What is a Tactical Athlete? Is it a REAL Athlete?

by Stew Smith

I actually spoke with a coach who said that "military students aren't athletes". I said, "I know we are tougher."  But that lead me to explain my answer as well as why this coach was wrong. In a nutshell, here is how my conversation went with this coach.

When it comes to the military, I always say, "The military is a cross section of society."  So we have our share of athletes as well as non-athletes. But the thing is that ANYONE can get into shape. But it takes an athlete to quickly learn new skills and perform them flawlessly on demand. It does not matter if this skill is swimming, dribbling a basketball, or shooting a weapon accurately. All require a degree of athleticism to do them well.However, it depends on how you define athletes?  If athletes to a coach are only those who play sports then it is no use arguing with him. If he understands that athletes are able to move the body as they desire with the least amount of effort while also performing highly engaging activities. Activities like shooting, reacting to stress without thinking (ie training muscle memory) and thinking while stressed (engaging the thinking part of the brain while in a life / death situation) are skills any athlete can do with training. To me that is an athlete - someone who can survive and excel in a highly stressful situation (game or combat) and will win, or live, by his actions.

The two (the military / tactical athlete and the game playing athlete) are very related in skill sets. As a former sports playing athlete prior to joining the military, my abilities / life of training transferred very well into the team training of the military. The highly intricate skills of hitting a baseball / reacting to a running back as a linebacker helped me to be able to shoot a moving target with a weapon as well as move myself and team from A to B with a purpose. We may not think of ourselves as athletes once we are not playing games, but we are athletes just tactical athletes.

On that note, we as tactical athletes should take better care of ourselves, as we do not treat ourselves like athletes. Eat better foods, learn how to rest and recover, create down time in your training schedule as we cannot be 100% IN SEASON year after year after year. Read Periodization article for more ideas on creating healthy training cycles.

As for the coach, I would have to say the coach is misinformed or not enlightened enough to know the skills required to be a combat soldier are more advanced and more dangerous than any athletic event.

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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.