Why Being Average Won't Cut It in Special Ops

Future sailors line up before a timed 1.5-mile run during a physical screening test.
Twenty-five future sailors line up before a timed 1.5-mile run as the Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Southwest Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations team administers a physical screening test (PST) at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Nov. 9, 2020. (Public Affairs Specialist Todd J. Hack/U.S. Navy photo)

People often ask about the saying I use with the Heroes of Tomorrow organization: "Train to compete, not just survive." I have been using this one for years, even when I went through training. I've found that there is a big difference in going through life merely surviving and trying to compete at everything you do.

My first experience was when I was about to run a marathon. My goal was to finish in less than four hours (I was in survival mode). I noticed some gentlemen loosening up, probably 50 pounds lighter than I was, and their goal was not like mine. They were getting ready to beat a personal best, compete with each other and try to drop a minute off their best time. They were in competition mode.

I realized my chances for finishing the race were much less than these marathon runners, and my pace would likely put me at the halfway point when they finished. I realized that day that I cannot strive for minimum standards to get by, and that competing was one way never to think about quitting. And it works.

That is what I came up with ("Train to compete, not just survive"), and I use it today when I work with or speak to young athletes seeking special-ops careers.

The minimum standards will never produce the type of special operator doing amazing things all over the world. Only strive for the maximum, and if you are not in the top of the class in something, try harder. We all have our strengths and weaknesses so you are not going to win everything, but you can strive to be in the above-average 10% pack on your team or​ training program.

Going into any spec-ops or regular military, police or firefighting training program barely able to pass the minimum standards, and you are going to hate life for many weeks. If you last that long without failing or getting injured, that is.

Do yourself a favor. Train hard now and do not think that boot camp will get you in shape for special-ops training. Use boot camp as a taper and push yourself, no matter what you do because our special operations community is special -- not average. That is why they call it special ops.

​​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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