12 Things Non-Swimmers Say to Swimmers

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

For those in our lives that don’t share our commitment to the chlorinated life it can be difficult to understand exactly what it is that we do. After all, for most people outside of the sport all they see is a week or so of shaved bodies swim back and forth along a black line at the Olympics every four years.

As swimmers we generally speak our own language that is born from a shared struggle and journey in the water. In order to improve the communication with our land-based friends and family, here are 12 things that non-swimmers should never say to a swimmer:

1. “It’s just a race.”

No, it isn’t. It’s life or death, bruh. Okay, fine, every race isn’t going to be the anchor leg of the 4×100 at the Olympics, but you better believe that is what we dream about when we are lying in bed at night and what we pretend it to be when we get up on the blocks.

2. “You’re getting up at 5am to workout!?”

It’s still dark out, even for most of the summer, and here we are, schlepping our bag out the door and back to the pool.

In later years we will be grateful that we learned how to get up before the rest of the world to work out, but for now we feel a little annoyed that our friends have the option of sleeping for another few hours while we shake off the yawns with a casual 5k.

3. “Isn’t swimming boring?

Isn’t walking boring? How about watching TV? Sure, swimming looks like we are just putting our heads down and plodding mindlessly back and forth for hours on end, but there is a whole lot more to the sport than just getting your laps in. Getting to train and race with your best friends is many things, but boring is not one of them.

4. “Are you going to win your meet?”

While this question might make sense in some circumstances, it typically doesn’t. One swimmer doesn’t win a whole meet (even though it would be pretty cool if that were the case).

While your high point award might mean that you scored highest amongst the swimmers in your age group, you didn’t win the whole meet per se.

5. “Don’t you hate not having a social life?”

I have a social life—it just happens to revolve around going to swim meets with my friends and kicking butt. All. The. Time.

6. “Isn’t it unhealthy to swim so much?”

Swimming promotes healthy lungs, heart and muscles. It provides a hilarious cardio workout while also building strength. It’s even been shown to make you smarter, earlier. I think we’ll just keep “rolling the dice” on this one.

7. “Can’t you just miss this one workout?”

Wanna know how I know we are friends? That you actually have my best interests at heart. This question tells me that this is not the case.

8. “I could do what you do if I had the time.”

That’s adorable.

9. “So you can eat whatever you want then, right?”

The impression might be that our hilarious appetites gives us free reign on what we put in our mouths, but that is (sadly) not the case. We recognize—most of the time, at least—that what we load up on provides the fuel for our swimming engines. This doesn’t mean that we can just eat McD’s and pizza all day long, as much as we would love that were the case.

10. “Are you fast?”

Faster than you? Yes. Faster than Michael Phelps? No. Regardless of where we fall on the scale of swimming high-speededness between the complete noob and the Greatest of All Time it’s safe to assume that a simple “yes” will be enough for this non-swimmer. If they have to ask then a detailed answer will make little to no sense to them.

11. “Do you actually have fun?”

On the surface anything that requires dedication and a nearly absurd amount of hard work does not look like fun. The sport isn’t for the feint of heart. But, as most swimmers know, working hard to get better at something is fun. Doing it with a bunch of people you love is fun. And getting up on the blocks and swimming faster than ever before is really fun.

12. “Is swimming even a real sport?”

Our sport has us competing in distances of 50m to 25k. We compete in a variety of disciplines in a season that is perpetual. And despite how easy the best of us make it look with their relaxed and effortless looking technique, the short answer is yes, it is a sport. It’s our favorite sport.

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6 years ago

I recently found an a group photo of my age group team from 1976. I posted it on our alumni site and one of my team mates commented that this was the “most awesome group of people one could grow up with.”

That shared experience–that connection, after nearly 40 years, is something most non-swimmers will never understand.

6 years ago

“Isn’t it unhealthy to swim so much?”

Yes. Swimming recreationaly is probably beneficial to health. But overall health has more to do with nutrition and mental health than exercise. There is nothing healthy about over training and tearing your rotator cuff. The heavy training that kids are doing today is probably leading to mental illness and depression. I read about high level masters getting injured all the time. Show me one masters swimmer that has been going for records and training to be the best they can be into their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s that has not obtained an injury that requires physical therapy and I’ll eat my words. Swimming is a non impact sport and we have kids… Read more »

Reply to  Dolphin22
6 years ago

Spot on. There’s far too much emphasis on age-group glory (and too little on LTAD), which leads to overtraining, injuries and burnout. Swimming’s a great sport but it does definitely have its dark side.

Reply to  plavec
6 years ago

Not just age group, it’s masters too. I’m tired of non swimmers telling me that it’s great that I swim because it’s so healthy and you can do it the rest of your life. They get a picture in their head of the casual lap swimmer swimming a continuous easy 1000 in 30 minutes and getting out. If I was going to do something like that I would rather just jog on the treadmill. If I’m going to be swimming, I’m going to set goals and try hard to reach them. If you train with that attitude for 20 years straight when you are 45+ you are guaranteed to get injured.

Reply to  Dolphin22
6 years ago

Also, swimmers get injured constantly. Shoulder issues, back issues, knee issues, etc..
They get overworked to the point of breaking, physically and mentally. I personally had to quit due to Shoulder problems developed over several years, as did several teammates of mine

D Martin
Reply to  Kat
5 years ago

Proper coaching and a high level dry land program prevents 98% of injuries. Also going wild to make a cut or time without the proper yardage and training in advance is usually the cause of most injuries.

Reply to  Dolphin22
6 years ago

Concert pianists get carpal tunnel syndrome. Violinists develop elbow and wrist over-use injuries. Everything that involves muscle/skeletal involvement at performance levels has over-use injuries. Everything.

And as a swammer from the early days of the mega-distance empires, I can confidently state that in NO manner are most age group swimmers being forced to do the real mega-distances, not any more.

Any activity with a high performance factor, be it music, chess, gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, running, anything… it all has a similar factor for burn out due to over-use injuries and wrong preparation.

It isn’t the activity: it is the presentation of the activity, the presenter of the activity and in the end the individual participant’s suitability to the… Read more »

D Martin
Reply to  Dolphin22
5 years ago

My wife’s best friends Mom has been swimming competitively her whole life. She just set some masters records last year at 74!…. and has never been injured. One needs to have the sense to pace oneself in all athletic endeavors to equal ones capacity, avoiding unwanted outcomes.

Reply to  D Martin
5 years ago

College swimmers will suffer verbal and emotional abuse and loss of scholarships if they don’t overtrain per their coaches training demands. Swimmers cannot tell coaches NO. Thus injuries occur especially if the coach is crazy. It’s not possible to pace oneself in this college overtraining climate.

6 years ago

Looking back, I wish I never wasted my youthful years swimming. Where did it get me in life? Nowhere, absolutely nowhere. I should have been doing something useful like wrestling and boxing.

So why am I here? I still follow the sport of swimming. I know the kind of dedication and genetics it takes to be really good at it. I just feel like venting a little bit though.

If you do not have the genetics, do not waste your time. I wish I didn’t.

Reply to  ItsAbuseToYourHair
6 years ago

Cool story bro.

Reply to  ItsAbuseToYourHair
6 years ago

My 7 year old son is doing both competitive wrestling and swimming. I could say he is very good in both fields at his age but we are genetically short because we are Asians. I am very confused though which sport he should pursue since both require a lot of practice .Right now he prefers to go to swimming practice than wrestling but soon his team mates will be much taller than him. ( He is actually the shortest but the most talented) As I was reading your comment , it made me realized that i guess he should go for wrestling afterall.

Reply to  confusemom
6 years ago

Consider this: when your son is 35 years old, is it more likely that he will still be wrestling or swimming? Swimming is a sport of a lifetime – one of fitness and fun – for as long as he wishes. Wrestling is over when he graduates from high school (realistically).

Reply to  confusemom
5 years ago

You can be short and swim, josh prenot is only 5’11

6 years ago

My only complaint about swimming is that an unusually large proportion of swimmers view themselves as martyres and believe no one can ever understand them. Believe it or not, there is nothing unique about being a standout in swimming…you need to bust your butt and give up a lot to be good, and even greater sacrifice to be great. Guess what… The same is true for other sports from track and field to team sports. It is easy to participate and be “ok.” It is hard to sacrifice and be great. The problem with swimming, unlike msot sports…is that so many swimmers are offended that people dont know how THEY sacrifice. And thus, people do not learn more about the… Read more »

Reply to  john
6 years ago

I grew up swimming, but not as a swimmer. Now as a parent, my kids are year round swimmers and I’ve taken up swimming for triathlon. Of the progress I’ve made in the sport of triathlon, I’m most proud of the gains I’ve made in swimming because of how hard it is. I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to appreciate the time and effort that my kids put into their chosen sport, and I wish other parents would do the same. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so critical of their kids in the stands.

I think the attitude some swimmers may get about “only swimmers understand us” is illustrated by an experience my son had this weekend. He used to… Read more »

Reply to  BGinHouston
6 years ago

Nailed it.

Reply to  BGinHouston
6 years ago

Or they could do the “Eric Moussambani line”*. Look him up on youtube if you don’t remember one of the more famous Olympians of 2000. The even funnier thing is, that as I was watching and laughing at one of the youtube videos with my husband and kids, we challenged my husband – the only non-swimmer in the family – to beat his time. That was 5 years ago. He still hasn’t beaten Moussambani’s time of about 1:50 LCM.

*The sad thing about this is that apparently Moussambani became a decent swimmer after his humiliation at the Sydney Olympics but never got a chance to redeem himself on the world stage.

Reply to  Catherine
6 years ago

He actually turned into a very good swimmer – and is now the Equatorial Guinean National Team head coach!

Poor guy was actually synced up with the American training cycle in the Olympic pool (the first he’d ever seen). If that isn’t a way to get psyched out, I don’t know what is…

He retired for a while, and swam a :55 in 2011 – a very respectable number, especially at 33 years old. Around London time, he was making overtures that he might take a run at Rio, haven’t heard anything lately, though.

Reply to  Braden Keith
6 years ago

I would love to see him swim at Rio. That is, unless some of the swimmers he’s coaching are faster.

Old Skool Swimin
6 years ago

The headline picture is actaully kind of historic. That is the NCSU relay team that demolishes the field and got DQd for a false start. Looks like swimmer on the right already knows the fate.

6 years ago

The pic is after prelims when NC State crushed the field, set a pool record and landed the #1 seed.

5 years ago

Non-swimmer: You know, I’ve been thinking of joining your team. I can swim 5 meters of breastroke underwater, isn’t that good?

Me: (Pause) Honestly, you’d get DQ’d from the moment you went off the blocks. Do you have time to swim 2 hours at least 4 times a week when you’re ten? Get your homework on time starting from 8:00?

Non-swimmer: Yeah, but it’s not that hard, you’re just exaggerating. I bet I’m as fast as you in four laps of front crawl. The Junior Olympics time is so easy!

Me: Awww, that’s completely adorable. You’ll never know what will hit you.

5 years ago

“It’s our favorite sport!” How ’bout, “It’s our ONLY sport!”

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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