CSF-PREP works with III Corps Combatives Team on mental training
Daniel Cernero, Sentinel Sports EditorBy peeking in the Fort Hood Combatives Training Facility on any given day, it’s obvious to see the III Corps Team putting in a hard day’s work, rolling around on the mats, receiving a workout that enhances their stamina and technical abilities as they prepare for the upcoming 2012 U.S. Army Combatives Championship next week.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Soldiers on this year’s team are also receiving another type of workout, one that takes place behind the scenes and that comes by way of the trainers with Fort Hood’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness – Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program.
It’s a workout of the mind.
Beginning in 2010, performance enhancement specialist with CSF-PREP have worked with members of the team on a one-on-one basis to help III Corps fighters achieve the right mindset for the tournament.
“We address the mental training piece,” said Brad Williams, a
CSF-PREP performance enhancement specialist. “We talk about things like ‘how do I make sure I’m focused on the right thing at the right time, not only in training but for the competition itself?’ or ‘how do I manage my energy efficiently throughout a match and throughout a whole day, recognizing that for this tournament, on the first two days I’m going to have multiple fights.’”
He said it’s important for the fighters to be able to reset their focus and reenergize between fights and throughout the day.
After the fighters are divvied up amongst the CSF-PREP trainers, the specialized training begins.
“We looked at what are the optimal emotions that they want to have before a fight. It’s different for each fighter,” Williams said. “Some may want to feel really energized and amped, while others might want to feel calm.”
He said the training they’ve been doing with the fighters covers strategies that will help them get to that emotion and energy that they’ve identified.
The fighters they work with, Williams said, have different levels of experience in mental training, usually correlating to the experience they’ve had in the upper level of athletics.
One of Williams’ fighters, Capt. Jason Norwood, an experienced professional on the mixed martial arts circuit, was first introduced to mental training during his time on the All-Army wrestling team.
He said he approaches the mental training as just another facet in preparing for the tournament.
“It’s interesting to note that as military professionals, we have to look at ourselves as professional athletes,” Norwood said. “At the professional athletic level, they have coaches for every different aspect of training, whether that be physical, mental, technical – they have all of those coaches. So in the Army, we need to do the same thing.”
Norwood said that a key part of the mental training has been learning what to do when faced with an “Oh, crap” moment, as he called it.
“One of my coaches tells me that the first thing to go in combat is hope and the second thing is your plan,” he said, “but if you’ve trained for a plan and for when you do not have a plan, then that’s what this (mental training) does; it helps me get back into the right mindset once my plan has gone to crap.”
The CSF-PREP trainers can actually measure that ability to bounce back to the right mindset, as well as maintaining a steady mindset, using a biofeedback machine, called an emWave, which measures breathing patterns and how engaged the sympathetic nervous system – the one that causes a person to be amped up – is versus the parasympathetic nervous system – the one that causes a person to calm down.
“The biofeedback improves self-awareness. It’s about not letting the environment dictate how they’re going to be,” Williams said. “The reality in the Army is that the unexpected thing happens all of the time and the plan goes out the window, so you have to be ready for that.
“We’re trying to quiet the mind by focusing on just one thing instead of many things,” he added. “This will put them in a state in which they’ll be able to think more clearly under stress and make better decisions, and they’ll be more likely to be on their ‘A’ game, at their highest level, and manage their energy more efficiently.”
Pfc. Greg Langorica, who has earned a spot on the team at the bantamweight division, said he was first introduced to this type of training last summer following a bike injury.
“I was having problems sleeping, I had a lot on my mind, and I didn’t have a release for it,” he said.
After learning controlled breathing techniques, Langorica said he saw an improvement.
With his CSF-PREP performance enhancement specialist, Arlene Bauer, he’s been able to receive a much more expansive range of mental training, while continuing to work on the breathing
“You can tell his breathing pattern is very consistent,” Bauer said of Langorica, who had just a completed a five-minute test on the emWave machine at its highest sensitivity level. “It’s about being able to tap into the emotional piece – Greg’s worked on what emotions he needs in order to perform his best.”
Langorica said the first time he incorporated the mental techniques into fighting happened during the wrestle-offs to secure a spot on the team. During his bouts, he said he tried to remain as relaxed as possible, not trying to over-think anything.
“I’m trying to be aggressive, while calm, so that I don’t rush into things,” he said, “because I find that when I rush into things, I make a mistake.”
The receptiveness to the mental training varies from fighter to fighter, but Williams said having the support from leaders inside the combatives fight house has helped tremendously.
“The coaching staff – Jarrod Clontz along with Kris Perkins, the director – has been extremely supportive, so without them, it might have been harder, but they embrace it,” Williams said. “So when the very top embraces it, it’s easy to convince everyone else of the necessity and importance of the mental piece.”
Norwood said he’s seen other fighters’ hesitation to the training.
“The issue that I find, and unfortunately this is with some of my own teammates, is not the fact that they’re not willing to train,” Norwood said. “It’s the fact that they’re not willing to train in all aspects of the game. And this is a big aspect of the game.”
While he sees their resistance, Norwood said he’s not quick to try to convince them of the benefits.
“I’m perfectly content for Brad to not have a lot of appointments during the day, because that means that I can get in (for an appointment),” Norwood said. “It works for me, because it makes my schedule easier.
“I don’t tell anybody, because I’m selfish,” he said with a grin.
As the tournament nears, Norwood said he’ll continue to use the holistic training approach.
“We break down training sessions into conditioning, that’s purely physical; technical sessions, we have those all of the time; and you need to have just as many mental sessions,” Norwood said.
“The fact of the matter is that I have beaten guys that are better than me,” he added. “The majority of the guys that I’ve beat are technically better than me – physically speaking – but I beat them because I have a plan.”