As swimmers, our minds are trained to immediately focus on results. The vision of finishing a race, looking up at the board with your goal time beaming, and feeling the excitement of that moment is what makes us push through tough training sets day after day. This tunnel-vision focus on times can be all-consuming, making it easy to overlook all of the benefits of being a swimmer that aren’t associated with numbers. Although I’ve heard this speech many times throughout the years, it wasn’t until recently that I was able to fully understand the value in the message. Here are three of the most important things I’ve realized that you can take away from swimming:
1. Learning how to persevere through adversity.
Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes and permits diverse effects on those battling it. Considering that swimming is a tremendously mental sport, trials and tribulations do not necessarily have to come from the pool in order to affect your swimming. When outside factors begin to affect you in the water, it can be extremely difficult to stay focused considering most of the time is spent between your thoughts and the black line at the bottom of the pool. Instances such as struggling to get back into training after a disappointing meet can take a toll on your focus as well. While each individual digs for necessary tools to combat these struggles in pursuance of returning their full attention to the pool, the end achievement is the same: successfully overcoming adversity. Throughout your life, challenges and obstacles will emerge when you least expect it. Dealing with failure is one of the most humbling forms of adversity you will face in your life, and thankfully in a sport as challenging as swimming, we are given numerous opportunities to acquire the skills to prevail over it. Although these trials are tough, the strength that results from pushing through will benefit you for years to come.
2. Putting your team before yourself.
Swimming is generally considered an awkward crossover of an “individual team sport”. Although you may be stepping up on the blocks alone (unless it’s a relay), your swim should always be for your team. This is especially apparent in college swimming. If you listen to some of the post-race podium interviews at meets such as conference and NCAA’s, 9 times out of 10 the first thing these individuals accredit their success to is their team. There’s a big difference between approaching a race focused on your personal goals compared to focusing on doing the best you can to contribute towards your team’s success. While it’s always rewarding to reach your own goals, it’s a feeling like no other when your team comes together and accomplishes something that requires everyone working together to make happen. Supporting and encouraging the people around you brings an enormous amount of joy and purpose to this strenuous sport. On a daily basis in practice, putting your team first means working hard and holding yourself accountable because they’re relying on your effort, regardless if you’re struggling to make intervals, too sore to move, or just not feeling it that day. Being able to recognize when someone else is in this position and needs a boost or a pep talk is also a huge contribution to the team’s success as well. You will find that when the heart and soul of your races are centered in your team, the results will eventually follow. Learning how to put your own success second to those that you love and care about for the greater good will greatly aid your growth as a person outside of the pool.
3. Communicating effectively.
The skills you gain communicating with coaches can directly influence your interactions with future employers. A great example of this is the recruiting process. Being comfortable carrying on conversations and asking/answering questions with those that you hardly know will greatly benefit you in your professional career. The ability to communicate respectfully and effectively with your coaches is great practice before heading out and interviewing for jobs in the “real world”. Also, part of a college coach’s duty is to help set you up to be successful after graduation. Receiving and applying their constructive criticism will make a great impact in preparing for life after college.
There are many areas of swimming that will contribute to you growing as a person. Although it’s easy to get caught up in relying on our time improvements to see progress, it’s important that we take a step back and look at the progress swimming has led to outside of the pool as well.