Course of Action (COA) for Your Military Human Performance Program

By Marcus Colby

In the military, service members must maintain operational readiness at all times. A human performance platform helps facilitate this by bringing specialists together, enabling data-driven decision-making, and facilitating better communication.

Having a clear Course of Action (COA) at the beginning of your Human Performance program will help ensure its initial success and encourage continued evolution. In this article, we’ll walk you through four key elements of a good COA.


To begin well, you need to outline a vision for your program that embraces a holistic performance and wellness approach. The military is basing human performance programs like Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) around five core domains: physical, mental, nutritional, spiritual, and sleep. Any performance program must keep each of these areas in mind when determining which resources to hire and technology to use.

While the big picture target for military units will typically be the same, specific sub-goals might vary depending on the dynamics, needs, and deployment status of certain units. Others might be more broadly applicable, such as increasing lethality and survivability, particularly when warfighters are under duress and suffering the ill effects of fatigue.

You need to also take budget into account. It’s no use having a grand vision if money (or a lack thereof) will leave it as nothing more than a pipe dream. Resourcing of people and equipment is always a limiting factor in performance programs – knowing what you can reasonably allocate to both expertise and technology while staying within your budget is a must. You can then relate this back to your overall philosophy and the core performance and wellness areas you aim to impact.

When trying to solidify your vision for a performance program, it can be helpful to talk to your peers and find out what’s working well in their units. Getting their input can help you avoid the mistakes they may have made along the way.

Consider assessing the latest evidence-based methods in scientific literature too. As many wearables and other athlete-monitoring technologies are still in their infancy, there’s a constant stream of new studies about how to utilize these most effectively. Try to combine the best of practice-based evidence and evidence-based practice to inform your unique vision for the plan and its intended outcomes.


Identifying and prioritizing the goals of your human performance program is paramount. The overarching aim for any initiative should be continual operational readiness and preparedness, but warfighter durability, recovery, and quality of life should also be key considerations that factor into strategic planning.

When deciding whether to introduce a new technology, small-scale testing can be useful. If a warfighter knows they only have two or three weeks to experiment with a certain smartwatch, app, or wearable, they’re more likely to jump in with both feet. Once the trial is over, warfighter feedback should be considered before a wider rollout. This not only informs the chain of command whether the tool is useful for the intended purpose, but also changes the kind of data being collected so it’s more usable in a real-world scenario.

While planning out the human elements of a COA is a must, it’s also important to take technical factors into account. Automating data capture, ingestion, and integration with a human performance platform gives performance specialists more time to focus on personnel-related elements and helps scale meaningful touchpoints across thousands of service members.

When it comes to technology and wearables, standardization is important to ensure the data being collected can be accurately interpreted and used to inform interventions. Depending on how accurate each device is, the data it’s feeding into the human performance platform might need to be adjusted to ensure multiple sources are providing equivalent information. It’s only when you’ve taken such factors into account that a COA will be ready to implement.


With the strategic plan finalized and its elements aligned, the next step is to figure out which people and systems need to be utilized and integrated. This involves identifying all key stakeholders, selecting wearables and other technologies they will use to gather and input data, and deciding how information will be presented to inform interventions and decision-making.

It’s valuable to take a step back and think about the day-to-day choices various groups need to make, such as the chain of command, medical staff, and performance specialists. This should involve interviewing key players to better understand their job functions. From there, you can begin to zero in on the precise information they need to improve the timeliness and quality of their decision-making.

Within a certain situation, such as rehabbing a warfighter after injury, several specialties such as medical staff, psychologists, and strength and conditioning coaches might need to quarterback care at various points in the process. A human performance management platform helps them do so in a more unified way and improves communication and transparency, so the warfighter receives better care and service.

Another significant component of collaboration is ensuring each stakeholder understands which element of performance and/or recovery they’ll be responsible for and how it relates to the overarching performance plan. For example, perhaps the strength and conditioning coach will oversee daily weigh-ins and entering physical test information into the human performance platform, whereas a nutritionist will oversee designing warfighters’ food diaries and nutrition questionnaires. If expectations are clear in each domain from the beginning, there will be a greater chance of obtaining successful outcomes across the board.


You can create a human performance COA that looks perfect on paper, but if the end users refuse to get on board, it will inevitably fail. To avoid this, it’s imperative to communicate, educate, and engage warfighters and their commanding officers.

They need to understand how the initiative will benefit their performance and recovery, why they should care, and what will be required of them to achieve the desired outcome. While the military utilizes a more top-down approach than pro or college sports, and orders must be followed, the better educated warfighters are about a performance program, the more bought in they will be.

It’s essential to get leadership groups engaged first, as their subordinates must follow them. With this in mind, it is helpful to get a few key leaders to use the technology, see how the data gleaned from it will be presented, and understand how this ties back into the operational readiness of the unit.

Rather than simply dictating an approach, actively seek feedback. There might be use cases for a certain wearable you haven’t previously considered or a more practical way to utilize it.

Simplicity is the key when it comes to end user engagement. Whether they’re full-time active-duty personnel or reserves, warfighters have busy lives. As such, any supplemental education they receive about performance must be clear, concise, and straightforward. Infographics, short video clips, and so on can be useful tools to increase awareness, engagement, and compliance. The effectiveness of your human performance platform depends on warfighters consistently and accurately entering data. They are more likely to do so when they understand the point of it and what certain metrics mean for readiness and performance.

A human performance platform like Smartabase can be beneficial in furthering warfighter education. For example, if an individual has poor sleep and HRV numbers for a week straight, the app can be configured to automatically send them a video with several sleep hygiene tips.

Traditionally, the military has preferred to collect and understand data before acting and map historical trends. A human performance platform facilitates this kind of retroactive approach but can also be utilized for more timely and current interventions that prompt improvements in performance and recovery.

When your COA combines the four elements we explored – vision, strategic planning, collaboration, and user engagement – your human performance program is more likely to succeed. Your plan might be a technology-focused one, but if you can keep it people-centric as well, you’ll do a better job of providing exemplary care to your service members.


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