Navy SEALs Recruit Heavily From Seven Sports

By: Chris Tepedino - June 2, 2014

Former athletes and the Navy SEALs. To succeed in both the athletic arena and as a SEAL requires toughness—both physical and mental—as well as strength and endurance. In the past few years, the Navy has identified which athletes are most likely to survive the highly rigorous and intense SEAL training program, and the answers might surprise you.

The Navy SEALs are a “unique breed of warrior who conduct[s] special operations in any environment” and the training to join this elite group within the military is rigorous and intense, which has historically a drop-out rate of 70 percent.

In 2010, the Navy, with the help of Gallup, identified seven sports that breed athletes who have the highest rate of becoming a SEAL—water polo, swimming, triathlons, lacrosse, boxing, rugby, and wrestling. Of that group, water polo players had the highest odds of making through SEAL training, odds that doubled if they played the sport in college.

“It’s a physical job,” said Scott Williams, public affairs officer for Naval Special Warfare Command, told The San Diego Union Tribune. “So we need guys who have a competitive spirit and are used to hard work and training.”

Other pursuits that predict success in the SEALs is regular participation in alternative sports such as skiing, mountain climbing, and martial arts, earning a bachelor’s degree, and having regular hobbies like chess or woodworking.

Based on the Gallup results, the SEALs have placed an emphasis on recruiting athletes from those sports in the hopes that the military-minded will join and make it through the training program. William Hart, a former SEAL who retired from the Navy in 2012, talked to The San Diego Union Tribune about the recruiting effort of these athletes:

“My last assignment in the military was what they were calling the recruiting directorate, and that was essentially functioning as an advertising tool or raising-awareness effort to make the availability of special warfare training known to the best possible candidates. So we were putting on tours and giving short lectures and workouts to college-level sports teams, varsity-level high school teams. The idea there was to get the right kids through the door, say, ‘Hey, here’s an option. Here’s something you could do when you grow up.’ ”

As noted on the Navy SEALs website, “SEALs take their name from the environments in which they are trained to operate: sea, air and land. Their small highly trained teams usually work quietly at night conducting some of the nation’s most important missions. SEALs are constantly deployed throughout the world to protect national interests.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Tepedino

About the Author

Chris TepedinoChris has been a writer since about forever. Follow him on Twitter, Pinterest, and/or Google+.

View all posts by Chris Tepedino
  • TommyP

    Does Marco Polo help?

  • John

    SEALs are great operators but they get 10x more attention than all of the rest of SOF combined. It’s laughable how much time they spend in the spotlight for a community that prides itself on quiet professionalism.

    • greg yatko

      the problem is that it was unintentional attention, and now they don’t know what to do with that attention. I know some folks involved, and they have nothing to do with the attention. It just happens to exist.

      • John

        I was in Group from 2007-2013. Admirals began assuming positions in the highest positions of the SOF community during the Obama administration. I’m not speculating one way or the other about that being an Obama admin. initiative but it definitely brought about a change in the community. Until then, CAG did everything without seeking attention after the fact. Once the Admirals were in charge, DEVGRU unsurprisingly took over the high-profile missions. It is no accident that more attention has been called on them. They were deliberately seeking it out. And what happens at leadership levels transcends through the entire community and into the ranks. The problem I have with it is that it compels other attention-seekers to join the ranks of units that do not have any use for those motivations. And yes, most of those will wash out but some do make it and they are usually terrible team guys. It’s the wrong message to being sending and it’s hypocritical of leadership to attempt to betray the nature of SOF, which they expect lower-level operators to abide by, for their own political exploitation.

        • Brad Orok

          with all the bullshit and attention the Teams have been getting since certain books, bin laden raid, and what seems like the white house pushing down on leadership to recruit and create more SEALs to up the quota and magnetize the force numbers seems like is will cause the downfall of the community. Lowering standards and too many shit bags who should never be on the teams making it through. I read a LT book who said, “SEALs aren’t made or created through BUD/s, they just show up”.. Unfortunately nothing last but hopefully all the attention will start to die down the community can get strong to where it was before I guess.. I never joined but was always a fan and like how much info I got on training through various books and perspectives but that shit probably should of been like it was in the 80s/ early 90s, just a fuckin secret and a picture in a Navy recruiting book. For those who wanted to know more, they would have to join and see for themselves..

          • John

            It should have stayed the way it was before Admirals were running everything in the SOF community. You can’t prevent individuals from revealing pieces of information to the public but this promotion tour the SEALs have been on recently is not a positive for the SOF community. And I do agree with you that it will attract the wrong personality types that will in some numbers make their way into an operational capacity. I know I wouldn’t have wanted guys going to ODAs who were motivated to join SF because they saw a recruiting video which turned into a movie. Or because the President mentioned them specifically on an address. Along with any other public-recognition reason. I do believe it is a top-down driven initiative. Maybe not from Obama but someone high up is pushing a much more transparent agenda that I simply don’t endorse.

          • Grammar

            “who were motivated” not “whom were motivated”, subject not object.

          • John

            Thanks for the hint.

          • Brad Orok

            Can I ask why you only did one tour or one rotation?

          • John

            I didn’t. I enlisted in 2004 with an 18X (SF Candidate) contract and re-enlisted in 2009 after my original 5 year contract. I got out to finish college and start a different career path as a federal agent. I never had any intention on making a career out of the military.

          • Eleanor Jacobs

            Could attract the guys looking for attention. Instead of the ones proud just to know they did a good job. Did their country a service.

          • Eleanor Jacobs

            Seems odd our nation is advertising it’s “secret teams”. I mean aren’t these guys supposed to fly under the radar so to speak?

  • Eleanor Jacobs

    College water-polo players make good seals. And chess players. Hmmmm. Would not have guesses that.

    • Osage1956 .

      The ability to think critically is probably the most important – and least publicized – attribute that candidates are screened for. At least, that’s what they did back in ’74.

      • Eleanor Jacobs

        Right. It’s the least “sexy” part to the media. But probably the skill that saves the most lives.

  • BigCity

    I’ve seen some water polo on TV.

  • Steve Wilson

    Im FED UP with this administration using the SEALS as a PR firm. Disgraceful.

    • Sizemo

      Worst president (lower case p) ever is the Problem (capital P).
      Incompetence comes in all colors.

      • Eleanor Jacobs

        Please explain how it’s Obama’s fault. I don’t love the guy either. But please explain.

  • Eleanor Jacobs

    Seems to be that anyone called a Seal would need to be able to swim. Are parents really telling their kids “You can’t swim – you can’t be a Seal.”? Seriously?

    Every community has a YMCA. The YMCA has taught more kids to swim than any other organization. And money is not an issue. The YMCA does lots of fundraising so lots of scholarships for kids who can’t afford it.

  • greg yatko

    so my good friend was a real good swimmer. So they paired him up with the worst swimmer when they had to go out at night and swim around that island off of Coronado. (if I remember it correctly). They purposely did that because my good swimmer bud was also skinny and had no body fat. He said when he got back, all blue and shivering, ” are ya ready to ring the bell Fritz?”. “Nnnnnnoooooo sasasasasir”.
    So now 30 years later, he’s involved, and gets candidates all the time, and at 58 years old, they work the crap out of prospective candidates to get them ready for the rigors of training and testing. He said they spend so much money on every candidate and the graduation rate is so low. He said nothing about pushing anyone through. He said that his role was to help get prospects to understand what they will be up against, and maybe even help weed them out early. But he said there is NOTHING intended to make anything easy. And my cousin’s son tried to get in. He was the most physically fit person I ever met. He passed the physical side of things, but missed the aptitude testing by 2 points. And it was too bad for him. So I see no indication that anything is becoming, “relaxed”.