The Missing Link in Training: The Mental Aspects of Performance

In the mid-1980s, sports psychologist Gary Mack and I authored the first edition of The Mental Aspects of Performance. The first M.A.P. was on the market for 12 years. In October 2002, Gary and I decided to create the second edition of the book, but a...


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In the mid-1980s, sports psychologist Gary Mack and I authored the first edition of The Mental Aspects of Performance. The first M.A.P. was on the market for 12 years. In October 2002, Gary and I decided to create the second edition of the book, but a week after that decision was made, Gary died from a heart attack. The following year, I decided to take the project on anyway, as a tribute to Gary.

With the help of many people, the new M.A.P. is a reality. This new edition, titled The Mental Aspects of Performance for Firefighters and Fire Officers (The M.A.P.), is published by Fire Protection Publications at Oklahoma State University, and represents a complete restructuring and rewrite of the original book. Gary is still identified as the co-author because his beliefs and concepts remain at the core of The M.A.P.

Gary Mack often said that “excellence has as its basis a fundamental belief in the power of individual potential.” The M.A.P., with the concepts, exercises and skills it contains, will help firefighters and fire officers perform to a higher level, especially under stressful conditions. The goal of The M.A.P. is to equip firefighters and fire officers with the skills to handle the mental, emotional and physical demands they face in their personal lives and on the fire department. The M.A.P. enhances safety, improves performance outcomes, and provides a foundation for a more positive, productive and healthy life.

Field and administrative performance demands, as well as the reality of uncertainty, put fire service members under physical, mental and emotional pressures on a daily basis. The mental aspects are particularly demanding since emergency response not only involves the stress and tension of danger, but also requires a high psychological state of readiness, long periods of waiting, clarity, self-control and confidence. Firefighters and fire officers are like relief pitchers in baseball – they often answer what turn out to be false alarms; warming up and getting ready to perform, but not being called to go in. Psychologically, that can take its toll because every time you “get up,” it’s a potential action appearance – and it takes a toll.

The M.A.P. isolates the essential behaviors, techniques and capacities that contribute to peak performance, as well as psychological and emotional wellness. Together, they help an individual achieve his or her ideal performance state. Studies of peak performers in the fire service, athletics, business and music clearly point to common behaviors that have been clinically proven and field tested. Together, they form the Control Keys, Success Cs and Master Skills – the basis of the Mental Aspects of Performance:

ONE Control Key: Growth
Success C: Challenged
Master Skill: Goal-Setting
The ability to learn, grow, change and adapt is critical to peak performers. Most of the greats, regardless of their profession, are open and innovative, as well as lifelong students. They view change as a challenge to embrace rather than a threat to resist. Goal-setting is a proven tool for increasing confidence and sustaining effort over time. By learning how to set challenging and realistic goals, firefighters and fire officers can measure their growth and improvement and let go of unrealistic expectations and uncontrollable outcomes.

TWO Control Key: Attention
Success C: Concentration
Master Skill: Centering
The ability to focus one’s attention on the goal or task at hand is essential to performance success. Concentration is considered one of the most essential mental skills in learning how to increase and sustain attention and decrease distractions. The ability to maintain proper focus and eliminate unwanted distractions is crucial to firefighters and fire officers who often work in hectic and hostile environments. Controlling the external environment and controlling your personal reactions are essential to avoiding the loss of control.

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