What Makes a Swimmer Smart?

by SwimSwam Contributors 9

September 02nd, 2016 Lifestyle, Opinion

Charles Hartley, a free-lance writer based in New Jersey, has written more than a thousand published sports articles. He earned Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Journalism. In addition, he was awarded his Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University where he majored in English and Communications.

American Maya DiRado won four Medals at the recent Olympic Games. As impressive as that was, what she achieved on the high school Scholastic Aptitude Test may be even more impressive: a perfect score.

DiRado, who recently graduated from Stanford, possesses exceptional intelligence. There are many other smart swimmers, as well as those who compete in basketball, football, field hockey, rowing and a wide range of other sports.

I think there may be some factors that make swimming especially conducive to producing students that post high grade point average and scores of standardized tests. They include the following:


Swimmers’ lives are programmed down not just down to the minute, not just the second, but the hundredths of a second. They know what laps they have to swim by when, how much time they need to do calculus homework, what time they need to go to bed to be ready for a Saturdaymorning state championship meet, what time on Sunday morning they need to get their English paper written, and what time they need to set their alarm on Thursdaymorning for practice. Their lives are all about numbers.

A swimmer’s life is regimented much more than typical students. There just isn’t a lot of time after swim practice on a Tuesdaynight to even begin to think about watching TV or procrastinating or calling a friend to gossip about what happened that day at school. Swimmers tend to get home from practice, eat dinner, and focus on the schoolwork – really fast. There are very few wasted or idle minutes.

With limited time to get their work done, they sit down and do it straight away, just like they do an 800 meter warm up to start a practice. They are programmed to produce, to rack up distances, to post better numbers. They are used to getting things done on time, effectively, and correctly, on a repetitive basis. This consistent approach doesn’t last a few days. It’s a part of just about every day of their school year and summers. A swimmer’s life is about peak productivity going all-out all the time. There is no nonsense.


When a swimmer arrives home from an evening swim practice, they have an extraordinary number of endorphins running through their body. Endorphins are chemicals that make people feel relaxed, naturally “high,” and mentally sharp.

In this pleasurable state, the time they do spend studying tends to be of high quality. It’s reasonable to assume they don’t get as fidgety or distracted as many other students might who have not gotten any exercise that day. Having blown off steam, they are ready to sit down, read, study and think. This is not a struggle for them; they’re at ease. They don’t even have to think about or be disrupted by a desire to go for a run to release energy.

Their minds are clear, lucid, and focused. They can dial in and learn material quickly, efficiently and effectively. Other students may spend more time studying but not as much of it is as productive as a typical swimmer.

Goal Oriented

Swimming is all about setting goals and achieving them. It’s about numbers. Swimmers are driven to reduce the time it takes them to finish a race.

The non-stop focus on numbers translates well in the classroom. They are wired to achieve better and better results; the whole sport is about that, reaching higher each day. Like in swimming, they are all about ascending to new levels with each passing day. They are non-stop improvement machines. This is their mentality. It is who they are. This is why they can focus so well, at highly productive levels, on posting better times in the pool and better scores in academic tests.


Swimmers compete head-to-head with people day after day, week after week, year after year. Competing is part of their DNA. They thrive on these situations in in the pool. And they parlay this same approach to the classroom. They compete with other swimmers to have the best grades. They compete with other non-swimmers. In their world, so much is about how well you can do against the person next to you in the other lanes in the pool and in other rows of the classroom.

Swimmers are fine-tuned machines when it comes to competing. They live it, they embrace it, they get it, and excel at it.

All these factors form a great recipe for stellar academic achievements.

Do you think swimmers are, on average, more intelligent and better students than athletes focused on other sports? Is it innate ability mostly or the way they are wired to achieve so high so often? Or are they no different in intelligence, on average, than athletes who play other sports?

This is courtesy of and written by Charles Hartley.

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5 years ago

Relatively good socio-economic backgrounds…

5 years ago

There are plenty of scrambled-brain swimmers. I don’t think the intellectually endowed are more drawn towards swimming, nor do I think it is fair to allege that this wonderful sport somehow rewards/retains a higher proportion of smart athletes than most other sports. I agree with the poster above that the relatively prohibitive socio-economic barrier (relative to more popular sports, such as basketball) to swimming has a far greater influence on the demographics of its athletes

5 years ago

Also all swimmers are contend with the environment is not a human environment for a very long time (exercise time) i mean the aquatic environment and its details, and that’s what makes swimmers more flexible than other athletes, not only on the physical level, but also on the level of mental as well.

Swimmer Thieroff
5 years ago

A double major at Wake Forest University is evidently one way…

Charles Hartley
Reply to  Swimmer Thieroff
5 years ago

So smart you are, Swimmer Thieroff.

5 years ago

And, then there’s Lochte!

5 years ago

Successful swimmers are generally goal oriented, high achievers, but I have been on teams with some pretty average intellects that were absolutely outstanding swimmers.

The biggest concern I have with the sport is that it can make people one dimensional. To be good enough to compete at an elite level you need to swim year round at a relatively young age which tends to crowd out music, theater, other arts, other sports, or even friendships with non-swimmers. The price tag to be really good at swimming in terms of being a well rounded person is often very high.

5 years ago

I think the solitary and scientific (think fluid dynamics and physics) nature of the sport attracts intellectual individuals. Also, the pool is a place where the less socially adept (many high academic achievers) can excel in a team environment. Hard to be witty and chatty when your face is in the water

Speaking from experience????????

5 years ago

Ryan Lochte