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"6 Ways Being An Athlete Prepared Me For My Career In The Military" - By Liz Frey, U.S Navy Student Pilot

  • 2 Years, 6 Months AGO

You know those friends who you really only catch up with when you are home for the holidays, but every time you get together you re-realize just how incredible they are? Well, that is the friendship I have with Elizabeth Frey. We were former field hockey teammates at Frank W. Cox High School and parted ways after graduation to continue our careers at the college level. Liz was a stellar goalie for the William and Mary Tribe and excelled on and off the field. In doing a bit of research (Liz, I wasn’t stalking! Well… a little) I came across an article written in 2011 – “TRIBE 20 Questions With Elizabeth Frey.” A third of the way down the list I read this:

Q: What’s number one on your bucket list and why?

Fly a plane. How many people do you know who have flown a plane?

(Here is the link if interested – http://www.tribeathletics.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=25100&ATCLID=205246388)

Look at her now in 2015. Liz is in flight school for the U.S. Navy. I think she can check that off the bucket list… and some. Liz, I am so proud of you and proud to call you a friend.

6 Ways Being An Athlete Prepared Me For My Career In The Military

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I love my job. This past week I got to take a T-6 Texan II out by myself from Milton, Fl to just outside of Mobile, Al and practice barrel rolls, loops, and Cuban eights until my right arm grew tired from working the controls. When I joined the Navy, just over a year ago, those with a background in the military warned me that I should get ready for a career spent training, learning, developing, and adapting. Mentors promised me that the day I stopped growing in the Navy would be the day I got out. When I think of what could have prepared me for this, athletics quickly pops to mind. Few things teach self-development like sports. What follows is a sort of athlete’s mantra applied to primary naval flight training.

 

  1. Excellence at any task is a factor of hours put in. I have yet to meet an ensign or a first-lieutenant who showed up to their first flight and killed it (unless what they killed was the squadron stash of puke bags). When asked what it was like to teach primary students how to fly, one weary instructor replied, “it is like teaching pigs to fly, one pig at a time”. Operating aircraft does not just come naturally to anyone. My own embryonic competence in the cockpit is the result of hours of study and practice (and by competence, I really only mean that my number of landings now equal my number of takeoffs). The instructors that teach primary have thousands of hours in the cockpit and just as many if not more spent in study and preparation. Sports are the same. The best athletes I know are the ones who stayed after practice to take shots on cage, went to clinics and training camps, and joined club teams in the off season. So called “natural athletes” had simply started putting in their hours at a very young age.

 

  1. Practice like you play. Taking practice seriously is a surprisingly hard lesson to learn (your humble author recently had a refresher course). For novices keeping up a game mentality during practice seems silly and awkward, but the pros learn to embrace it. Pilots practice for their flights by “chair flying”. We sit in a chair often surrounded by charts, pubs, and some electronic device with Google earth, strap our kneeboard to our leg, hold some imaginary controls, and walk through every step of our flight from engine start to shutdown. It looks just as silly as it sounds, but it works. The accepted philosophy on chair flying is that what you can’t do at your kitchen table, you certainly won’t do strapped to an ejection seat. No detail is too small. If done right chair flying should take as long as an actual flight. The Blue Angels chair fly all their maneuvers together in real time before every show.

 

  1. You are never done practicing. Good athletes and pilots don’t stop training when they get it right; they stop when they never get it wrong. A dominating team can easily loose a game through a series of preventable mistakes. In aviation a series of preventable mistakes can get an entire crew killed. All too often athletes and student pilots forget to practice the simplest things to our detriment. Athletics taught me that if you really take what you do seriously, then you are never really done mastering it.

 

  1. No one can grow unless they get outside their comfort zone. Through playing sports, I learned how to push myself mentally as well as physically. Athletes learn to deal with anxiety from tough competition. Controlling nerves, working through doubts, critically self-evaluating, and working through failures are all hard and uncomfortable lessons to learn. But working through stress, both physical and mental, builds confidence. Athletes learn to be poised, self-assured, and cool in the head. These traits allow us to push ourselves to that next level of ability. While flying is one of the most fun and exciting things I have ever done, it is also by far one of the scariest. As any athlete who has won a close high stakes competition knows, the joy of walking away victorious makes the stress worth it.

 

  1. No one succeeds alone. Even in individual sports, athletes owe great portions of their achievement to their coach, those they train with, and others who support them. Like other professions, aviation is a community and to succeed in that community one must be able to work closely with the people around them. The abilities to coach and be coached are critical. Pilots are forever either learning from someone or teaching someone else. Continuous exchange of experience and expertise saves lives. Teamwork is equally important. Cooperation amongst crew is vital for mission success not to mention survival in an emergency. The social skills I picked up in athletics absolutely still serve me in my job today.

 

  1. Take care of yourself. Athletics pushed me towards healthy lifestyles that optimized my performance on the field. Good habits I built playing sports not only keep me healthy and in the cockpit, they make me a better aviator. Mental and physical wellness go hand-in-hand. Like coaches and trainers, the navy flight surgeons who are responsible for our health and wellbeing are continuously touting the benefits of eating right, staying fit, and getting enough sleep. These habits improve g-tolerance, decrease the likelihood of airsickness, reduce stress, and improve cognition and decision making in the aircraft.

 

Through my nascent career in the Navy I have begun to really appreciate how much organized sports contributed to who I am today. Athletics gave me the tools I needed to take on an exciting and challenging career of military service. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to play sports through the collegiate level and work with some truly inspirational coaches and teammates. Stefanie Fee certainly comes to mind here. I am grateful for every minute I had playing sports just as I am grateful for the amazing opportunity I have to serve my country today.

By, Liz Frey