What makes Navy SEAL training so hard? How do SEAL candidates prepare for the tests they have to endure during training? What does it take to successfully get through this training? Why does such a low percentage of candidates obtain the coveted Navy SEAL trident? These are some of the questions that help build the mystique and narrative around Navy SEAL training.

Yet, all these questions focus on the candidates, on those hoping to become members of arguably the most elite military group in the world. But what about the ones setting the bar, sharpening the iron, molding the men hoping of becoming part of this select cohort? What about the trainers and instructors who know what it takes to get there?

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) candidates participate in strength and conditioning training with logs at Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Center in Coronado, Calif., May 18, 2020. (U.S. Navy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker/Released)

A Team Effort

While SEAL training might seem like an individual journey in which the personal abilities and limits of each candidate are pushed to the maximum, you’ll find that trainers focus on the opposite: collective character. 

“They say that in SEAL teams, individuals don’t make it through Hell Week; only teams do,” says Sean Haggerty, a former Navy SEAL, and current instructor referencing the famously toughest week of SEAL training.

After participating in an “express” version of SEAL training directed by Haggerty, a sneak peek consisting of performing a few of the drills that recruits have to complete, former NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson echoed his instructor’s words. 

“The synergy, the alignment I see [between the military and professional sports] is just the teamwork. It’s about the ability to not be an individual, to make the sacrifice, to understand that the greater good of the whole is always going to be more important than the individual.”

Four Navy SEAL trainees practice a room breaching exercise as part of SEAL qualification training instruction. Students spend two weeks learning the basic methods for entering a room and securing it from possible threats. (U.S. Navy)

This collective component of SEAL training, which Haggerty and Jackson emphasize, is often overlooked. Its importance is based on the simple reason that overcoming the obstacles present in the training is completely impossible if you are only equipped with a “lone wolf” mentality. Forget the epic movie scenes in which elite military operators are depicted as one-man bands capable of single-handedly taking out enemy troops. The tremendously challenging operations that SEALs undertake can only be successfully fulfilled if they work as a team. 

That chemistry, that bond that brings the whole team together, starts to form from the very beginning, particularly through the shared pain and discomfort that all recruits experience as an inevitable element of their training. “When you come together through physical adversity, it forms that team mentality we’re looking for,” says Richard Thompson, a former U.S. Navy SEAL.