Applying sport and performance psychology in the military – AECC University College

Stewart Cotterill

Friday, February 25, 2022

Professor Stewart Cotterill is head of the School of Rehabilitation, Sport and Psychology at AECC University College. In this blog he looks at the application of sport psychology techniques in the Royal Navy.

Applying sport and performance psychology in the military

In recent months I been working for the Royal Navy supporting the education and development of service personnel, specifically relating to psychological performance. In this time, I have been, advising on the further development and implementation of a focused training programme within the Royal Navy, part of which has been focused upon further enhancing psychological performance for specific groups of service personnel.

There has been increasing use of sport and performance psychology tools and techniques in military settings to aid the performance under pressure of military personnel. Many military services across the world now embed the development and teaching of core psychological / mental skills to facilitate enhanced levels of performance and to give service personal tools to cope with the stresses and challenges they encounter in their work roles. While the specific focus of these programmes changes from country to country and service to service there does appear to be a core set of psychological tools that are embedded in these enhancement programmes including: goal setting, self-talk, relaxation techniques, imagery (visualisation), focusing strategies and emotional control strategies.

The focus on enhancing performance under pressure is something that has been a key focus of attention in sporting domains for a long time, and in the late 1980s in the USA the military services started to explore the application of these performance techniques to improve the performance under pressure of military personnel. Over the last 30 years programmes that have sought to enhance mental performance in the military have diversified but many are still built around the development of these core mental skills.

Emotional control and being able to reduce physiological arousal (e.g., calm your heart down) has been seen as a crucial aspect of performance in many performance domains. Being too ‘worked up’ can impact upon decision-making, increase the engagement in risky behaviours, reduce the ability to focus, and reduce task performance accuracy. Therefore, the teaching of strategies that can return personnel to a more ‘normal’ state are a crucial …….


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