Author: Dave Chorba, Ms Ed, MAT, ATC, CSCS
Over the past 10-15 years, there has been a paradigm shift in the tactical setting (military, law enforcement, and emergency response) to go outside traditional training philosophies, principles, and physical training programs. As shortened careers in the military and other physically demanding fields have been directly linked to an individual’s physical and mental health, leaders in these fields recognized the need for training programs designed to preserve the physical and mental health of their operators. Tactical decision makers, in part, turned to the world of collegiate and professional sports to help design and implement a human performance optimization program. These human performance initiatives include bringing on a range of professionals:
- Strength & Conditioning
- Physical Therapy
- Sports and Cognitive Psychology
- Data Analytics
- Sports Medicine
No one component of human performance optimization alone can be the difference-maker. The most effective means to implement a comprehensive human performance optimization program is to start with a strong foundation.
Begin with the End in Mind: Create your mission.
Sports coaches do not go into a game without a game plan. Military commanders do not send personnel into battle without a mission plan. Without knowing the why or the goal, you cannot go any further. Understanding the client and their needs will significantly improve the effectiveness of the human performance program. Every human performance program should be different depending on the population it serves. Each group has nuances to be taken into account when developing a mission.
The mission of any tactical human performance program is to improve mission readiness, durability, and resiliency of the population. Generally, you accomplish this goal by providing access to current evidence-based human performance, nutrition, physical therapy, mental health and spiritual services, programming, and facilities.
Goal Setting: Determine the desired outcomes.
The ultimate goal is to design a holistic human performance program that will lessen the likelihood of injuries and help individuals maintain peak performance throughout their careers. Before determining program specifics, such as which and how many human performance professionals will be hired, it is vital to figure out the desired program outcomes. These goals will become foundation of the program and be continually measured and assessed through the program’s lifespan. Determining the metrics by which the program will be assessed is vital before getting into program specifics.
These are just a few short and long-range outcomes that can help guide an effective long term human performance optimization program:
- Reduce injury rates and attrition due to injury
- Increase return to duty rates
- Improve physical performance and conditioning
- Improve cognitive performance
- Improve access to care
Both broad and specific goals should be considered when developing an effective program. The goals should also reflect the specific needs of the population for which the program is designed. If individuals are particularly prone to neck and back injuries due to the nature of their work, preventing those injuries should be a goal.
Understanding Evaluation: How will program effectiveness be measured?
An essential part of any program or plan is to have a means of assessing the effectiveness of what was performed. To determine strengths, weaknesses, missed opportunities, unnecessary risks, and areas of improvement of any program, a set of evaluative properties must be established before implementation.
- Will enhancing human performance capacity directly impact:
- Physical performance capabilities;
- The reduction in rate and severity of injuries;
- The rate of return to full duty status after injury; and
- The long-term durability and resiliency over a career?
- Did each component of the human performance program achieve the desired outcomes?
- Strength & Conditioning
- Physical Therapy
- Were there any negative outcomes?
- Did the program impact vary by group, type of training, time, or utilization rate?
Effectiveness can be measured in metrics, which may include information such as how an injury affects an individual’s performance or pain levels. These metrics can range from subjective from to objective, and using them can help determine best practices for moving forward with a program. Evaluation should be measured against the desired outcomes and will be specific to individual programs.
Make it Official: Write the Standard Operating Procedure.
The standard operating procedure (SOP) is key in documenting the entire program’s policies and practices. The SOP provides everyone with guidance on the program, the expectations, and the evaluation process. A program and staff without a written plan will struggle to be effective and succeed. A SOP is necessary to ensure that compliance standards are met, to train personnel during onboarding, and to maximize the program’s potential. The SOP should include practices and expectations, management roles, and how metrics will be corrected. The SOP should be formatted in a way that works for the program. In some cases this may be a flowchart, while in other cases it may be a defined list of steps. Ultimately however, anytime you are working with an individual body and mind, flexibility is necessary. The healthcare professional and the individual being treated must have the flexibility to adapt to their individual training and healthcare needs.
Action: Actualize the human performance program.
When a person does not get the opportunity to take care of their body and mind, they will likely be unable to perform at their highest level. Divisions of the military and other physically demanding tactical fields are setting the stage for national human performance optimization programs. By building a firm foundation—a strong mission, clear goals, a plan to measure effectiveness, and a comprehensive SOP—an organization may succeed in strengthening the performance of its population. With accessibility to human performance programs, individuals will be able to live up to their peak performance and enjoy a longer career.