Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Exploring the Role of Motivational and Coping Resources in a Special Forces Selection Process

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Exploring the Role of Motivational and Coping Resources in a Special Forces Selection Process

Article excerpt


A career in the military, which is physically and psychologically more demanding than most civilian careers options (Skomorovsky & Stevens, 2013), is often a lifestyle resolution as much as a career choice. The military context is particularly prone to stressors of a highly demanding nature such as physical exhaustion, exposure to climatic changes and prolonged absence from home. Furthermore, those serving in the military could face dangerous situations in which their own and others' lives are at stake (Bates et al., 2010; Cornum, Matthews & Seligman, 2011; Skomorovsky & Stevens, 2013). For those who are selected to serve in elite units such as the Special Forces, these demands and the risks associated with failure are particularly intense (Bartone, Roland, Picano & Williams, 2008; Hunt, Orr & Billing, 2013). Good general coping resources are therefore particularly important in the military context (Hobfoll et al., 1991; Maddi, 2013). Measurement and the use of constructs associated with coping resources could thus contribute to the management and improvement of wellbeing in the military (Cornum et al., 2011) by means of a focus on positive-psychology constructs such as hardiness, resilience and grit.

Positive psychology refers to the '... scientific study of what is "right about people" - as opposed to the traditional focus on the healing of psychological pain or trauma' (Molony & Henwood, 2010, p. 15). Top military leaders have recognised the importance of psychological fitness (Casey, 2011) and that stress has a negative impact on performance. The US Army has therefore launched a large-scale project involving positive-psychology measures and training programmes (Cornum et al., 2011) in seeking to use the science of positive psychology to enhance resilience amongst the entire army community (Casey, 2011). The comprehensive soldier fitness (CSF) programme of the US Army is aimed at promoting wellbeing, developing psychological resilience and preventing problems by adopting a holistic, integrated, preventive and proactive approach (Casey, 2011; Cornum et al., 2011). Individuals with higher hardiness and better coping skills generally cope better with stressful circumstances and show fewer stress symptoms (Escolas, Pitts, Safer & Bartone, 2013), These constructs can therefore be applied practically in the selection of military employees as those with higher coping resources are also likely to cope better with the stressors of the military context (Casey, 2011).

Problem statement

Stressors in the military context range from complex demands that integrate cognitive, physical, interpersonal and emotional aspects to possible life-threatening and dangerous situations. However, it also involves menial and repetitive tasks such as ensuring that military and personal equipment is clean and well maintained at all times and dealing with the frustration of long periods of low demand and boredom (Maddi, 2013). Emotional and psychological resources help with managing stressful situations when these are encountered (Gruber, Kilcullen & Iso-Ahola, 2009) and are therefore also important for those working in the military context (Bates et al., 2010; Lee, Sudom & McCreary, 2011).

Changing times, the diverse demographics of candidates and the new demands of modern-day warfare served as motivation for the exploration of the role of positive psychological constructs within the context of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Special Forces. This is in line with modern trends internationally where a number of wide-scale studies have been undertaken to evaluate the role of positive-psychology constructs within the broader military context (Seligman & Fowler, 2011) as well as in the Special Forces context (Bartone et al., 2008). Due to the extreme physical and mental challenges that individuals in the Special Forces context often have to deal with, aspects such as physical and emotional resilience; physical, emotional and mental strength; grit; tenacity and perseverance have been the focus of a growing conversation around the profiling, screening and selection and training of these individuals (Bartone et al. …

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