Team of Teams


Unbeatable teams train for victory harder than other teams. They understand that victory is won first in their hearts and minds before they enter the battle. The work is done not just in “practice” but in everything they do – the small things done uncommonly well. Uncommon Training includes these attributes:

Aggressiveness –  Unbeatable teams want to be challenged, to train harder than the others and harder than the day prior. They do not want to dilly-dally around. Too much is at stake. An SAS officer was heard to say by a friend of mine, “We will train you as if we are trying to kill you!” The term, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” found on the grinder at BUD/s and supposedly coined by Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton comes from this relentless drive to train harder and to go deeper into the unknown realms of human and team potential.

High Perceived Risk – Elite level team training often has a High Perceived Risk. The higher the perceived risk, then the higher the payoff the training yields. In the SEALs it wouldn’t be very effective if we did all of our rope training from a tower. We seek to ratchet up the risk by leaping out of a perfectly good helicopter to make the training more real and effective. High Risk training is made safer as the result of a few factors that allow training at this level, such as:

Attention to Detail – the attention to even the smallest of details is a key factor in intense training. Gear is checked and rechecked. The plan is briefed, rehearsed, visualized and re-briefed. The SOP’s in the event of a failure (such as a parachute malfunction or dive accident) are rehearsed until they can be accomplished while asleep. This attention to detail is typically what the team is doing when we say they train harder that the rest – they are spending time mastering the little things that could go wrong.

Risk Management – Risk management is an important part of every training evolution. The plan will include a risk management element, including a medical plan, contingencies for accidents, and go, no-go criterion. When conducting parachute operations the wind speed and weather are checked constantly. A slight change for the worse past a threshold would cause an abort signal. When diving, the current, tides and weather are also checked and built into the plan. This is not fail proof – Mother Nature always has the final say. I had a static line parachute jump end disastrously on Guam when a huge gust of wind occurred just as the jumpmaster sent us out the door. I was second after teammate Mitch who landed so hard he was knocked unconscious and drug across the runway by winds gusting at 40 knots. I ran as fast as I could to catch him and found him with serious wounds that ended his SEAL career.

Risk Tolerance – the systems of the organization allow for a high degree of risk taking and experimentation by the teams. The top leadership does not knee-jerk react when an accident occurs. It is investigated and lessons are learned, but there is (usually) no intent to hammer someone unless there is obvious negligence. Teams, like individuals, learn through trial and error and must have the room to fail without fear of reprisal.

Elevated Awareness – purposefully inserting awareness training and discipline into a team training plan will lead to elevated awareness commensurate with the elevated risk. Examples of this training can include KIM Games, night training, extremely realistic scenario-based training, and quiet concentration, breathing and contemplation practices such as those we conduct in the UM program.

Accountability – up and down the chain of command the accountability is such that everyone feels responsible for the success or failure of the mission. No one is off the hook and everyone is involved in the planning, preparation and execution of the mission.

Realism –  training must be realistic, directly related to the mission, and as close to the “real deal” as possible. Full Mission Profiles in the SEALs are just like a real mission, minus the bad guys (these are simulated by the training cadre). For a corporate team, this means that the leadership training should simulate a critical failure in your business or Industry. For a sports team, playing real games against real opponents for training is far more valuable than red shirt against blue shirt.

Functionality – training functionally is a subset of training realistically. As you are aware, functional training is how we recommend training the body in the first mountain of SEALFIT. We strive for functionality, which means we should move our bodies during training in the same way we move them in real life. Bicep curls, leg presses are not very useful – how often do we actually do a bicep curl in our jobs, or life in general? How about never? Picking up heavy items and moving them safely is more realistic. Unbeatable teams design functional training that replicates real life for them. During our Kokoro camps we insist on doing pull-ups with a hook grip. No hook grip leads to a failed rep. Why is that? Well in a mission scenario (or crisis of any sort) you may have to pull yourself up a ladder or over a ledge with a body or 100 pounds of gear on your back. If you don’t use a hook grip you will be at risk of losing your grip and falling. This is a simple example of functional training. Another simple example is learning the air squat. This is the most common movement a human does, and a functional air squat is linked to being able to lift things safely, to hip mobility and to a seriously mitigated chance of breaking your hip in a fall in your golden years. Makes sense to learn this very simple functional movement and add it to your daily or weekly exercise routine.

Accuracy, Consistency, Virtuosity – we want to master the basics and seek accuracy first in our training. As our accuracy becomes consistently accurate, then we can ramp up the speed and complexity of the training. Thus accuracy comes before consistency and consistency before Intensity. We used the term “crawl…walk…run” in the SEALs. This progression is followed not just because we have “new guys” on the team. Everyone must revisit the basics routinely, until they are part of our unconscious competence. Only then should we move on to the fancy stuff. When we can train accurately with intensity we are said to have virtuosity, the realm of operating where our unconscious competence is in play.

Team Unity – Unbeatable Teams act as “one mind.” They move as one, and think as one when they are in the arena. I am reminded of the movie, Miracle on Ice, about the 1980 US hockey team gold medal win. In it, US Olympic Hockey team Head Coach Herb Brooks has the team repeating suicide drills on the ice for hours. “Again,” he would shout after each repetition. He did this until the team saw and felt themselves as one mind, rather than a bunch of individuals on a team. This is a powerful moment that is a crossing over for a team. We see it all the time in Kokoro camp. Once the team crosses over to “we” and stops being a bunch of “me,” then they start to really perform. Only by having the pressure turned off, or a teammate sliding back into “common” will the team lose this unity once they have found it.


SOPs are another great tool for accelerating team performance and team mental toughness. A SOP can be a simple checklist such as the one a fighter pilot uses as he fires up his plane. When he enters aerial combat he relies on another set of SOPs that have been trained to virtuosity and frees up the mind for “higher order” thinking.

By using checklists and standardized procedures for a large percentage of routine tasks, we can free up our brainpower for the creative problem solving that can make the difference between success and failure. We use SOPs at SEALFIT – one of which is to brief every team training session prior to starting. This ensures that all teammates understand the flow, equipment needs, and movements of the workout.

Another SOP we have is to “baseline” our training sessions with a structured workout before the workout. This is different than everyone stretching and preparing on their own getting ready for the “start.” The baseline has the benefit of getting everyone on the same physical and mental playing field. It clears the body and mind of the details lingering from the hours just prior to the workout. Everyone performs better on the main training sections after these baseline workouts. Standard Operating Procedures should be developed for any recurring or routine task. These should then be enshrined in checklists and “basic training” so that they can be achieved while sleeping. Then if something disrupts the mission the team can fall back on the SOP’s and execute with little need to stop and plan. The creative capacity is preserved for new ideas rather than re-treading known paths again.

Course Discussion