The 6 Best Sports to Prepare You for the Military

Updated: January 8, 2015


By Pablo James

Friends and colleagues of veterans often approach us for information about the military. Some ask for our thoughts on military current events and strategies. Others come to us to learn if a particular military-themed movie or television show is accurate to real life. However, most importantly, they come to us to ask us for guidance about their children’s futures.

It is, clearly, a great honor when a friend asks us to act as an advisor – a subject matter expert, if you will – for a young man or woman considering a future in the military. The advice you provide, if followed, will have a major impact on that young person’s life. If you are the only military veteran that parent trusts to approach, you are shouldering a significant responsibility.

Parents approach us with a great many questions. Should my child enlist or become an officer? Which branch is best? Which branch is the safest? What is an “ASVAB”? What should they do to prepare?

This article addresses one specific aspect of what a young man should do to prepare for success in the military; specifically, for success in combat arms.

There are many things a high school or college student can do to prepare for entering the world of combat arms – study military history, pay attention to current events, watch G.I. Jane…ok, maybe we can scratch that last thing. Let’s talk about fitness. Not just go-to-the-gym fitness, but sports fitness. What sports should a prospective combat arms soldier take during their time in school to prepare them for the rigors of life under a rucksack.

  1. shutterstock_135777062Wrestling –Fighting is HUGE in the military today. Whether it is the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) or the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), you’re going to do some fighting. Moreover, the training you’ll do in a decent high school or college wrestling program is intense. Arguably, the most intensive physical training you will do outside of the military. Wrestling is a great base for the MACP or the MCMAP and it is an incredible source of learning how to dig deep and never quit. Few intramural sports can develop a warrior spirit like wrestling.
  1. Track — Combat Arms – especially Airborne Infantry and Ranger units – are all about the running. PT in the morning? Let’s go for a run! It’s payday? Let’s go for a run! Hey, the brigade commander wants to get everyone together for a day of mandatory fun. Let’s go for a run! You get the idea. Even more so, individual movement techniques, building assaults, assembling on a drop zone – they all involve running. Having a solid foundation of distance running and sprinting before your first day in uniform will pay dividends.
  1. Swimming — Both the Army and the Marine Corps Infantry and Special Operations place a high premium on being able to swim. Even though our nation’s fight has been largely in the deserts and mountains since 9/11, Waterborne Operations are still a major skill set in these units. Air Force Pararescue and Naval Special Warfare units can spend as much time in the water as they do on land. The bottom line – being a strong swimmer is critical for military combat arms.
  1. shutterstock_184208600Soccer — Why soccer? Two reasons. One, like track, soccer is all about the running. We’ve talked about that already, so I won’t waste your time going over it again. Second, Soccer, or Futbol, is the most popular and most played sport in the world. Every place but here in the land of NASCAR and Honey Boo Boo. When you find yourself on a company FOB with a company of Afghan National Army troops or with a company of British Paras and you are looking for a way to kill the boredom and engage in some team building, a soccer game is your best weapon. When you have hit the lotto and the military sends you to Australia or Norway for an exchange program, you will have something in common with your fellow students and soldiers. Think of it as pick-up basketball for the international set.
  1. Football –Football, like wrestling is typically some of the most intensive physical training you will ever do outside the military. If you can make through a quality high school football training camp, you will know how to dig deep inside yourself to keep from quitting. It is also helpful when you have a leader (Captain Steele, anyone?) who runs the unit with football metaphors.
  1. Honorable Mention: Golf — Why golf? Because there is one thing damn near every military base does right – build golf courses. Moreover, if you become an officer, a good golf game could be the difference between a good career and a great one. Besides…you get to drink while you play. How cool is that for a sport?

My goal here was to focus on the sports that are common in the worlds of high school and college athletics. To be sure, there are myriad other athletic activities that would be useful to a young private or lieutenant entering the physically demanding world of military combat arms and special operations: CrossFit, boxing, MMA, mountain climbing, and gymnastics, just to name a few, would all help build the physical and mental tools you need to be successful in this world. They are simply not commonly accessible intramural sports available to students.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention sports that a young man with his sights set on combat arms should probably avoid. There are a handful, but I will focus on one: Cheerleading.

shutterstock_228210391It sounds obvious but, like so many things in life, if it did not happen, we would not have to mention it. Now, it is not my intention to put down male cheerleaders. And there are some benefits to being one. Cheerleading is physically demanding. Incredibly physically demanding. You can find fat wrestlers and football players – I challenge you to find a fat male cheerleader. You WILL get girls. I say again, you will get girls. Let’s face it, as a male cheerleader, you spend an unusual amount of time holding the hottest chicks in your school high in the air by their crotches. You do that math.

In the end, however, you will find yourself in the unenviable position someday of sitting amongst your men on a distant battlefield doing what soldiers do best…talking shit. When you have bested all your colleagues and subordinates with your stories of how tough Ranger School was, how challenging Pathfinder was, how you almost didn’t make it through Selection, one wiseass young NCO will chime up and shut you down with a single question: “Sir, tell us again what sport you played in college?”

No max PT score or stories of romantic conquests of goddess-like women will save you when you clear your throat and say, “Cheerleader. I was a cheerleader.”




  1. defensor fortismo

    January 9, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I would have said get a shake weight to get used to accommodating leadership

  2. Logan F. Crooks

    January 17, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Agreed. Swimming even more so because it works all parts of the body to an insane degree. With Football, you can be as fat as Pyle from Full Metal Jacket and not fit, but still be a contributing member of the team. It is doubtful that the amount of yards they run and the limited duration of those runs contributes significantly to one’s level of fitness. Especially, the levels required in an Infantry or SOF Unit.

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