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Lessons Learned from SEAL Training to Sports Training

By Greg Chertok, Director of Mental Training at CourtSense, a high performance junior tennis academy in Bergen County, NJ, as well as private consultant with Telos Sport Psychology in the greater NY area. Greg has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. He has worked with athletes from the junior to Olympic level.

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I was recently introduced to the 2014 commencement speech by General William McRaven to the University of Texas at Austin. It’s one of the richest videos I’ve viewed; Gen. McRaven describes his Navy SEAL training nearly 40 years ago, and the lessons he’d learned during his time at camp. If you have 20 minutes to spare, the video is worth watching.

The application of his lessons learned to the world of sport is blatantly apparent. Here are some ideas as to how we can transfer Gen. McRaven’s message to the sports arena.

1. Start practices and competitions the right way – with, for instance, an intense, focused, precise warm-up – it paves the way for completing larger, more challenging tasks in the hours ahead.

2. You can’t accomplish your sports goals by your lonesome. Don’t go it alone. Accept support. I met former 20-year veteran NY Giants punter Jeff Feagles last year, and he told me that he likened his support team to a heavy key ring. The more keys on his ring, the more supported he felt, and the more confidence he brought into each game. On his ring contained a strength & conditioning key, a nutritionist key, a sport psychologist key, a punting coach key, and massage therapist key, among many others. It’s ok to enlist the support of others in your quest to success.

3. Don’t place judgment on an opponent based on appearance. It’s a terribly tragic course of events when an athlete, who has put in hours of intense labor in preparation for an upcoming game, “loses” prior to it even beginning because she gauges her inability to win based on her opponent’s height, or shoe brand, or hair color.

4. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform on a given day, you may end up unsuccessful. Get over it, learn from it, and move forward. What other option do we have?

5. Life often isn’t fair, but this fact is: if you put work into something, you WILL improve. If you put lots of work into something, you will improve even more. The pain of work improves strength and resiliency. Don’t be afraid of the work. Embrace every challenge that comes your way.

6. There are times, especially if your goals are lofty and challenging, when you’ve got to take risks on the playing field. Each athlete should be able to identify what this means in the context of his/her game.

7. You’ll have to deal with the “sharks” in your sport – the tough opponents, the cheaters, the ones with no regard for human life, the ones out for blood, the injuries, the fatigue. It’s an inevitability. Don’t ever back down from them. Find a way to keep fighting.

8. At the darkest or toughest moments in a match, you must be calm and composed – it’s the most difficult time to achieve composure, but the most critical. In crucial situations, we must work even harder to stay under control.

9. A hopeful disposition is immensely important. An optimistic personality leads to a longer life, a happier life, fewer heart attacks, quicker recovery from injury, improved health outcomes for cancer patients, and ultimately more success at work, in school, and in sports. Stay hopeful, even amid a streak of several tough losses or tournament failures.

10. Don’t ring the bell. Don’t give up. If your goals are to achieve greatness, improvement is never linear. Keep going.

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