What Sports are in the U.S. Military

I've always been a bit of a lazy bugger. I've never shown much interest in sports, and when I was in the Marines, I was usually angry enough about being up for a run with the rising sun that I left extracurricular activity to the testosterone junkies.

But the physical fitness, teamwork, and gung-ho of sporting all come naturally to the military environment, and many folks heartier than I need to let off steam on the playing field after a long days' work. Not only that, sporting events are a useful tool for recruiting and public relations, as any college coach (who isn't busy hurling profanity and sporting equipment at his players) will tell you. So it's no surprise that if you join the military, there are plenty of opportunities in most locations to get a game in. And if you're good enough, some of them may get you out of work (once in a while) earning military sports an honorable mention as another ​way to refresh your career.

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College Sports

Student athlete training, Cambridge, MA
Steve Dunwell

If you have even a passing familiarity with college football, you've probably heard of the big Army-Navy game. Which makes me wonder what the poor Falcons over at the Air Force Academy are doing wrong with their PR campaign, but oh well. The military service academies all participate in numerous other intercollegiate sports, of course, so don't worry if football's not your bag. Hey, there's even a place for cheerleaders.

I'm not joking. And I'd like to meet an officer who did that, although I don't know what I'd say if I did.

But let's not get confused about the nature of academy sports. The academies all participate in NCAA competitions, but those hard-charging players are still expected to fall in step with the intense academics and military discipline in their school curricula. They are, after all, destined to be future commissioned officers, and considered among the cream of the crop at that (officers have a thing for class rings.)

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Armed Forces Sports and the Conseil International du Sport Militaire

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elliott Fabrizio, courtesy of US Navy.

Yes, I'm being obstinate and referring to the International Military Sports Council (CISM) by its original French title. But we'll get to that.

Armed Forces Sports (AFS) is a joint effort of each military branch's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, coordinated by the Department of Defense. Each branch takes applications from exceptional athletes among its active-duty members (and reservists on active duty) to play their sport of choice on an "All" team -- as in "All-Army," "All-Marine," et cetera. Those selected have the opportunity to play against the other branches across the country, providing entertainment to their fellow servicemembers and a powerful public image and recruiting tool.

The best and brightest in AFS can also compete internationally. Military athletes compete in Olympic competitions. They also play against other militaries worldwide through CISM, an organization founded in Europe after the second World War to promote friendship, which hosts the Military World Games the year prior to every Olympics.

If you're planning to enlist and this sounds like fun, remember one very important point: Selection to AFS is not a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS.) Military athletes are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines first, and are always expected to stay trained in -- and return to -- their jobs. So competing in the AFS or CISM can be a great way to get out of the office for a while and make your service branch proud, but don't expect it to be your career while you're in uniform.

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Military Shooting Teams

Photo by Sgt 1st Class Kevin Heermann, courtesy of US Army Marksmanship Unit.

While shooting is covered under AFS and CISM, it deserves its own mention for its close connection to the military arts. Each service branch fields several shooting teams to compete nationally and internationally. Rifles and pistols get their own dedicated teams, and the reserve and guard components of each branch get to raise their own teams as well.

In addition to traveling around trying to kick each others' butts, and competing in the Olympics and Military World Games, shooting teams offer their expertise as a training resource for others.

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Intramural Sports

Photo by Justin Connaher, courtesy of US Air Force.

If all else fails, most bases and installations large enough to bother will offer plenty of opportunities for intramural sporting through the MWR office. Individuals and units can band together to form teams and compete for bragging rights on-base in a number of different sports after hours. Here's an example of on-base brackets from Fort Carson's website.

Although it lacks the promise of international fame that CISM has, playing intramural sports offers a great opportunity to let off steam and develop esprit de corps. And hey, if fame is that important to you, maybe you'll catch the attention of a military journalist and get your exploits featured in the base newspaper.

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Just throwing my prediction out there: If this video is any indication, military "Harlem Shake" competitions are going to be the next big thing.

Oh God. I was trying to make a joke, but then I found this. If I find one of these from the Marines, it may lead to a drinking problem.