10 Career Lessons You Learn from Competitive Swimming

Courtesy of Claire Forrest

I finished my competitive swimming career just a few months shy of my college graduation. At the time, I was already aware that I’d learned so many invaluable lessons from swimming. It was through starting my working life as a young adult that I saw just how many of the lessons from my swimming career transfer over to my professional career.

10) Swimming teaches you to show up on time.

I am always shocked when people say, “I was late because my alarm didn’t go off!” As anyone who has ever swum a morning practice knows, a call from your coach when you’re late to practice is so much worse than your 5:15 alarm. 6:00 practice means you’re in the water at 6:00, and this punctuality prepares you very well for the working world.

9) You learn to work with all different types of people.

Being on a swim team introduces you to people of all different kinds of backgrounds that you might not have otherwise met. You might not agree with or even get along with everyone you shared a lane with, but you made it work. This tolerance is amazing practice for the professional world. You will meet all kinds in your profession, and you’ll probably run into someone you used to swim with at a work event (speaking from personal experience!)

8) You are detail-oriented but can see the bigger picture, too.

Every swimmer has fine-tuned aspects of their stroke for years and years, perfecting the finish to the wall or stroke recovery. But you’ve also swum a 200 I.M., where you learn how each piece fits into the whole. This translates to the working world where you’ll be able to focus on a project intimately for a long period of time, but you’ll also be able to see how you are a cog in a wheel helping the entire team stay afloat. (See what I did there?)

7) You know how to take criticism.

A swim coach’s job is to help the swimmer improve. No doubt your coach has critiqued you, and sometimes, it isn’t easy to hear. Just like when your boss coaches you on ways to improve, you know they simply want to help you be better.

6) Time management has always been the key to your life.

Most swimmers I know were never just swimmers. We were full-time students and members or even leaders of several on-campus clubs and groups. With morning and evening practice and weightlifting in between, managing your time well is the only way swimmers know to live. This will serve you immensely well in your career.

5) You’re a team player.

That feeling when someone doesn’t show up for the relay is not fun to experience. Swim teammates are family. We support each other and help build each other up. Your professional life isn’t only about you. It’s about the strength of your whole team, a concept that swimmers already understand completely.

4) You’ve learned how to win—and lose—with grace.

There will always be someone who’s a better backstroker than you. Similarly, there will always be someone gives a better interview or presentation than you. Instead of holding a grudge, swimming teaches you to view this as a way to improve.

3) You know when to have fun and when to be serious.

A happy swimmer knows how to goof off with their team and have fun at a meet. But the second they get up on the block, it’s go time. Chatting with co-workers is fun, but when you go into that meeting, you can switch to state meet-level focus.

2) You know how to be healthy and de-stress.

Fear is a cold going around the week before the championship meet. Swimmers know how to keep their bodies fit and healthy. They also know that to de-stress, all they need is a good swim. When your body is healthy, your mind is healthy, helping you bring your A-game to the workday.

1) You’re dedicated.

You got up early and stayed late at practice. You gave up countless weekends to meets. You practiced flip turns until you got dizzy. You cheered until you lost your voice. You believed after each and every race that you knew you could go faster. And you did. Attack your career with that same level of dedication and everything will go swimmingly.

Claire ForrestClaire Forrest is a recent graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in English. She is currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a freelance writer. The only competitive swimmer in her family, Claire went to her first swim meet at the age of eleven on a whim without even knowing what a swim cap was. She fell in love with the sport and never looked back. A S6 classified disabled swimmer for US Paralympics, Claire specialized in mid-distance freestyle and backstroke and made national and world rankings throughout her career. She was a 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Trials participant. Claire is passionate about integrating disability swimming into the larger swim community, having swum for able-bodied club teams and her college’s DIII team. She enjoyed both Paralympic and prominent integrated able-bodied meets equally for the many commonalities they share. Over 13 years after her first meet, she’s happy to report she now owns more swim caps than she can count.



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7 years ago


NO, you DON’T. Swimming is an INDIVIDUAL sport. ANYONE who says OTHERWISE? Isn’t a serious swimmer.

7 years ago

i want to improve my backstroke . May i have any lesson plans to improve it?

8 years ago

Regarding #9, I think Claire is referring to diverse personalities, not necessarily racial or socioeconomic diversity. At least, that’s how I read it. I completely agree. In college, I had to work towards a common goal with teammates with whom my personality didn’t necessarily mesh. If I wasn’t their teammate, I probably wouldn’t have hung out with them. An average college student gets to choose with whom the associate. As a member of a team, you have to get past the differences you have with people you don’t like for the greater good. This definitely applies in the workplace. I also had a coach who wasn’t a good communicator. While it was a frustrating four years, I know I can… Read more »

Joel Lin
8 years ago

What is both flattering onto swimming and kind of sad all at once is I can’t use this as a template for one of my kids who focused on another sport. Swimming is the most authentic sport. It is fair. Everyone gets a lane under exactly the same conditions and dimensions. Mom and Dad can’t politic or influence the outcome or bargain for phony accolades. It is absolutely remarkable and heartbreaking to see kids come up in sports not like this where those elements are always in play.

8 years ago

Claire, I think you are right on the mark. I always enjoy your articles and the plethora of comments that go with them.

8 years ago

what kind of dredges do you need to be a swimmer

9 years ago
9 years ago

I wish we had a team as yours. I am new in that sport and I see and feel a lot of jealousy. I can not stand when some swimmers support one swimmer even some others from same team swim next lane. I wish our coach would be more stric with it!

Reply to  fly
9 years ago

Sometimes we ex-swimmers look at the past with rose-colored glasses. Now that I think of it, there were some unpleasant people I had to swim with back then. The hard work in practice was only part of the problem. The trick is to try to make friends while reaching your goals, and let your problems slide away, like water off a duck’s back.