FORT BLISS, Texas -- "Pick your own skills and make your own toolbox." That was the key takeaway for one team of athletes participating in U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition's Army Trials 2017, following a five-station "mental gauntlet" the day prior to intense competition.
Athletes endured three days of tough practice, including morning, afternoon and evening sessions, in eight sports: swimming, cycling, shooting, archery, track, field, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. For Soldiers and veterans who have already demonstrated incredible resilience by overcoming wounds, illnesses and injuries, these adaptive sports present a new, fun challenge: to learn and compete as athletes. The Army Trials is an opportunity for the athletes to succeed in a new way, by taking the lessons learned and applying them to their daily lives.
Following the days of grueling practice, athletes spent an afternoon flexing their "mental muscle," simultaneously allowing their bodies to recover and their minds to prepare for the next five days of competition. Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion's Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew E. Unger set the tone for the afternoon's mental workout, saying "The brain controls how we act, function and speak. Never let your disability control your brain."
Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Experts (MRT-PEs) from U.S. Army's Ready and Resilient led the mental gauntlet, the intent of which was to reinforce skills the MRT-PEs taught the athletes during their practices.
To introduce the gauntlet, MRT-PE Brett Sandwick primed the athletes with a discussion about fixed and growth mindset, reminding them that a growth mindset allows people to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks and continually seek higher levels of development. Then Sandwick divided the athletes into five teams, Alpha through Echo.
Each team rotated and completed five exercises: a pingpong challenge, intended to challenge the athletes' focus and motivation; a paper-folding exercise to illustrate the benefit of a growth mindset; a deliberate breathing station using emWave technology that monitors breathing and shows when an athlete is using energy most efficiently; a "helium stick" exercise to build communication and practice managing frustration; and a performance plan station for athletes to develop and record performance plans for their individual events.
While the athletes found the exercises to be fun and challenging, developing their performance plans was a clear favorite. U.S. Army Veteran Sgt. 1st Class Randall Nieves explained, "[The performance plan] is not the most fun thing to do, but it does serve a purpose. It does put you in that mindframe that 'this is what I have to do,' that's what we do in the military…[and] you can apply that to all the different sports you're doing."
U.S. Army Veteran Sgt. 1st Class David Luli agreed, "The workshop was awesome. Subconsciously I already had the plan that I wrote down in my mind, I just hadn't gone into detail and put it on paper, so it was tremendous. It just gives a little bit more structure and purpose to what you're doing."
An athlete representing each team, Alpha through Echo, provided what they took away from participating in the workshop. Teams Delta and Echo succinctly summed it up:
Stay focused and keep it simple.
Pick your skills and build your own toolbox.
MRT-PEs provide resilience and performance skills to all wounded, ill and injured Soldiers as part of their Comprehensive Transition Plan, making them ready for a successful transition either to civilian life or back into the Army. These skills are available to and can be tailored for all Soldiers, Family members and Army Civilians, to help strengthen resilience and maintain personal readiness of the Army. Visit www.army.mil/readyandresilient to learn more.