Tactical Fitness: Is Attending BUD/S Training at Age 18 a Good Idea?

Marine performs agility drills during a high intensity tactical training (HITT) workout.
U.S. Marines Corps Sgt. Barry Newhart, a training noncommissioned officer in charge with Headquarter and Support Battalion S-3, and Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Zabala, an operations chief for G-3, conducts agility drills during the high intensity tactical training (HITT) Small Unit Leaders course, at Gunners’ Gym on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 19, 2020. (Cpl. Karis Mattingly/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

This question is a tough one because my answer is my opinion of a personal family matter as well as a Navy policy with which I tend to disagree. So let me start by saying that I do not speak for the Navy or the Navy SEAL program; this is just my opinion after years of experiencing and observing people who prepare for SEAL training.  

Here is the high school student's question:

My family has had little military background in our past generations and stays away from it for the most part. My mother is getting the hint that I have an interest in the military, especially SEALs. She keeps bringing up different colleges, areas to study, etc., and that suggests that she is opposed to the idea of her son joining the military. My question is, when would be a good idea to tell her about my future career goals and how should I tell her? I plan on joining right after high school. Do you have any suggestions on how I should approach this? Thank you.

The fact that your mom wants you to go to college is a good thing. She thinks you have the means and are capable of finishing your education on a high level. I call that parenting, and I would side with your mom to go to school, grow up, mature, and train harder and get stronger for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, while in college. From my experience, most people who did not make it through BUD/S (including my own class) were 18-year-olds.

The average 18-year-old is experiencing something at BUD/S that most older students experienced years ago. The first year being away from home, friends and family is tough. Add in stressful military training, a new living environment, new town, constant physical training and tons of negative feedback from instructors, and you have a recipe for failure.

The average 18-year-old is not capable of handling that stress. I know I would not have been able to transition from a high school athlete to BUD/S. One, I did not know how to swim well, and two, as a powerlifting football player, I thought long-distance running was anything more than 100 yards. I went through after college and was a much stronger student for it. 

I will say however that the 18-year-olds who graduate from a BUD/S class are remarkable and capable of doing anything they want to do. So I am not saying it is impossible, just statistically difficult. But I am always surprised when I hear of a 22-year-old student quitting when an 18-year-old student graduates. Students who have work experience, some college and give themselves more time to train and finish growing tend to be the norm for graduates at SEAL training.

So consider college first. Don't be in too big of a hurry to grow up and attend ill-prepared. This way, you can focus on your training, your mom will be glad you got your college over with, and, at age 22, parents have less control over you.  

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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