During my day job, I work in an athletics department where all of our assistant coaches work in the same office. Think a cubicle farm minus the cubicle walls and you are pretty close to catching the true magic. Often, during down times of the day, we compare our sports and talk about workability and cross-sport conversion. After a particularly spirited discussion about rowing and swimming, I decided to further research the issues swimmers might face if they attempt to crossover to another and do their best Bo Jackson impersonation. As with anything, when you dive deeper into a subject, you should consult the experts or at least the people sitting closest to you with a large bank of knowledge. So with pen in hand, I tackled Ice Hockey, Track and Field Throwing, Alpine Skiing, Soccer, and Rowing.
Let me preface this by saying as a native Californian, ice and all of its magic is a new thing to me. So prior to even trying the sport, I had to first conquer the most basic movements. While the stereotype exists that swimmers are not graceful on land, we do possess a good concept of balance. Fortunately, that body balance does come in handy and makes the learning curve a little less drastic when it comes to actually skating. The rest of the sport, however, and particularly the hand-eye coordination, takes learning. I asked resident Colby College Men’s Hockey Assistant Coach Chris Hall how he thought a swimmer would do if he came out for the hockey team with the obvious suspension of the fact that swimming and hockey are played in the same season. He offered, “The endurance piece that swimming teaches and the ability to push past physical limits is invaluable.” He explained the ability to function mentally after the exhaustion point is a vital skill. However, he elaborated that the swimmer’s body lacks the bulk to deal with collisions inherent to hockey due to the different center of gravities and mass. He surmised that while it could be done, learning hockey-sense and on-ice awareness would be the biggest hurdle.
Track and Field (Throwing)
So the natural transition for many swimmers is to other Olympic sports. With coaching at a Division 3, we have a number of cross-sport athletes. The most common transition from swimming and diving exists between cross country and track and field. The cardiovascular facet makes sense if the athlete can link it to the form and ideology of running. As a multi-time marathon runner, the running aspect didn’t interest me; the other skill events did. I had always considered the pole vault, but the prospect of throwing my body using a very bendable stick terrified me, so instead I looked to throwing. When you think ancient Greece and the Olympiad, your mind can likely conjure up the ivory carving of this event (that and the lack of clothing). So I asked Will Barron, the Colby Throws Coach about the possible transition. He said “while anyone could learn, the sprinters would be the best to make the jump.” He went on to explain that action of the throw is fast-twitch and the best throwers have weight behind them. As a distance swimmer standing at 5’8 and about 150 pounds, it seems it wasn’t in my destiny. He did offer that while a smaller swimmer may struggle with shot put and discus, the hammer throw and the javelin would draw on the flexibility and learned speed. All hope was, in fact, not lost.
Having not even seen a ski slope in over eight years, this is one of the sports I admittedly did not try. While I have skied before, to say that I have an understanding of skiing at a high level is to say someone who can make macaroni and cheese can work as a sous chef. In first addressing the idea to Colby Assistant Alpine Skiing Coach Alex Leich, he was at first speechless. His reaction likely meant that this isn’t a regularly made jump. He explained, “Swimmers would probably have the balance and whole body strength to compete. Sprinters would be more adept than distance due to the natural process of doing a repetitive motion continuously for a short period of time.” As we conversed it became clear it would be a difficult conversion to make. In something that he didn’t necessarily highlight but mentioned, I believe the cold would be a big hurdle. If you have ever seen swimmers attempt everything possible to avoid getting in the water for morning practice due to the water temperature, imagine how that same group would deal with practicing in an environment that offered a snuggly -15 Fahrenheit with wind chill.
So with track and field above, we talked about the cardiovascular aspect of swimming having benefits in running. As it turns out, running is a part of soccer. So through the theory of relativity, one might think that there is a bit opening. Colby Assistant Soccer Coach Adam Perron offered that it isn’t out of the question. He said, “the cardiovascular and the lung capacity that swimmer have would be great for the pace of the on-pitch game.” He elaborated, swimmers have the physical awareness to manage sprints and the segmented cardiovascular draw that the flow of game can demand. The athletic type matches but swimmers would have to learn the game and play recognition to make it work. Perron mentioned that he has worked with a number of players who also swim in the offseason and that it isn’t as uncommon as one might think. On a personal level, I played soccer growing up, but even as an evolved athlete, I still find myself struggling with the ball flight and reaction.
Rowing is really what served as the dawn of this list. After many conversations, I happened to be walking by the Erg room and Colby Assistant Rowing Coach Noah Teachey called me out. For months now, I had jokingly said I wanted to learn how to erg due the physical benefits. That moment, Noah pulled down one of his machines and walked me through the process. I was excited but worried about how my khakis might handle the range of motion. All in all, learning the motion was difficult and the physicality of the motion was apparent. When I asked about a swimmer becoming a rower he was eager to chime in having personally made the jump from swimming to crew. He said, “There are a lot of similarities between rowing and swimming in that they are both endurance sports. They demand the athlete who can deal with the tedium of the workouts. An appreciation of the grind is essential in striving for excellence.” Physiologically, it is probably the most similar of the sports covered. Noah noted from personal experience a swimmer might struggle with the acute differences like flexibility and mobility and different strain on core muscles. Given that Teachey and his team currently have swimmers and divers on their roster, rowing grades out on the most likely of the cross-over sports.
Obviously, this list is just a fun look at the differences between sports. The mentality, determination, and drive to swim at a successful level is transitional to anything in life. If anyone reading this truly wants to play soccer, swim, and then throw a javelin all in one year, I encourage you to go down the rabbit hole. The regret of never knowing almost always will outweigh anything you might encounter on the way to a goal!