Type of Document Dissertation Author Sanchez, Christine M. URN etd-07192010-203250 Title Emotional Control, Commitment, and Performance: A Case Study of the United States Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer School. Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Gershon Tenenbaum Committee Chair Alysia Roehrig Committee Member Robert Eklund Committee Member Lynn Panton University Representative Keywords
- Performance Psychology
- Mental Toughness
- Aquatic Environment
- Mental Skills
Date of Defense 2010-05-28 Availability unrestricted AbstractA Helicopter Rescue Swimmer is one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs in the United States Coast Guard (USCG). In order to become a USCG Helicopter Rescue Swimmer, interested candidates must successfully complete a rigorous 18-week training program, called Aviation Survival Technician (AST) A-School, where the average attrition rate is over 50%. Within military and civilian literature, few researchers have reported on performance in Search and Rescue (SAR) environments. More specifically, to the researcher’s knowledge, there are no empirical reports on the psychological components needed for optimal Helicopter Rescue Swimmer performance. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to build upon pilot research in which AST A-School Instructors identified psychological components of high-level AST performance, as well as stressors that students commonly encounter during AST A-School (Sanchez, 2009). Maintaining emotional control and displaying strong commitment were two of the nine identified psychological components leading to high-level AST performance. A case study research design involving qualitative inquiry was selected as the best method to gain a deeper understanding as to how emotional and commitment influence AST A-School student performance. One AST A-School class (N = 11) was followed on-site throughout the duration of the four-month training program to capture the students’ experiences and build upon the study’s research questions. Due to the lower than average attrition rate and number of dismissed students with training related injuries, it became difficult to examine psychological components of successful and unsuccessful AST A-School students. As the weeks progressed during data collection, new themes emerged and the purpose of the study shifted to examining the variables influencing successful AST A-School performance within a larger than average graduating class.
Several themes emerged from data obtained in this investigation. First, although Go (i.e., passed AST A-School, n = 7) and No-Go (i.e., dismissed from AST A-School, n = 4) students reported high commitment to complete the training program; the Go students reported slightly higher commitment than the No-Go students. Examining the quality of students’ commitment aided in gaining a deeper understanding of the reasons why students remained committed to completing AST A-School. The Investment Model/Sport Commitment Model (Rusbult, 1980; Scanlan, Carpenter, Schmidt, Simons, & Keeler, 1993) was utilized as a framework for describing AST A-School Commitment. High perceived rewards, low attractive alternatives, high personal investment, social constraints acting as motivators, and high perceived involvement opportunities contributed to understanding why students remained committed throughout AST A-School.
Second, social supports consisting of a spouse, family members, and fellow classmates emerged as personal resources for AST A-School students that facilitated coping with many of the stressors encountered during the course. Fellow classmates emerged as the most commonly utilized form of social support. The positive class dynamics of the Go Group appeared to be a factor facilitating students’ success in the training program. Interview data with the Go students revealed several key characteristics of the class dynamics that aided in creating a positive learning environment: (a) supportiveness, (b) shared leadership, (c) camaraderie, (d) similar skill level, (e) cohesion, and (f) open communication.
Third, the mental skills of attention control and self-confidence emerged as skills facilitating successful AST A-School performance. Fourth, results were consistent with initial pilot study data (Sanchez, 2009) and served to refine an understanding of AST A-School stressors. Students identified numerous stressors that one must cope with while participating in AST A-School: (a) AST instructors, (b) experiencing a restricted airway, (c) managing personal life responsibilities, (d) skill tests, (e) the uncertainty of training, (f) becoming injured, and (g) time management.
Fifth, Go students and No-Go students appraised stressors as both challenging and threatening. Overall, both sets of students reported experiencing more negative emotions when encountering AST A-School Stressors, as compared to positive emotions or mixed emotions. The coping efforts of Go and No-Go students served specific purposes (i.e., functions), and these purposes varied by the stressor. Sometimes students’ coping efforts for a particular stressor served multiple purposes. Students also utilized a wide assortment of coping strategies to manage each stressor. These coping strategies also varied by the individual. Within each stressor, specific strategies emerged to facilitate specific coping functions. When comparing the coping strategies between the Go and No-Go Groups, the No-Go students typically coped to manage their emotional responses to stressors. On the other hand, the Go students primarily coped to redefine the personal meaning of stressors. The Go students engaged in a variety of coping strategies, however, “keeping things in perspective by accepting and redefining into a positive” was the most frequently reported coping strategy.
The study’s findings contribute new performance psychology knowledge in understanding how emotional control, commitment, and class dynamics influence performance in military settings. Applications for the applied consultant are discussed.
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