AIS joins forces with army to build athletes’ resilience

By Shannon Jenkins

May 21, 2021

Australian Army soldiers Private Pamela Amber (right), Private Tanielle Larkin (left) and Able Seaman Richard Pocknee listen to information about athlete recovery during a tour in Australian Institute of Sport at Canberra, as part of a tour for Forces Command Soldier of the Year. (Image: Defence)

The Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Army are launching a pilot program that aims to put athletes out of their comfort zone to help them improve their leadership and teamwork skills and boost their resilience.

National sporting organisations will be able to request the new program as part of their high-performance camps experience at the AIS in Canberra, the two entities announced on Friday.

Through activities like the high ropes course at the Australian Defence Force Academy, athletes will test their ability to problem-solve, communicate, and perform under stress.

As part of the initial trial with the Australian Army, AIS staff navigated a high ropes course and worked together as a team to solve tasks and overcome obstacles, according to AIS performance services lead Ross Smith.

“We gave the staff a couple of strategies to deal with stress effectively, which they got to trial on the high ropes,” he said.

“At the Leadership Reaction Course, they used a more leadership approach. Again, we taught them some basic strategies on leadership and how to lead and work and communicate as a team, and then trialled it in a very practical sense.”

Major Emma Williams, from the Australian Army Forces Command Human Performance Cell, said that while war and sport are very different experiences, the emotional regulation they require is the same.

“It’s hard to achieve that stress response in normal training, whether that be military training or sport. So, these sorts of activities are really useful to put you in an environment that’s outside of your comfort zone to test those stress responses,” she said.

“It’s important to utilise the time in these environments to test your emotional regulations. It’s about practising the cognitive techniques so that when you are in a situation, whether it be competition or out on the battlefield, you’re able to regulate those stress responses and achieve the mission.”

Smith noted that the only extreme pressure athletes normally experience is during major competitions.

“By practising here in a different and challenging environment, it allows athletes to learn techniques to help get a better outcome in future competition and training,” he said.


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