Smart Is the New Strong: An Investigation of the Contribution of Physical, Cognitive, Anthropometric, and Personality Variables to Success in a Tier 1 Special Forces Qualification Course

Nathalie Pattyn, Jeroen Van Cutsem, Martine Van Puyvelde, Nicholas Van den Berg, Émilie Lacroix, Emilie Dessy, Camille Verheyden, Wouter Huybens, Salvatore Lo Beau, Veerle Tibax, Robert Vliegen, Jean Ceccaldi, Perseverence Savieri, Lara Stas, Olivier Mairesse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Selection and training of special operations forces operators is long-lasting process that involves significant manpower to select the best candidates for one of the most demanding and dangerous jobs in the world. The Tier 1 qualification course, which represents the initial months of training for an operator, is so labor-intensive that even after completing a specific selection course to reduce the number of failures, attrition remains the highest among all military trainings. This study presents data of 77 successfully selected candidates to the special forces qualification course in Belgium and investigates the differences between succeeders (n = 16) and dropouts (n = 61). Unlike previous investigations, these results do not describe successfully selected candidates for the training, rather successful operators. Additionally, previous studies have primarily focused on physical fitness as the performance outcome to identify relevant subcomponents such as aerobic capacity, muscular strength, or power. By contrast, the present article provides a detailed investigation of the performance profile at not only the physical level, but also cognitive and personality levels for among succeeders and dropouts in the qualification course. Unsurprisingly, physical fitness was a significant difference between groups, and a major predictor of success. However, for the first time, we demonstrate the major influence of intelligence (measured as intelligence quotient), as the most important determinant of success for the qualification course, according to a relative weight analysis. In addition, the detailed intellectual assessment shows that some visuospatial measures are less relevant for success, whereas verbal measures are highly relevant, and may have been overlooked in previous literature.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSport, Exercise and Performance Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Nathalie Pattyn received funding from Grants HFM 17-05 and HFM 19-09 from the Institut Royal Supérieur de Défense, Belgique. The authors thank Ward De Bremme and Litse Baessens for their assistance in the data collection of physiological variables. They also wish to express their gratitude to the special forces group for supporting this research and to the community of operators for their never-faltering commitment to excellence.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association

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