In the foreword for the book ‘Focused for Rugby’, Brian Ashton discussed the role of psychology in sporting performance and stated: “I suspect that for a large majority of coaches and players the mental side of the game – the glue that holds together the technical, physical, and tactical sides of the game under the most hostile pressure – is the least understood and practised”. I believe this is the case for the policing profession as well. If mental skills are “taught” at all it is often in isolation and not integrated into all aspects of training, by the entire training cadre.
Mental skills are skills that need to be taught starting at the pre-service academy level, practiced in a wide variety of situations, and continually refined by the individual officers so they understand what works best for them in various situations. Mental skills are not one size fits all.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Christian Ytterbol about some work he had done to integrate Mental Skills Training into the advance sniper course with the Norwegian military. Christian talks about providing the course participants with options, not solutions and allowing them to work through the best way to apply those options for themselves. That work is described in a paper he cowrote with Dave Collins PhD and Alan MacPherson PhD titled Shooter ready? Integrating mental skills training in an advanced sniper course. This project was part of Christian’s PhD research and he will be defending his dissertation next month. Below is a recent post of his on LinkedIn addressing the importance of mental skills training.
Why mental skills training is so important in relation to stress and performance:
By incorporating mental skills training, individuals can develop strategies to effectively manage stress, regulate emotions, maintain focus, and make sound decisions under pressure. This training can include techniques such as mindfulness, imagery, goal setting, self-talk, and stress management. This is well researched in several fields.
Mental skills training helps individuals enhance their cognitive and emotional flexibility, which can positively impact their ability to adapt to stressful situations. It can also contribute to improved situational awareness, communication, and teamwork, all of which are vital for professionals in high-stakes environments.
Moreover, mental skills training can assist in reducing the overall allostatic load experienced by these individuals. By equipping them with effective coping mechanisms, it can help prevent or mitigate the negative physiological and psychological effects of chronic stress. This, in turn, can support long-term well-being and performance by promoting recovery and preventing burnout.
Therefore, integrating mental skills training with an understanding of allostasis and allostatic load allows individuals in these professions to develop a comprehensive approach to managing stress, optimising performance, and maintaining their mental and physical health over time.
Some questions to ponder and act on:
- Do you teach mental skills training to your personnel?
- Do you teach it starting at the academy and then continue to reinforce and develop those skills throughout their career?
- Do you integrate it into every aspect of training?
- Do you teach mental skills training to your instructor cadre?
- Do you teach your instructor cadre how to implement mental skills training into what they teach?
If the answer to the above questions is ‘No’, then what can you do to start? Consider starting with small changes by applying the question, “Where might the smallest change make the biggest difference?”. Once you implement changes then assess, iterate, and repeat. Start with the members of the training cadre who believe in the power of the mind and get them the information and training they need to start weaving these skills into their training. Avoid fighting and arguing with the sceptics and cynics. Start with the believers and get them the education, training and support they need to implement this critical training.
If your answer to the above list of questions was ‘Yes’, then continue to build on what you are doing. Keep reading, learning, experimenting, and refining the training. Continually seek new information to enhance your training and new opportunities to integrate mental skills training into all aspects of training.
We owe it to our people to help them prepare their mind for where their body may have to go and give them “the glue that holds together the technical, physical, and tactical sides of the game under the most hostile pressure”. Failing to do so may set them up for failure on the street. Mental skills training also serves as an upstream intervention with positive effects on the long-term mental health of your people.
Winning Mind Training – Providing practical training to law enforcement professionals in the areas of instructor development, Performance Enhancement Imagery, leadership, and mindset.