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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6 years ago

All so true as an outside parent observer!!

Reply to  Amy
6 years ago

Haiti Swimming would be delighted to communicate with Claire Forrest to discuss about integrating disability swimming in Haiti. Please, respond through my private email. Thanks!

6 years ago

yup yup yup and more yup.

6 years ago

I generally agree with all of these. (Although I shrug a little at #9. I don’t think swimming is exceptionally diverse, especially compared to some other more accessible sports. It can be pretty first-world, white and middle class. That’s not meant to be a criticism, but I can’t say I think swimming through high school and D1 college exposed me to a lot of different types of people.)

But what I really want to say is this — We talk a lot about how great sports (especially swimming) are for your adult professional life. I agree, enthusiastically, 100%. But I also think there is another story here that is not discussed enough. Being a former elite athlete in a corporate… Read more »

Reply to  J
6 years ago

While I do understand the message you are attempting to convey, it sounds more like there are some serious issues you have within your office/company. I wouldn’t apply your particular office environment to the general “corporate world” because your company clearly is not the standard. While the company may be large and global, I highly doubt the success has come from the policies and attitude you describe above-you don’t even sound happy there.
Look around at companies like Google, Zappos, Facebook etc- these are the companies that are THRIVING on excellent employee reviews and company feedback, I’m not sure where you get “silent feedback” as being a corporate norm-that’s just a recipe for high employee turnover and constant training… Read more »

Reply to  swammer
6 years ago

Totally agree that there are companies that are doing it well. Certainly. But there are also a lot that are not. “Silent feedback” is a real thing, and it is not isolated to just a few bad companies.

Reply to  J
6 years ago

I will agree with J. That silent feedback is where it’s at these days. I worked for a top 100 employee to work for and they were exactly that way. It’s frustrating when you have goals and things you want to achieve and your employer sees it completely different. Unfortunately I have worked for many amazing company’s fortune 100 company’s, top
Employee company’s. In the end you need to find what works for you and your life. “Recreating the team” in a workplace that won’t allow you to express yourself obviously isn’t a healthy environment.

I am a stay at home dad now and my boss is a 33″ 1 year old. So my life, schedule and team… Read more »

Cynthia mae Curran
Reply to  J
4 years ago

I don’t know about that, In Track and Field I see few whites dominate the sprinting events at least at the elite level. There are many Asian swimmers, Asians are only 5 to 6 percent of the US population, Its just Afro-Americans and Latinos are underrepresented, So Cal high swimming is about 25 percent Asian from what I see.

Cynthia mae Curran
Reply to  Cynthia mae Curran
4 years ago

I mean at the high school level So Cal swimming is about 25 percent Asian. Latinos are really underrepresented since they are about 50 percent of the high school population in Southern California.