To more efficiently use performance experts (PEs) throughout the Army, the Army Resilience Directorate (ARD) implemented a pilot program to transition these professionals from division or installation-level resources to battalion and brigade-level assets. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) scientists are evaluating this program, the embedded performance expert (EPE) pilot, within seven brigades.
To date, WRAIR has collected data from leaders, Soldiers and EPEs. In interviews, EPEs and their unit leaders described the experience of delivering psychological skills and concepts. Three distinct strategies were employed: teaching, coaching and meta-coaching. Teaching took place in classrooms, at PT or on the range, typically in a formal manner that required preplanning and coordination. This strategy set foundational conditions for psychological skills training. Coaching occurred on demand and more informally whenever EPEs were able to intervene and improve performance. Often, these quick tips reinforced knowledge acquired during formal training.
For many EPEs, coaching included helping Soldiers to prepare for the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) or to qualify with their weapons. Alternatively, meta-coaching was used to train leaders on how to find moments to step in and coach their Soldiers, without an EPE present. When used effectively, these strategies work together to reinforce psychological skills and concepts training. Most EPEs, however, believed that their impact was greatest while coaching Soldiers. Although many leaders acknowledged the effects of coaching (especially on ACFT and marksmanship performance), an analysis of interviews with them suggests that the EPEs’ impact on leader development was also apparent.
For instance, one EPE, who was discouraged by not being allowed to coach Soldiers during training, was able to provide feedback to the master gunner (MG) after observing this officer doing an after-action review with troops, resulting in a meta-coaching session between the EPE and the MG. The MG then applied that feedback and practiced new strategies, thus developing as a leader and leveraging the opportunity to improve the Soldiers’ performance.
Another leader, a first sergeant (1SG), had his EPE work with his noncommissioned officers (NCOs). The EPE taught a range of classes and used various resources, including handouts, to assist with the lessons. The 1SG shared his excitement when he noticed one of the NCOs using the handouts to guide formal counseling sessions with Soldiers.
These experiences support the inclusion of meta-coaching or coach education in leadership development programming for Soldiers. In both scenarios, EPEs empowered leaders to intervene effectively to improve Soldier performance. Results from interviews with leaders, Soldiers and EPEs suggest that coach education has the greatest impact on the unit and can be a way to integrate psychological skills and concepts into formations. The WRAIR evaluation team proposes that EPEs set the foundation of psychological skills and concepts through formal teaching sessions and then support leaders in finding teachable moments in order to improve Soldiers’ performances. When employed in this way, effective coach education can be a vehicle for force multiplication. The impact of the EPEs’ work can reach more Soldiers if leaders learn to be effective coaches. Considering the demands of the modern military, improving coaching behaviors is critical. With upcoming changes to the Master Resilience Trainer Course and the evaluation of the Sky Soldier Toughness Initiative, moving toward coach education is a data-supported, strategic direction by ARD to optimize Soldier readiness and resilience