Contact Sports: Developing the Warrior Spirit

By Tenace, Shawn; Doty, Joseph | Army, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Contact Sports: Developing the Warrior Spirit


Tenace, Shawn, Doty, Joseph, Army


Participation in aggressive team sports is an effective and intelligent means to prepare soldiers for combat. Arguably, company-, platoon- and squad-level athletic events that emphasize aggressive and highly physical intensity are a necessary, yet often neglected, means to prepare combat arms teams for deployment. Examples of these sports include football (flag or tackle), basketball, soccer and ultimate Frisbee. They do not include golf or softball.

On athletic fields, soldiers will encounter variations of some of the conditions and emotions they could face in a combat situation. The mental, emotional and physical stress; the fluidity and uncertainty of the situation; and the absolute necessity to work as a team are just some of the similarities intense athletic competition and combat situations share. Contact team sports require teamwork, spacing, timing, controlled aggression, ethics, courage, loyalty and hard work. They develop the functional components of fitness (balance, coordination, agility, speed, reaction time and power) that are required for success on the battlefield.

Successful teams and teammates understand individual roles in relation to the greater good and success of the team. A fundamental understanding of the necessity of teamwork, and what it looks and feels like, is a must for soldiers, officers and NCOs. Teammates passing the ball, moving to empty spaces on the field, playing "help" defense, communicating with one another and encouraging each other are some examples of what teamwork looks like on the playing field. Military units that help each other clean crew-served weapons, choose good support by fire positions and boldly flank the enemy while under direct fire are what teamwork looks like on the battlefield. Indeed, this concept of teamwork, one of the foundations of our Army, is part of our culture.

Consider for a moment how hard it is to get a squad to "stay in their lanes" while assaulting across the objective on a platoon attack. Some members of the squad might leave their assault lanes because they want to be the hero who destroys the enemy position, or maybe they just don't understand what their position/role on the team is and how it relates to their teammates. Maybe they have not learned through team sports that although today may not be their day to shine individually, on the team they must still contribute to the overall success. Squad members must have absolute trust that their teammates are going to clear their sectors and their lanes. Trust is a fundamental component of teamwork and can be contagious during aggressive team sports.

If you are having a bad day shooting the basketball, you can still help the team succeed by playing good defense, moving without the basketball, setting screens, making good passes and not turning the ball over. A basketball team knows that it must spread out the defense in order to get open lanes to the basket and that if the defense starts to double-team the star player, someone else will be wide open for a layup. As a soldier you contribute to the overall success of the unit by staying alert, observing your sector of fire and aggressively assaulting the objective in accordance with your operations order.

Lessons like these can be taught and learned during team-sport play. They are examples of understanding one's role on a team and how working together for the greater good of the team will result in victory-or in a successful operation.

Soldiers must have courage, confidence and "controlled violence" in order to rush a bunker with their fire team while taking suppressive fire. This is the same type of aggression that a soccer player must use to legally tackle his opponent, a football player must use to "shuck off" a blocker and make the tackle, or a basketball player must use to box out a larger, stronger opponent. It is the same type of controlled violence that a boxer must use to take a strong punch to the face, clear his mind and counterpunch, all within a split second. …

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