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Athletes learning the ropes with AIS and Army

20 May 2021

Athletes and sports will be able to broaden their training in resilience, leadership and teamwork as part of their high performance camps in Canberra thanks to a pilot program being launched by the AIS and Australian Army.

The immersive educational experiences will expose athletes to problem-solving, communication and performance under stress, placing them in safe but unfamiliar environments such as the high ropes course at ADFA.

The AIS and Australian Army have the common goal of optimising human performance and National Sporting Organisations will have the opportunity to request the new program as part of their high-performance camps experience at the AIS in Canberra.

AIS Performance Services Lead Ross Smith says the experience is designed to challenge athletes and force them to analyse how they self-regulate stress, lead and communicate within a team.

“The AIS is a very broad training facility,” Smith said. “We have options of utilising not only the facilities and skilled staff on campus but by linking up with the Australian Army, we also get the benefit of using their facilities in the Canberra region to help athletes.”

Demonstrating it is no bootcamp, AIS staff undertook the initial trial with the Australian Army. Battling rapid heart rates and sweaty palms, they navigated a high ropes course and worked together as a team to solve tasks and overcome obstacles.

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

Mr Smith said the key to the program, and the partnership with the Australian Army, is the ability to test athletes outside their normal environment.

“If an athlete is in their normal environment, they are normally used to [the associated stresses] and can handle it.

“The only extreme pressure they normally experience is in major competitions and you don’t want to practise in a major competition. 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.”

Major Emma Williams, a Staff Officer in the Australian Army Forces Command Human Performance Cell, says the experience draws on the parallels between athletes and soldiers.

“We’re using Royal Military College staff to deliver the Leadership Reaction Course activities that we traditionally run cadets through,” Major Williams said.

“War and sport are obviously quite different but the emotional regulation that is needed 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.”

Major Williams added: “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.”

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