Athletes – Are they the key to a successful U.S. Army?

Having played lacrosse for almost twelve years, I’ve acquired skills not only having to do with the sport, but skills that will stick with me throughout my entire life. Practicing for five hours a day, then having to go home and not only do homework, but make time for friends, family, and other activities as well, has taught me the valuable lesson of time management. Playing a game in an outdoor field in the middle of December with snow surrounding me from every corner while wearing only a racerback and a skirt has taught me not to complain when things get hard. Losing a game has taught me that you can’t always be number one, but that that’s okay, and shaking hands with our rivals after we won has taught me to stay humble and not make others feel bad when you’ve been successful.

According to this article, Lindsay Danilack, the fourth woman ever to be honored as First Captain at West Point, believes that there is a crucial relationship between an athletic background and being a soldier. But why?

The first reason is because athletes are mentally tough and are the most capable in successfully going through Army training. According to a study at The University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia, this proved to be true. 214 boys between the ages of 16 and 18 were separated into two groups, athletes and non-athletes, and were given a series of difficult, physically and mentally demanding tasks to complete. The study found that “both were observed for achievement goals and sport motivation, with the high mental toughness group favoring both mastery- and performance-approach goals and self-determined as well as extrinsic motivational tendencies” ( The athletes were able to make it through the difficult tasks and even used techniques acquired while playing their sport to push themselves to keep going. When a General is yelling at a soldier, he expects them to take it, not run away in fear or disobey in anger. Athletes are conditioned to “take the heat” from their coaches, making them the perfect recruits and future cadets.


The second reason is because they have developed the ability to work well in teams. No matter what sport you play, whether it be soccer, lacrosse, basketball, etc, no one person can take on an entire team on their own. Sure, there are the more skilled players with more developed abilities than others, thats why titles like MVP and Best Offensive Player exist, but without the help of their teammates they could never achieve the great things that they have done in their athletic careers. The Army is looking for team players because these are proven to be the most intelligent people. A study was conducted by the Theoretical Ecology Research Group at the Trinity College of Dublin that created digital organisms that electronically evolved “brains” in order to succeed in social games where they could either cooperate or cheat on their opponent (NBC News). The study found that the digital organisms that cooperated and worked together with the others not only developed more complex brains, but also ended up reproducing and creating a new generation of evolved intelligence, while the organisms that “cheated” on their opponents ended up dying out. Although in the Army the soldiers that you are with are certainly not your opponents, this study definitely correlates the idea of team work and success; team work being something that athletes have been conditioned to live by through endless quotes like “There’s no i in team” their entire lives. This is incredibly crucial in the Army because help from others could be the difference between life and death in the battlefield.


The third reason is because they are the most likely to follow through with something, and even become a leader. According to, 59.5% of recruits fail out of Ranger School, with 36.5% dropping out in the first four days. Athletes, known to be extremely tenacious and hard working, have the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and push through failure and obstacles until they succeed. Although physical strength plays a huge part in this, the mentality of the athlete is what makes them the Generals, the Sergeants, and the leaders. Harvard Business Review recently revealed that athletes are among the greatest percentage of people with developed abilities of synchrony. Synchrony is a neural process where the frequency and scale of brain waves of people become in sync (Harvard Business Review). This plays a huge role in the relationship between leaders and followers, and often times people will listen to the leaders that they feel “in sync” with, making the athletes the most approachable and respected. The Army needs these types of leaders, the athletes, for the operation to run smoothly. In business, happy employees mean a successfully run company. The same thing goes for the Army.

If you were a student athlete in high school, or even continued to be one here at Penn State, congratulations! Your drive to succeed, and your ability to manage time and work well in teams not only benefits your life in positive ways, but it could also pave your way to a possible leadership opportunity in the armed forces (if you ever decide to go down that path).



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2 thoughts on “Athletes – Are they the key to a successful U.S. Army?

  1. Sarah Elizabeth Read

    This is definitely a correlation that I hadn’t thought too deeply about before! My dad is in the Army and West Point is actually home for me currently, so I’ve been around cadets quite a bit as of late! The cool thing about West Point is that everyone has to be an athlete–to some degree. Of course you have your recruits in the core of cadets who designate all of their time to their particular sport, but you also have a huge variety of club sports that cadets can take part in, and then company athletics (at the “lowest level”). Because it’s basically a requirement for cadets to participate in athletics (at least at the company level), a tremendous amount of them choose to join club sports teams. I have several friends on the Army Crew team and the Orienteering team and I know that these cadets do incredibly well as leaders and in academics! So I can absolutely see how being an athlete in the Army can be beneficial!!

  2. Anna Pearl Belinda

    This was a very well thought out blog post- good job! I played Rugby throughout all four years of high school and also dabbled in some soccer for a couple of years (who didn’t?). I think everyone who has taken part in a sport would argue that is has improved them in some way or shape. This is a funny comparison but I swear it’s true- that I often times talk about how hard it is to walk around on campus because there are so many people, cars, bikers, and PHONES that people are looking at. I thank my athletic skills at dodging people and the experience I’ve had from playing a sport that I don’t fall down every single day. I am a more confident person, a better leader, and the relations that I can build with other people are immense due to the fact that I played rugby. It really is such a huge part of my life that so many people probably feel the same way. I wonder if working out recreationally is just a beneficial as being on a team. Like I wonder if there is a difference in the benefits of the work outs and if you get more of a healthy life style out of one more than the other.

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