Holistic Health and Fitness in the Military: Using Data to Individualize Large Scale Human Performance

by Fusion Sport
 | 4th May, 2021

Part 1: History of Holistic Health and Fitness in the Military and Preservation of Force and Family (POTFF)

In the early 2000s, after observing the deleterious effects of sustained combat on special operations troops, US Navy Admiral William McCraven crafted a concept of operations that became known as Preservation of Force and Family (POTFF). The intent of the program was straightforward: embed civilian and active-duty strength coaches, psychologists, athletic trainers, and physical therapists in elite units to provide proactive treatment and care to tactical athletes in an ongoing attempt to shift the needle from reactive to proactive. Within Special Operations Command (SOCOM) the initiative has been a resounding success.  

Fast forward to a more recent timeframe and the US Army is looking to replicate the embedded care model via a force-wide program known as Holistic Health and Fitness, or H2F. The genesis of H2F is much the same as the genesis for the original POTFF construct: decrease injury rates in order to increase the number of assets available to command staff by embedding subject matter experts into units that have been historically left to fend for themselves when it comes to human performance.  

With any complex program in any organization, an increase in scale introduces a concomitant increase in risk. The Army’s H2F is no different. The embedded care model has proven fruitful within special operations largely due to the smaller size of the teams to which these practitioners are assigned. Injury management, return-to-duty protocols, physical training, and other components of the POTFF model are all handled in a small group or oftentimes even a one-to-one setting. The tailored, individualized approach to care is challenging to reproduce when the athlete population expands from a few dozen to a few thousand as we see in the initial phases of the H2F model.  

This is not to say that the foundation of H2F is misaligned. If we look back at the traditions of “human performance” within conventional forces over several decades, we see a path dependent timeline of large group physical training based on quantity over quality, delayed access to care within overburdened medical groups, cultural avoidance of discussion around mental health issues, and little to no resourcing dedicated to a holistic and adaptive approach to training, treating, and improving soldiers. In many ways, H2F represents a positive paradigm shift within the US military to recognize that people do, in fact, come first and that without a strong, resilient, motivated force that is available to fight when called upon, nothing else matters.  

The challenge, then, becomes figuring out how to leverage the power of data analytics as a force multiplier for embedded care professionals. In the remaining two articles of this series, we’ll look first at the idea of data-driven human performance and then use that model to hypothesize how a large-scale human performance enterprise like H2F might apply the principles of individualized human performance to thousands of soldiers across the force. 

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