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The Army Trials athletes experience a range of physical, emotional and mental demands. They need to be able to not only focus their physical energy based on the sport they are performing each day, but also their mental energy. Having this ability strengthens personal readiness and resilience, which are critical to Soldier and team readiness.
The Army Trials athletes participated in a 90-minute Energy Management workshop, Feb. 28, 2016 -- the end of their first day of training for the trials. The intent was to not only provide these athletes with strategies and techniques they can use throughout training and competition, but equip them with tools they can implement as part of their everyday lives.
"How many of you always have the right amount of energy needed to complete your performance?" asked Shawn Saylors, a Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert (MRT-PE) working with the Field athletes.
Out of the approximately 100 athletes in attendance, two raised their hands.
"Can you perform if your energy is at 60 percent?" Saylors then asked the group, many of them nodding their heads. "Yes, you can," he continued, "but your performance will also be at 60 percent."
Energy Management is a performance skill that helps mobilize and balance energy, recover and prepare for the next performance. Taught by experts in sport and performance psychology, the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program offers the skill as part of the training provided to not only Army athletes, but to all Soldiers across the Force.
Sgt. Jodie Lemons, an Army athlete who participated in the trials in 2015, realizes the benefits of Energy Management and the effects it has regardless if you are competing in a team or individual sport. "Energy Management supports my mental well-being; and the vast majority [of these sports] require mental focus," she said. "There's no room for negative energy, not for you or the team."
The workshop was broken out into four stations, each focusing on a component of Energy Management:
2. Attention Control
3. Interpret Physiological Responses
4. Deliberate Breathing, and all athletes had an opportunity to rotate and participate in each.
"A common sleep myth is that people can live on four to five hours of sleep per night, but, eventually, that sleep deficit will catch up to you," said Tim Mitchell, the MRT-PE working with the Cycling team and who led one of the sleep stations.
The Army's Performance Triad notes that adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and that getting the right amount of sleep is vital to overall health and performance.
"Lack of sleep can deplete your mental focus and make you more lethargic," said Staff Sgt. Aram Jacques, brigade master resilience trainer for William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss.
Mitchell says too little sleep may also affect your immune system, your cognitive decision-making and memory. You may also be at higher risk for accidents, he says. "You might not be aware of these issues if you've adjusted to lack of sleep each night, but your brain just won't function optimally."
Mitchell paints a picture for the athletes: "When you get a full cycle of sleep, your brain can wash all the dirty dishes from the day. If you don't get enough sleep, you start the next day with some of those dirty dishes."
Sleep is the foundation of Energy Management, Mitchell says. "A full night's rest, uninterrupted rest, gives you a full battery so your energy is the best it can be, making the other Energy Management techniques more powerful and effective."
Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, Shoot.
Soldiers commonly use this phrase as a cue when there is a rifle malfunction. When thinking "SPORTS", a Soldier is immediately able to focus in on the task at hand and move through the appropriate actions in sequence. This is an Attention Control technique, which lets you focus when necessary.
"This technique is important for these athletes because there are all kinds of distractors going on, such as the crowd, pain, etc. Attention Control helps to manage those distractions," said AJ Pacheco, the MRT-PE working with the Swimming team who led an Attention Control station.
Cue words are one way to focus in on where your body is in the moment and can help you efficiently
stay in the performance or get back to where you need to be.
"With a sport like swimming, these athletes will go through heat after heat, and they can experience exhaustion and fatigue. Cue words can help them focus their energy and their attention on things like extending their arm for the stroke, and breathing, which will bring back their energy and keep them moving," Pacheco said.
INTERPRET PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES
"If you're sweaty, you're ready."
When it's "Go Time" your body might have a physical reaction to nerves or stress, such as butterflies, urge to urinate, or sweat. These are common physiological responses to competition, or performances, such as giving a speech, or going into an evaluation. Knowing what your physiological reactions to the fight or flight response are can help you manage your energy in the most effective way.
"These kinds of reactions are your body's way of mobilizing energy," said Abby Bilyk, the MRT-PE working with the Sitting Volleyball team who led a station on interpreting physiological responses. "It's important to recognize that your body is telling you that you're ready so that you don't make yourself more nervous and spend critical energy managing those nerves."
Bilyk says having self-awareness is key to recognizing when your body is telling you that you're ready. That feeling of butterflies, for example, is really blood moving away from your stomach to the big muscle movers. "We don't want Soldiers interpreting these reactions as: 'I'm nervous'; 'I'm not ready'; or 'that guy's more prepared than me.' We want them to have awareness and understanding of these responses so that they can take appropriate action and target their energy, such as slowing their breathing if their heart is racing."
"It's good to be nervous," said Bilyk, "and these reactions are just your body's way of saying it's ready."
Having awareness of our physiological reactions, such as rapid heartbeat and quick, shallow breaths, is a precursor toward managing energy. The next step is utilizing techniques to bring your body back to normal and restore energy.
"When you get nervous, Deliberate Breathing is a great way to calm yourself down; it helps you to gain composure," said Saylors, who led one of the Deliberate Breathing stations.
Deliberate Breathing is slow-paced and deep, or diaphragmatic, breathing. Breathing in and out with a cadence while focusing on thoughts of gratitude, has a calming effect.
"We all know how to breathe, but it's important to know if we are breathing at the right time in the right way for a particular performance," Saylors said. "To be most effective, you need to practice Deliberate Breathing. These Soldiers train and train and train, and they can't have all that training go out the window when they walk into an evaluation or a competition. Practicing this technique consistently will make the technique permanent."
Deliberate Breathing has also shown to support recovery, such as speeding healing, managing pain and reducing insomnia.
"Competition is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical."
The Soldier and Veteran athletes agree that competition requires mental strength. Energy Management is just one skill the athletes will learn over the course of the Army Trials, which conclude March 10. They will learn how to not only apply these skills to their sport, but how they can put the skills to use when they go home, whether it be back to their unit, to their job, or to their Family.
The Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program has 25 Training Centers located across the Army, which are able to provide targeted training to Soldiers, to include National Guard and Army Reserve, Army civilians and family members. They also provide support to Warrior Transition Units, as well as cadre and caregivers.
Lemons says: "Competition is the same as training, except for what's in your head. It's a totally different ballgame [in your head]. Get out of there and get back to basics. You know this, you got this, you can do this."
To find a CSF2 Training Center near you, visit http://csf2.army.mil/training-centers.html.