Ask Stew: What High School Sports Will Help Me Prepare for the Military?

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SEAL training
SAN DIEGO - Coast Guard SEAL candidates conduct physical training exercises during Coast Guard Seal Selection and Assessment at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Nov. 5, 2009. Selected candidates attended Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training on November 5, 2009. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A long-term goal can influence current decisions as you prepare for a future challenge. Here is an email from a high school athlete who's thinking about how to prepare for SEAL training. He's 16, with plans to join the Navy at age 22.

Hi, Mr. Smith. I am in high school, and I would like to start preparing for SEAL training after college. I am currently running distance events in Track and Field and have previously run cross country and participated in wrestling. I was wondering whether it is a good idea to specialize in either one of those sports, as I am interested in trying to get better at them and maybe do one of them in college (if that is a good idea). I don't know if I can do them both next year, as I have to keep my grades up to continue doing sports. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Gabe

Gabe, my first piece of advice to all teens is not to feel like you need to join the Navy and go to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs) while you are still in your teens. I am glad you have college and work plans to give you more time to finish growing, mature and be better prepared for what will be the hardest thing you have gone through at this point in your life.

This good news is that anything that you are doing 5-6 years prior to joining the Navy will help you prepare, especially if you challenge yourself with making good grades and playing a sport (or doing a school activity) throughout high school.

Statistically speaking, waiting to go to SEAL training until after you're a teen improves your chances of graduating. Most of the 80%-85% SEAL attrition rate consists of teens who are just not physically or emotionally able to handle the training.

I have a similar story. I did not know about SEAL training until I was already in college, but I was also preparing for the military when I was 16 years old.

I wrestled and played football and baseball during my first two years of high school. I lifted weights five times a week since I was 13 years old. During my junior year, my school started a powerlifting team during wrestling season, so I became a powerlifter.

Powerlifting ruined my baseball throwing arm, so I threw shot put and discus for my junior and senior years. It was fun, but I was not in military shape. I got schooled really quickly on military training when I went to the Naval Academy.

Luckily, the academy is a four-year school, and I figured out how to get in shape to be a better military student and how to prepare for BUD/S. It was a long journey full of struggles and failures, but eventually I had success.

My advice is to do the sports you enjoy the most and not be in a hurry to join. During the offseason, work on skills like swimming and treading and get on a strength training program. Strength training will help you in running and wrestling, no matter whether you do both or specialize in just one. Once you are in college, you will find significantly more resources and time to prepare yourself for whatever you do in the military.

When it comes to supplemental training, use this time to work on your weaknesses, but do not let that extra training interfere with you getting better at your current sport. Being a good team player is an intangible skill you receive from playing sports or doing school activities (clubs, music, etc.), as you learn to work hard as a group toward a common goal.

Your athletic history matters, but there are all types of people from all different athletic backgrounds with a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses as they start this training and preparation journey. The common denominator is that all successful graduates took time and focused on their weaknesses and maintained their strengths as they transformed themselves from a competitive athlete into a tactical one.

Good luck and thanks for choosing to serve.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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