Performance Enhancement Training helps keep Army’s Warrior Games shooting team on target

Story by Brian B. Feeney, Ph.D., Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness
A Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert uses biofeedback software to provide one-on-one performance enhancement training to a member of the Army’s 2013 Warrior Games shooting team. (U.S. Army photo by Brian B. Feeney, Ph.D., Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness)

A Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert uses biofeedback software to provide one-on-one performance enhancement training to a member of the Army’s 2013 Warrior Games shooting team. (U.S. Army photo by Brian B. Feeney, Ph.D., Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness)

“In shooting matches I used to shoot 40 rounds in 20 minutes, even though I had up to 75 minutes. It was just shoot and look at my placement, shoot again, look again. And when I had a bad shot, I had trouble getting over it and keeping my concentration,” said Maj. John Arbino, a member of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., and of the Army’s shooting team competing in Warrior Games at Colorado Springs, Colo., May 11-16.

“Now I start with five minutes of slow breathing; every part of me has to relax before I start. Once my pulse is calm and my breathing is under control, I put a pellet in and take my first shot; then two more slow breaths, and with each subsequent shot I take two slow breaths before taking my finger off the trigger; reload, then two more breaths before I put my finger back on the trigger,” he continued.

Arbino learned this technique of using deliberate breathing to control his physiology from Lisa Hutchison, a Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert. She started working with the shooting team in October, and with Arbino in December. He is wheelchair-bound with secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis, and is one of 10 active duty Soldiers from warrior transition units around the country who, along with two retirees, form Team Army’s Warrior Games shooting team.  Hutchison grew up shooting, received her master’s degree in sports psychology at the University of Tennessee, and then began working with CSF2.

“When I learned about performance enhancement at my first camp, I was skeptical,” Arbino recalled. “But I changed my mind when I saw Lisa teach the techniques in group sessions, then work with us individually during breaks to give us personal feedback and prepare us for the next match. … She even hooked us up to biofeedback software and I saw my breathing and pulse as waves on a screen while I shot. I could see exactly when I was breathing too hard and taught myself how to even it out. I became a much better marksman,” he explained.

“When I first started working with Lisa at (Fort) Benning, (Ga.), my scores were in the low 380s,” Arbino said. “At the last camp at Fort Bliss, (Texas), I had a personal best of 395. In competitive shooting, this is the difference between going home early and shooting in the medal round.”

Teaching the skills is about asking questions according to Hutchison.

“I ask the shooters to walk me through their thought process during the match, and I compare that to what they told me in the past. I may get: ‘I was doing great until I suddenly felt tired.’ That means the athlete needs to work on energy management. Or I may get: ‘I was distracted by people talking behind me.’ That means he needs to work on attention control,” she added.

If, as with Arbino, she hears: “I have trouble getting over a bad shot,” the answer is to refocus and concentrate on the process goal, not the result. “That means you prepare the same way you do for a good shot the next time,” Hutchison said. There’s no difference between your first shot and your last shot, you prepare for each shot the exact same way each time.”

With their big day of competition at Warrior Games upon them, Arbino said he and his fellow shooters are drawing upon CSF2’s Performance Enhancement training once again. “The competition … is just another day of shooting. I will put everything out of my mind and just shoot.”

To learn more about performance enhancement and other pillars of CSF2, visit http://csf2.army.mil/.