Alabama Swimming Goes Commando

Swimming news courtesy of Alabama Swimming & Diving.

During fall break at the end of October, the University of Alabama Swimming & Diving team underwent a 2 day conditioning program run by a group of special-forces operators called The Program. When questioned about putting his team through this grueling process coach Pursley had this to say.

“This team has come a long way in four years, but I felt that we needed something like this to help them understand total commitment to team.  I wanted them to have to deal with adversity and find ways to get through the stress of the environment by helping and being helped by their teammates.  I know that the team was wiped out after the training they went through, but they responded in a way that I hoped they would and although it will take some time to recover, it was well worth the time and effort they put into it.  I’m really proud of them and we are without a doubt a better team for going through it.”


The team went through 2 days of training.  On Thursday they went through almost 4 hours straight of team building exercises that challenged their strength, endurance, their ability to think under duress and their ability to work together when frustrated by failure. Quarter one involved a series of pushups, leg kicks, mountain climbers, jumping jacks and bridges.  It required that the entire team do every exercise in lockstep in perfect lines and formations.

When asked how long it usually took before any team was able to get out of that quarter, the leader “Mac” replied, “If they’re perfect they can finish in 16 minutes, if not it usually takes around 45 minutes.  However, we’ve had some teams go well over an hour before they were able to get by that exercise.”


At any point if they got out of line or missed a movement, the whole group had to start over. In order to accomplish the mission for the first quarter, the instructors selected leaders for the routine. The leaders were required to accomplish the mission and take care of their team (in that order). The teammates had two basic rules. Set the example and hold their teammates accountable. (In that order) As Mac put it.  “There is no lead by example code anymore. You can’t simply do your job and hope that everyone else does theirs.” As a teammate, you have to be very aware of the people around and help them get it right.

It took the team 42 minutes to get out of the first quarter.  After that it was carrying 50 pound sand bags and lifting logs overhead until they completed a new mission in under a minute and twenty five seconds. They started out that exercise with a time well over two minutes, so they had to start thinking outside the box in order to get faster. That exercise ran well into fifty minutes before they passed that test.

Following that it was carrying a teammate in a fireman lift for 21 then 41, 61, 81, 101 yds across the field. Everyone had to comply, stay together and a failure caused the whole exercise to go back to zero. To celebrate the end of the night, they revisited the quarter one exercises. They policed up their lines very quickly, and although they’d been going non-stop for over 3 hours they actually looked better doing the activity the second time. The voices were a lot louder and they seemed more committed to accomplishing that mission. They did. However, the perfect jumping jack at the end of that session eluded them. Time ran out.


Day two started at O dark hundred. (5am)  The instructors divided the team into 3 groups, selected leaders, gave the leaders instructions on what to accomplish in each landing zone, how to vacate the landing zones and how to move from one landing zone to the next one. They gave each leader 5 minutes to communicate everything to their team before the clock started.  Once the clock started they had to keep their poles, 50lb sand bags and all water bottles off the ground.  If at any point any one of those hit the ground, they ran the field and started over.  One group ended up running the field six times.  There were four LZ’s, each one had a different exercise routine that had to be done by everyone.  To get from one LZ to the next, the team had to make sure they kept the poles, bags & water bottles off the ground.

That might seem easy, except that option 1 required a spider crawl. Option 2 required a commando or leopard crawl, option 3 was duck walk, and the mode of journey for option 4 was on their backs sliding along using elbows and feet to push them along. This is stressful enough as it is, but when you have a 50lb sandbag or a pole to lug with you it becomes arduous. Deciding who carried the load was a challenge. It took well into the second hour before one team was able to complete all four LZ’s. Most had sweated through their shirts many times over.

Next followed a mental game of restacking numbered sandbags in the same order at another location.  There are no shortage of engineers and smart people on the team, so this wasn’t as much of a challenge.  The real challenge was who would finish first.  Following that was a shortened version of the first exercise in a total race format where teams could combine their skills to achieve the goals of each LZ.

Three hours after they started the am session, they were back in formation doing the quarter one exercise routine from the night before. You’d think that after all they’d been through, that it would have been ugly… it wasn’t. They were much sharper than day one, did it with a freshness and sense of oneness that they didn’t show the night before. They finished their perfect jumping jack with perfection and the smiles on their faces showed the sense of pride they all felt.

There is no question that someone new came out of that 7 hours of sweat, tears and effort.  Coach Pursley summed up the session by talking about sacrifice. That there cannot be any real feeling of accomplishment without sacrifice. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the feeling of self-worth one feels when achieving goals. That when they do this in a team based environment, they will remember and share it amongst each other for the rest of their lives.


A month ago a Special Forces Seal addressed the team and shared with them his experiences of being a warrior.  He shared the bitter details of what “Hell Week” in seal training is like and what it took to get through it. He shared tactics and strategies on how to weather heavy training and how to manage your inner voice when things get rough. He talked about his “WHY and how he ended up choosing to be a Seal. All nice and easy sitting in a chair and listening to all that, a whole new story when they had to endure a very small slice of that adversity themselves.

There is no question this team has grown through this experience. There is a different aura about them.  On Saturday morning they seemed different. It would be cliché to say that they’re standing taller or seemed more warrior-like, but there is no question that their sense of who they are and what they can do has changed.  This group of athletes has become a team committed to their mission and has changed the beginning of all sets from “Ready Go” to Ready… ATTACK!

Leave a Reply

4 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

They can go through whatever training they want, not going to change the fact that Auburn will beat them this year. War Eagle!!!


From a factual standpoint. Auburn has been a program in decline for the last 7 years.


Also from a factual standpoint, Alabama is one of the most improved teams in the NCAA for the past 3-4 years


from a factual standpoint, NC State is still ahead of Bama for the most improved teams in the NCAA.


Wouldn’t be surprised if auburn tapers…..only chance they have at beating the rising crimson tide!


This “program” sounds very interesting. I wonder if more swim teams will follow suit and give this a try.


The terms get used interchangeably a lot, but the phrase Special Forces pertains to Army Green Berets only. For any other unconventional military unit, including Navy SEAL teams, the correct term is Special Operations Forces.

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona and the University of Florida. While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She is now coaching for Loggerhead Aquatics in her hometown …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!