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Addressing Tactical AthletesWithin the realm of training tactical athletes, a coach must analyze the types of requirements needed to perform tasks that may result in the wellbeing of multiple parties in any given circumstance.
While much of the time this refers to routine actions, the tactical athlete must be prepared physically and mentally for anything to happen. While physical prowess is always advantageous for the tactical athlete, a coach must also administer training that incorporates kinesthetic awareness in order to prepare a tactical athlete mentally for strenuous situations.
A recent study headed by Blair, an associate professor at Texas State University alongside representatives of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) team at the university, examined the reaction times of tactical athletes as they moved through an abandoned school simulating hostile situations wherein officers confronted armed suspects. In each of the scenarios, the officer was within approximately 10 ft of an armed suspect either with a gun at their side, or at their head (in a suicidal pose). The officers (with their guns drawn and aimed at the suspect) gave orders to the suspect to disarm, who responded by performing a predisposed action of either disarming or firing at the officer when they saw fit to do so (1).Results of this study showed that “suspects moved the gun up from their side and fired in an average of 0.36 s, and 0.40 s from their head (1). The average officer responded fractionally faster to the movement from the side (0.36 s) than to movement from the head (0.40 s),” (1).Researchers stated that “the miniscule edge did go to the suspects, technically. Examined case by case, they shot faster than officers or precisely simultaneously in more than 60% of the encounters. Even in situations where the officer was faster, there was less than a 0.2-s difference, suggesting that the suspect would still get a shot off in most of these encounters,” (1).The results of this study indicate that any advantage that a tactical athlete can gain could increase their chances of surviving a life or death situation (1). As a strength and conditioning coach, it is important to understand what type of mental preparation an athlete of this caliber could utilize to improve performance in this type of situation. By using techniques that tax neurological pathways, tactical athletes are able to simulate situations where reaction time and kinesthetic awareness play a crucial role in the success of the exercise.Training the Tactical AthleteMany of these techniques would not be dissimilar to those used to train elite athletes (collegiate or professional) because the muscle groups involved are generally the same. The modality of the exercises is where any major differences would take place. An example of this could be a single-leg RDL using a medicine ball or dumbbell rather than a traditional barbell on both legs. This requires the activation of many more muscle groups in order to execute the exercise correctly. Also, by placing the tactical athlete in a position which compromises balance, the athlete is forced to train and utilize neurological pathways to stay upright. Anytime a tactical athlete is in a situation where balance comes into play, that athlete must use external stimulation (action/reaction) to stabilize their body. Kinesthetic awareness could play a crucial role in the success of a mission, especially when the athlete is in a stressful environment (1).Another modality that may be utilized is using a visual or audio cadence to designate a set or rep in the weight room. This could be done by having an athlete perform a designated exercise on a cue from the coach. For example, the athlete may be performing a set of 5 rack cleans, where the exercise is performed as quickly as possible when the coach gives a visual or audio cue (such as raising an arm, or slapping two plates together) to perform some type of follow-up action. This would help the athlete react to a stimulus similar to a real-life occurrence.
Because tactical athletes are likely going to have to respond to different types of stimuli in their environment, training neurological pathways could help them to decrease reaction time.ConclusionWhile life or death situations may not be common experiences for all tactical athletes, they are circumstances that the athlete must always be prepared to deal with. Being physically strong is advantageous to these athletes, but the ability to be sharp and confident in these types of situations could mean the difference between life or death for the tactical athlete, or an innocent party.
Jonathan Lynch is a Graduate Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Central Connecticut State University where he assists with coaching football and Olympic sports. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science with a concentration of Health Fitness from Westfield State University in Westfield, MA. Lynch has been a strength and conditioning coach since 2011. He has worked with football and Olympic sports at the University of Connecticut, and the University of California-Los Angeles. He has also worked with tactical and collegiate athletes at the National Strength and Conditioning Association Performance Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Lynch played varsity football at the linebacker position at East Central University and Westfield State University.
Blair, JP, Pollock, J, Montague, D, Nichols, T, Curnutt, J, and Burns, D. Reasonableness and reaction time. Police Quarterly 14(4): 323-343, 2011.