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.”
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