One of the many titles used to describe those following SOFLETE Programming is the term tactical athlete. “Tactical,” referring our savoir-faire in oftentimes ambiguous and—more often than not—dangerous situations, and “athlete,” bestowed upon us for our endless quest for physical perfection as required by our chosen profession.
In sports and war, there are performers and non-performers, hype and legitimacy, good and legendary. The NBA has great players, like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and legends like Michael Jordan. So does the NFL, NHL and MLB; who can forget people such as Rich Froning Jr., the 4-time Fittest Man in the world; arguably the greatest all around athlete ever.
While there isn’t a tactical athlete Hall of Fame, we do have legends in our own right, though much less well known than people such as Michael Jordan or Cal Ripken Jr.
Every sport has their respective arena except the tactical athlete. Our arena is the world and our specialty is war. This fact must remain at the core of our pursuit of greatness and thus makes us more than just athletes. The question still remains, that while sports and war share many parallels, how do we recognize and thus improve our status from good to great; are they born or are they made?
Author David Epstein discussed a facet of this question in his book, “The Sports Gene,” noting how sports and athletic performance have continued to evolve at an exponential rate despite any significant leaps in human evolution. David’s argument focuses on how major sport organizations essentially weed out people who are deemed genetically unfit. “There are definitely sports genes," he said, with "some cases where just a single gene makes a big difference to someone's athleticism." However, whilst the average height of elite female gymnasts in the last 30 years has shrunk from 5'3" to 4'9" in order to accommodate better spinning in the air, no such case can be made for our tactical athlete.
While gymnasts, NBA players and NFL players (respective of their positions) all fit a rather similar bill, our tactical athletes still find themselves on both ends of the genetic spectrum, from your 6’3, 225 lbs, corn-fed slab of man-meat out of Wisconsin to your 5’6, 135 lbs (when wet) Skeletor from the Bronx.
Here’s the catch: both of them are infantryman in the 82nd Airborne.
Genetics Can Lead to Goodness, But Not Greatness
When you break down greatness on a genetic scale, those who have the biggest chances of success are, first and foremost, those who are genetically gifted to perform the task. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, and there are certainly exceptions to every rule. For us meat-grinding tactical athletes, the key to success isn’t to change the hand we're dealt, though at times we all wish certain body parts were bigger; our goal is to optimize the cards we were dealt and better choose the games we play.
In an interview after her victory at the 2014 CrossFit Games, Camille LeBlanc-Bazinet spoke about a place familiar to all people who have pushed themselves to any extreme, that place where everyone goes to visit: the dark place, that place of utter mental chaos where every fiber of your being is telling you to quit and yet you fight back on a conscious level… coaxing yourself through the discomfort until it’s over. The willingness to go to that place speaks to your likelihood for such an achievement.
Many of today’s tactical athletes have grown up reciting the mantra of “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” While I agree that is a valuable skill to have for life in general, heaven forbid your “legend-making” moment knocks on your door and you are unable to meet the challenge because you are broken. All the greats both in sports and in war performed optimally during their “on-season.” While everyone should know their dark place intimately through experience and self-awareness, no one need linger there permanently to where your body kicks you out. No one gets remembered for what they do in the off-season. Well, in most cases.
For most of our tactical athletes, especially those in the military, metrics are everything. Metrics, statistics, and numbers in sports are how we quantify and track everything that matters. This also is true for regular athletes; stats are a way to quantify their greatness when standing side by side on the podium. As previously discussed, due to the genetic diversity within our population, we can expect to see a wide range of physical prowess. The greatest aren’t necessarily the strongest in our really; I can out bench both Desmond Doss and Audie Murphy but my highest award is a Bronze Star.
Greatness is Made, Not Born With
Am I comparing apples and oranges here? Are physical prowess and battlefield efficacy synonymous? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I am doing so to highlight that in our field, greatness isn’t reached in the “athlete” part of our title: it’s reached in the tactical.
Now while the two are closely intertwined do not sacrifice one for the other. In order to ensure your genetic optimization at the moment of your greatness your fitness pursuits should directly correlate to those activities MOST likely to be encountered. The reason we move heavy shit around in different planes of motion is because your buddy, with all his shit on is heavy, and war isn’t conducted in two dimensions.
If your job is to be an athlete, then be an athlete; if you have a quantifier before the term “athlete” then be that first. The athlete part comes second…a close second, but still second.
Greatness is ultimately a compilation of many different factors aggregating at the right moment in time. Most of us are good—really good, even—at what we do, but we will never reach that mystical level of “greatness” or even be seen as a “legend.” The best we can hope for lies in our pursuit of our own holistic optimization in case The Moment arises. The people who we admire for such feats didn’t consider themselves to be such either; they did what they did to the best of their ability, addressed and worked on their weaknesses, and ultimately let the fates decide how they were to be recorded in history.