Special Operations Forces (SOF) candidates typically spend hours searching the internet for selection preparation advice. Much of the information out there will lead you to believe that having a superior level of physical fitness will get you through anything thrown at you during selection. While this may be partially true, it isn’t entirely correct. Going into selection with excellent athletic abilities will help you to an extent, but mental preparation trumps physical performance.
Think about it. Your number one competitor during selection is yourself. There are many ways to fail selection, including failing events, getting injured, not being a team player, or pissing off the cadre (which all falls on you). The main number one reason candidates fail selection is because they quit. SOF selection, whether it be BUD/S, SFAS, RASP, etc, is all about attrition and even Olympic athletes and professional sports players have rung out. So what made them quit? They simply succumbed to the thought of the “good life” they had before for volunteering to be miserable for days on end. It starts with a single thought and turns into a virus that takes over the mind.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare your mind to go into selection feeling confident and ready, but it takes some serious work. Do you know your limits? Do you even know what your body is capable of? Regardless of your answer, you will figure that out during selection. Here are some tried and proven methods to help train your mind:
1. Personal fitness goals translate to mental training.
Your SOF selection fitness test is going to be the first thing you need to destroy. In our community forum we frequently get questions about whether their times or numbers are good enough. You probably know what you need to achieve the minimum time or number necessary to squeak by each selection event, but you do not want to be anywhere near that number (see #3 below). Baby steps will get you to where you need to be.
Take running for example. Set a goal and achieve it. If your goal is to run six miles in X amount of time, then you need to work yourself up to that point. You can plan running routes using a GPS, smart phone app, or a website like Mapmyrun. Don’t plot a six mile route from your home unless you want to run 12 miles. Identify mile markers along the way (such as street signs) or keep everything a surprise. If you are just beginning to train, you definitely want to start with a shorter route or you could end up injuring yourself. As you achieve your goals, set new ones.
Unless it is your only option, it is highly recommended that you don’t train solely on a track (avoid treadmills). If you have multiple hills along your route, even better! Work on getting the time you want to achieve as if you were training on a track. If you see people running ahead of you, chase the rabbit. Working your tail off and consistently putting yourself outside of your comfort zone will make it all worth it in the end.
2. Register for local competitions to get a taste of what you’re made of.
Nowadays there are plenty of local events you can compete in to test your mettle, including 5k’s, triathlons, and so on. Another more appealing option is the almighty obstacle course race. These races are extremely challenging, but only if you’re giving it your all. Anyone could run an obstacle race (you will see people walking and just shake your head), but to run the race and do well is another thing.
So how do these races help prepare for SOF training? Aside from the obvious military applicability, these races will drive you to your breaking point if you put the effort into them. You don’t only want to ignore the demons in your head telling you to take a quick break, you want to smoke everyone in front of you. Additionally, you will have no idea how the course is laid out and what obstacles to expect. You will be running to the point of exhaustion and then given a sandbag to carry up a hill. What could better prepare you for what you are getting yourself in to than this?
We highly recommend the Spartan Race, which operates all over the country. Not only do they have challenging courses, but they cater to every fitness level. For example, their races include a 5K Spartan Sprint, a 8+miles Super Spartan, a 15+ mile Spartan Beast, and others. No one said your selection training has to be all blood, sweat, and tears. You are allowed to have some fun with it. Laugh at the pain.
3. Figure out what your weaknesses are and work to crush them.
Attitude is everything and crushing your goals through time and effort needs to be your primary focus or you will pay during selection. Your first step is to identify your weaknesses. The results of your selection’s respective PT test is your first metric. What areas did you fall short in? Using the baby steps approach (see #1) is the first method of getting you to where you need to be. Start small, end big. If you’re still not seeing results, you might be doing something wrong. Ask a special operator or get a SOF mentor from our community (see #5).
4. Don’t make excuses.
Not feeling motivated? Did it just start to rain? Get out there anyway! Strap on your iPod, find your most motivating song (which more than likely is by Rob Bailey & the Hustle Standard), and get to it. In a SOF unit (and selection) you will have days where your body is ridiculously sore. Regardless, you will be forced to get out there and train. If you’re bored with your workouts, change it up with something different (we will throw out some ideas in future articles).
5. Find a SOF mentor.
Hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. ShadowSpear has a mentor program comprised of active duty and former special operators from the various services who have already been in your shoes. They can provide guidance on your training regimen and provide advice on how to improve.