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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Being an Athlete and the U.S. Service Academies

The Military, Air Force, and Naval Academies expect you to be an athlete!


General Douglas MacArthur, WW II hero, former Army chief of staff, United States Military Academy superintendent and graduate (C/O 1903), once stated that, “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.” All of the U.S. service academies believe this point. Competing as a teammate on a court, a field or other venue, forms the kind of character and drive that the military academies desire in their leaders.


To add more to this particular point, consider that the NCAA notes that athletics teach individuals a wide set of skills, including:

  • Attention to detail,

  • Awareness of diversity,

  • Commitment,

  • Communication,

  • Confidence,

  • Cooperation,

  • Decision making,

  • Dedication,

  • Determination,

  • Discipline,

  • Endurance,

  • Fitness,

  • Flexibility,

  • Focus,

  • Followership,

  • Integrity,

  • Leadership,

  • Learning from failure,

  • Multitasking,

  • Organization, Pain/fatigue management, Patience, Performance, Persistence,

  • Prioritizing, Problem solving, Punctuality, Respect, Responsibility, Self-esteem, Stress management, Supervision, Teaching, Teamwork, Thinking,

  • Time management, and Work ethic.


And, yes, playing organizedsports will also make you more fit. However, for any of the U.S. service academies, the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) is the chief indicator and measurement of your physical fitness. Playing a sport is not about fitness. It is all about the important traits noted by the NCAA and being able to work as part of a team to reach a common goal. And, often, you will be taking a lead role in the pursuit of that objective. As an athlete, your participation and membership on a team is easy to document and verify.


Thus, it is not an accident that 80%+ of cadets and midshipmen were athletes in high school!


Let's explore this topic a bit further.


  • A good candidate for the service academies does not have to be a "high school varsity athlete." Some will not have the opportunity as some schools and personal circumstances do not offer or allow you to participate. However, some good alternatives often exist. You might explore city recreational league sports, summer club sports, YMCA team sports, competitive martial arts, or other athletic opportunities that are 'team-oriented' and competitive. I add further details in my blog about varsity sports.


  • Don't be fooled that simply stating in an essay (or an interview) that you run daily, or you go to the gym rountinely to work out will be sufficient. It will not be enough. Remember, your fitness is measured through the CFA. Playing a sport is much, much more than athletics! The military performs its missions in teams, and your team experience and skills are important.


  • Some other activities will provide some of the same attributes. Junior ROTC, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets and Scouting are examples that come to mind. Be prepared to offer these details and examples in your personal statements and interviews.


  • Sports participation is important. You will be at a disadvantage in competing for an appointment if you don't play a sport or two. A long commitment over multiple years would be ideal. But, even one year will help!


My advice to all of my students is to play a sport. Be an athlete and engage with a team. It will contribute to your fitness, but it will represent so much more to the military and the U.S. service academies!


[Let's discuss how I can help you! I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process, including ways to become a team sports athlete! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]


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