For a lot of us swimming is beyond being just a sport. With the amount of time that we have invested into the pool it has become something larger than a hobby or a way to stay in shape. It has become part of our identity, part of our lives, part of who we are.
On occasion I get asked if I played football or rugby (thank you swimming for those shoulders!), and when I tell them, “Nope, swimmer!” the response is typically a furrowed brow and, “But, why?”
There are an endless number of reasons why I swim. Here are just a few of them.
It reminds me that anything worth having requires hard work. Swimming is a no-lie sport. You swim your butt off, look at the scoreboard and there is the result. There are no judges, no marks on technical merit or style, just the truthful, cold, digital numbers on the clock. There are no substitutions, no teammate to make up for your lackluster performance, no one to look to when things go poorly. The precise nature of the results in competition – and more notably, training – means that we can visibly see and feel progress as we improve, and can correlate the work we put in with the results we receive.
Reminds me to continually expand my horizons. I cannot count how many times coaches over the years dropped a gauntlet of a set, something that never in my wildest imagination would I think could survive, let alone complete. (We can be so melodramatic when those tough sets get scrawled up on the whiteboard.) But then what happens? You not only finish the set—but you leave the pool with a little pep in your step and a renewed sense of self-belief.
A good workout clears the mind. That feeling I just described? About feeling awesome about yourself after an awesome workout? Yeah, that. When we are pounding out a hard workout, our bodies recognize this as a moment of intense stress, and in response sprinkles a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) all over your noodle. What does BDNF do? Improves the function of neurons and encourages new neuron growth. Which explains why you feel clear headed and happy after a big workout. (If you want even more of that good ole BDNF, get into some interval work. Research has shown that sprinters in particular experienced a greater surge in BDNF production.) There are obviously a lot of physical health benefits to swimming lengths, but it’s the mental ones that I notice most on a daily basis.
It’s where I go to meditate. No matter what is going on outside of the pool, for an hour or two I can unplug from everything. Whether it is work or school stress, conflict and drama with the people in our lives, whatever it is—swimming gives you the opportunity to shut it out. No cell phone, no social media, no nothing – just you and the black line.
I swim because there is a chance to be extraordinary. What extraordinary means for each of us is completely different. For some, it is to swim butterfly for 200 meters non-stop and not have their stroke collapse (okay, most of us), for others it is to swim collegiately, and others, to grace the podium in international competition. I swim because it’s an opportunity to challenge myself, to fight through pain and discomfort and emerge on the other side stronger and tougher.
That is why I swim.
What are the reasons that you show up and pound out the yards? Let’s hear them in the comments below.
ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY
It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.
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