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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Nothing and the U.S. Service Academies

Updated: Jan 19

Talent without discipline is . . . nothing

USAFA, USNA, USMA and nothing

Nick Saban, the University of Alabama football coach, famously stated:

“You get up every day, you’re entitled to . . . nothing. Nobody owes you . . . nothing. You could have talent, but if you don’t have discipline, if you don’t execute, you don’t focus, you get . . . nothing. If you’re complacent, and not paying attention to detail, what does that get you? Nothing.”

For a candidate applying to one of the U.S. service academies, this quotation is prescient. Discipline, focus, and execution allow a candidate to achieve the qualifications that the Air Force Academy desires. You cannot be a West Point cadet if you are complacent. As a midshipman at the Naval Academy, you must pay "attention to details."

Clearly, the idea of "nothing" can be something!

Let's discuss why discipline, focus, and execution are important for you as a candidate for one of the U.S. service academies. Ideally, for any student, you should perform well in three important areas -- academics, athletics and activities -- as well as seeking to be a leader in all three areas.


  • Discipline: Aim to be the best student you can be. It takes self-discipline to prepare weekly and daily for the different academic courses that you must take as a service academy candidate. You must prioritize and balance all of your different assignments and other commitments.

  • Focus: Take difficult academic courses. Learn to study effectively. Perform well in all of your classes. Your focus on these goals is imperative to being a scholar.

  • Execution: Doing well will take execution! Attend your classes. Take good notes. Seek help when you do not understand a concept or start to lag behind. Students often wait too late to ask for assistance.

  • Finally, aspire to be a leader in the classroom and in your school. Model good behavior and thoughtful participation in your classes. Leaders set a good example for others.

  • You may find my blog on academic preparations and another about academics at the service academies to be helpful.


  • Discipline: All cadets are athletes. It takes discipline to wake-up early for those daily runs and to push yourself through a workout as you prepare for the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA).

  • Focus: Become an athlete. Find a sport or two in which to participate. Prepare for the CFA and make your workout routines, truly "routine"! Focus is a key to being your best athlete.

  • Execution: A student does not need to be the stand-out player on their team. Being a great teammate, doing your best, and setting a good example both on the field and in practices are important points of execution as an athlete. Practicing the CFA events will allow you to achieve a strong score on the fitness assessment.

  • Lastly, seek to lead your teams. Both formal and informal leadership are important roles on a team. Find ways to expand your role in any way you can.

  • Review my blogs on CFA preparations, the CFA basketball throw, the flex-arm hang, and playing varsity sports.


  • Discipline: Participate in different extracurricular activities that interest you. Make the time to engage and support the club, group or organization with which you participate.

  • Focus: Quality participation (over 'quantity') should be your focus. The military values teamwork, 'followership' and leadership. Aim to do your best inside the groups you join and support. Be a good follower with an eye to take greater responsibility in the latter years of your participation.

  • Execution: Pick groups that you enjoy. You may want to 'start' your own school club or find a friend to be co-founder of a new organization. Look for ways to promote membership, raise funds, conduct community service or pursue other projects that help your clubs thrive.

  • Additionally, find ways to lead your clubs, groups or organizations. Become the Senior Patrol Leader in your Scout troop, a Flight Commander for your Civil Air Patrol unit, or a Squad Leader inside your JROTC detachment.

  • My leadership and summer planning blogs will provide some further insights.

As Coach Saban points out, "nothing" is promised to you. Candidates must use their discipline, focus, and execution if they desire to earn an appointment to one of the U.S. service academies. Aim to perform you best in all three areas of academics, athletics and activities. And, with your hard work, you will definitely make 'nothing' into something!

[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process . . . along with identifying ways for you to achieve success in your academics, athletics and activities! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]

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