FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Cadets attending Basic Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky this summer learned mental skills designed to help them build confidence, concentration and composure.
Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Experts from across the Army provided performance training to the nearly 3,000 Cadets, teaching them skills in the classroom that they could apply in Army tasks, many of which these college students have never engaged in before.
"[These Cadets] will go through a lot of things this summer, such as marksmanship and the CS chamber, that they've never experienced before," said Bethany Bachman, a Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. "It's important for them to know where their confidence comes from in those types of situations, or what they can say to themselves to gain confidence as they go into these situations so that they can be successful."
Confidence is having a degree of certainty about your abilities. Bachman, who also provides resilience and performance training to Soldiers, Army Civilians and Family members through her work with the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, says there are four sources of certainty that help gain and protect confidence: personal experience, physical state, vicarious experience and persuasion.
"We're teaching these Cadets how to build confidence by using effective thinking and pulling from those various sources of certainty," said Bachman. "We know that our thoughts affect performance. Being able to control our thoughts, and make those thoughts purposeful, productive and possibility-focused creates optimal emotions and physical state, which will help Cadets perform at a high level during their summer training."
Basic Camp is a 30-day training event designed to introduce Cadets, many of which are in their freshman or sophomore year of college, to the Army. The training is packed with briefs, physical training and field training, and requires the Cadets to be focused and concentrate on the task at hand.
"Concentration is being able to pay attention to what is most relevant to avoid distractions. We teach Cadets how to use cue words that are either instructional or motivational to direct their attention to what's important when there are a lot of competing demands for their attention," said Bachman. "Instructional cues are what to do, such as 'center mass' or 'trust', while motivational cues are how to be, such as 'let's go' or 'calm down'. This will help them to focus on the right things at the right time, and to have effective self-talk when things get hard."
Establishing a routine is another strategy for concentration. Routines include three to five steps, such as identifying when to incorporate cue words, and are useful when preparing for a task. "We want these Cadets to be deliberate and effective in preparing for and executing a task. Establishing a routine, and following that routine every time for a performance will help them not only perform optimally but also consistently," said Bachman.
Physiology, thoughts and emotions all affect composure, which is why the MRT-PEs taught the Cadets strategies to help them effectively mobilize and restore their energy to keep their composure under pressure.
"We taught the Cadets deliberate breathing, which has physical, mental and emotional benefits, which together produce an immediate change in our physical state. The Cadets learned how to breathe into their diaphragm, quiet and focus their mind, and prime their emotions that will help them perform or recover," said Bachman.
Deliberate Breathing is done by following a 5-5 cadence -- count to five breathing in; count to five breathing out -- while sitting up straight and uncrossing legs and arms to facilitate circulation.
Bachman recommends that before a performance you should take two to three breaths, and for recovery spend 15 to 20 minutes daily on deliberate breathing.
"Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying."
That's what Cdt. Annabelle Sims, an incoming junior at Auburn University, said about activities involving heights, which is why she appreciated learning strategies to help her build confidence during an eight-hour training course provided by Bachman and fellow MRT-PEs on July 18, 2016. "I know I need to be more confident in my skills and my training," Sims said. She plans to use persuasion ("I can conquer my fear of heights") and vicarious experience from watching others ("I can actually make it through this") as she looks to complete the ropes course and alpine tower in few days.
During the training, the Cadets participated in activities to show them how to apply the strategies during a performance or while completing a task.
One of the team activities, "Golf Ball Scramble", involved a golf ball on a ring connected by strings and each string was held by a different team member. The team had to work together to get the golf ball from one side of the room to the other. Sims said the exercise helped her learn how to be a better leader as well as a better teammate. "At some point during the exercise, someone needed to speak up and have the confidence to be the leader of the team and give orders. The rest of us needed to have the confidence to be a follower and accept feedback," she said.
Another partner activity, "Blindfold Obstacle Course", required one partner to be blindfolded while the other was giving only verbal directions through a five-station obstacle course. "The purpose of this activity was for the person who was blindfolded to learn to trust what their partner was telling them, and to have confidence that the partner is sending them in the right direction," Bachman said.
"I COMPLETED THEM ALL."
On the morning of July 20, Sims headed out to the Forest Hills Climbing Complex along with the rest of her regiment. Her task was to complete the high ropes course, Alpine Towers and Rockwall.
"I'm terrified of heights," Sims said, "and everything was height related mixed in with physical activity. I not only had to rely on myself but also my battle buddies, which can be scary."
Sims says the obstacles were more mentally challenging for her than physically challenging. "I utilized positive thinking, telling myself: 'I have to do this; you're almost there.' I took deep breaths and thought through each challenge before I tackled them," she said.
Sims credits the training she received a few days before for helping her complete the Alpine Tower, which stands at 45 feet. "I probably would've quit half way. At one point I looked down and wanted to quit but told myself not to. I told myself that it would be fine and that I was about to be done."
Cdt. Daniel Sales, University of Dayton, went through Basic Camp last year and leveraged his personal experience to build his confidence before facing the ropes course for a second time. "I thought back and used the experience I had going through this before to help me get through knowing that I've literally done all these exact obstacles before," he said.
Sales acknowledges that even with previous experience, confidence, composure and concentration are still critical to being successful. "[On the high ropes course], everyone is moving around and it starts to wobble and your arms start to get tired. I took a deep breath and told myself to just go for it," he said.
Sales says the obstacles are "90 percent mental and 10 percent physical" and is looking forward to passing the strategies on to his Soldiers after he graduates and becomes a platoon leader. "You might be able to run two miles and do 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups but if you can't think and focus, and be able to concentrate and be composed in a stressful situation, it doesn't matter how fit you are," he added.
For more information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, visit csf2.army.mil. For more information about Basic Camp, visit http://ciet.futurearmyofficers.com/about/.