Lessons Learned as a Navy Seal and Seal Sniper Instructor

Lessons Learned as a Navy Seal and Seal Sniper Instructor

October 22, 2013

Lessons Learned as a Navy SEAL and
SEAL Sniper Instructor

"Jack of All Trades" is the number one job description of a Navy SEAL. To fulfil their demanding role SEALs must become "experts at becoming experts". Relying only on effective and proven fundamental performance principles, Navy SEALs have demonstrated their ability to deliver time and time again.

GovX has asked former Navy SEAL and human performance expert Eric Davis to share these proven principles with our readers.

Each week, Eric will share the lessons he's learned and how he's successfully repurposed them in his professional life as well as his life after work. Eric will also test and demonstrate some of the unique and uncommon things that can be done with some of the gear we offer here at GovX.

Distracted, overcommitted, stressed, stagnant.

Distracted, overcommitted, stressed, and stagnant. These words describe too many of us. As life passes us by, at what seems to be a steadily increasing pace, we begin desperately taking on anything and everything that we believe might get us where we want to go. Eventually, if we're lucky enough to notice, we'll find that our lives have become more organized around keeping busy than they are organized around actually getting anything real accomplished.

To remedy this,"deadlock" state of life, requires focus. I can think of few others who demonstrate focus better than military snipers.

How snipers beat distraction

In sniper school, students are tested in many disciplines that all require a high degree of focus, but there is one drill in particular that tests and develops focus like none other. This drill is called an "Edge Shot".

As instructors we would place a sniper team on the range and dictate their area of responsibility and describe their targets to them. Once in place we would call the range "Hot" (they can fire their guns) and then let them sit. Typically we would have 7 to 13 sniper teams on the range at the same time so there would be plenty of commotion to tempt the easily distracted.

After a few minutes we would raise a few targets to get their collective blood flowing. Then we would let them sit some more. After maybe 30 minutes of sitting in the desert heat, after the sweat started to burn their eyes, we would send up a few more targets and then a fake target to see if someone jumps and tries to shoot it. Regardless of the students' reaction, the instructors would add commentary to start working the nerves of the teams who had yet to see a target. This commentary was a form of marketing and it was designed to produce dissatisfaction around their current situation.

"Team 6! Are you sure your target hasn't popped up already? Did you miss it?" If the target had come up and the team failed to engage it, they'd receive a zero. It doesn't take too many zeros to fail out of sniper school.

"Team 4! It doesn't look like you're watching the right target area. Maybe you should consider looking elsewhere."

Then we would let more time go by and pile on more verbal confusion in a continuous attempt to break their focus and have them come off target. Sound familiar yet?

Though I was there to test these men and be the source of their dissatisfaction I ultimately wanted them to succeed. I was always amazed to watch them sit there. Flies crawling into their eyes, sweat burning their bodies as it seeped through their clothes and dried in layered cakes of salt. Pure misery and pure focus. The ones who progressed through training were the ones who were able to remain completely focused on what really mattered while ignoring the things that would have to wait.

Imagine the sniper student in the "Edge Drill". What would happen to him and his team if he kept looking over to the target sites of the other teams? What would his chances of success be if he kept changing his fields of fire? The sniper doesn't overcommit because he knows he has a job to do. A mission. His purpose is much larger than himself and more importantly his purpose has been well defined. His purpose can only be fulfilled through focus.

As a sniper instructor I had the opportunity to train with some amazing people, one of whom was an Olympic Gold medalist who taught "Mental Management". Perhaps one of the most valuable things I learned from this gentlemen was how to create and work through specific mental processes that would allow me to remain focused even under the worst conditions.


Next week I'll discuss some of these mental processes in detail, but I'd like to hear from you first. The discussion: Focus-or lack thereof-is something we've all had to deal with and overcome. What are some of the ways you've found yourself distracted to the point of a standstill and what techniques have you used to regain focus?

Please post your comments below.


Great Training Piece. I look forward to following your posts.

--Nuclear Security Training Instructor

Great new area for mentoring, thanks for your effort here along with service to Country.

When I was going though TAP class after 21 years active duty, I ran into my first Division Officer. He was now a Capt and I a Chief, I asked him to join me for lunch. We both reported to our first command on the same day. He a butter bar, me an E-1.... We are close in age and always got along, but had not spoken in 16+ years. He asked me something to the effect "What's your # 1 fear regarding leaving the active duty. I really didn't know what to say, after thinking for a minute. I said "As a BMC I'm not sure if I'll be able to deal with civilians." That was more than 12 years ago, the Capt's reply. "There are two factors, civilians don't know what work ethics are," and MORE importantly to me anyway, "DON'T GET CAUGHT UP IN OFFICE DRAMA." I have always thought that this was my ace in the hole (still is). Basically when co-workers start the pity party turn and walk away.

I also have a strong faith and have a few verses that when I start my own pity party, I quote them to myself. It gets me to focus on the task at hand.

My two cents...


--U.S. Navy CPO, Ret.


As a retired military officer, I am always drawn to new techniques used in making ourselves and those around us stronger!

I look forward to your next publication! Thanks again, for your service and insight!


I am an Air Force Navigator, and suffer from diagnosed ADHD but cannot treat with pharm products because it would disqualify me from flying. I am also now going back to Dental School. I actually find myself more distracted the less that is going on. The more things that are happening allow me to "apply myself and sort thru it" I find it very hard to focus on lectures a lot. When flying it is almost easier because of the constant cross checking. I do get frustrated and wish I could mentally focus better but have not found any good techniques.

--Maj B

Good evening Sir.

From a Marine vet to a Navy SEAL, I do salute you.

I tried to get into a USMC STA Platoon while I served, but didn't make the cut. And the reason I mention that, is not in bragging, but in answering your question.

Not becoming a Marine Corps Sniper, had been what I consider my greatest failure. Now, in civilian life, everything I attempt to achieve, I measure up against that one-time possibility, and that self-drive is what is my motivating force.

When forced into a corner, instead of retreat, I hold myself to my personal belief that I am always greater than any negative circumstance, and by that creed, I resolve within myself that I have no choice but to succeed.

Semper Fidelis.

Hello Eric!

Two major distractions for me are: 1) Noise 2) Telephone. Why some people need the constant sound of a television or others talking has always amazed me; but even noiseless, the sudden interruption of a phone call can throw me off for half a day. You get immediately immersed in someone else's problems or celebrations, and it's hard to get my head back into what I need to get accomplished for the day. Why people feel they MUST keep their cell phone on and within arm's reach at every moment, again, is beyond me.

To maintain or regain focus, I turn off all noise and opportunities for others to interrupt whatever I am doing until finished. This is not always possible and when not, then a real effort at pure concentration is needed. But for the most part, I just keep my surroundings, and therefore my head, quiet.

Looking forward to any tips or other methods you can offer on the subject. When I catch myself flitting from project to project, all half-done, I often laugh and say my OCD kicked in!


About Eric Davis

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school. Davis is also the host of The Loadout Room, author at SOFREP, a GovX "Insider" and founder of the human performance company Average Frog. Follow him, and all his exploits, on Twitter @EricDavis215

Leave a comment:

David M.

4/28/2014 11:21 AM

Having served as a TACP/MAOT back in the day (Circa 76) not only was I responsible for the VHF and UHF links but also the HF too, in those days we initiated contact with CW (Morse) before switching to voice, so I was always busy, focus on comms was paramount, making sure the equipment was working, calculating best antennae's and correct length (Long wire, Vertical, Dipole) for the freqs for the HF link to Bde in particular. Roll on 25 years ( I left in 87 and am currently 56) Since leaving the mil I ended up becoming a remote paramedic working on seismic vessels, the job is pretty boring, little if any real medicine to practice so I find it hard to focus most times, my work is blah, a paycheck, I know that is not professional but its the truth, it seems like I am wishing my life away and can't wait to my six weeks rotation is over, I have realized that is half my life... other than the gym onboard and the net I wonder what the hell I am gonna do with myself.. But I do have a dream, small one but a dream none the less, I know I gotta go for it, convince my wife that its for my therefor our sanity... reading story from folks like Erik shames me and is helping me regain my strength to push ahead. Thanks, Doc

Jim G.

4/30/2014 7:59 AM

Eric, Great lesson on attention to the smallest detail, the interesting part of the story is the lesson to be learned here, for those that strive to be special ops and the young now entering the miliatary and have had a life that is not one where they have had too many life struggles, dont give up and always give 100% plus and realize that not making it as a sniper or other special ops area is not the FALIURE.....QUITTING is the FALIURE....