SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]
This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Alexa Kutch, a junior at Drexel University.
To the conflicted college swimmer,
You are not alone. The reality is that nothing can prepare you for college swimming. Club and high school practices may come close in terms of physical work, but being a student- athlete in college can definitely feel like a never-ending ice bath: unpleasant, yet annoyingly helpful. True swimmers know that the sport is just as much a mental game as it is a physical game. Not to mention the emotional rollercoaster we experience whether it be ripping a tech suit 10 minutes prior to a race (did that), or spraining your ankle jumping into a pool at a national meet (did that) or simply getting DQed (yep, did that too). It is very common for the thought of “Is this sport really worth it?” to cross the minds of collegiate swimmers at some point in their career. At the end of the day, we need to take the time to think about our “why.”
Why did we start swimming in the first place? More importantly, why are we still dedicating our lives to this sport? Clearly, there is a reason that is keeping us from throwing in the towel (literally). For me, I was always a fan of the water. You could find me at my local neighborhood pool from the time it opened to the time it closed. Once I discovered I could get involved in a sport that meant being in the water a lot, I knew it was my calling. Of course, being clumsy on land made the decision all the easier. Nevertheless, I wanted to make that young, naive child inside me proud that I made it this far. So, for all you college swimmers out there, give yourself a pat on the back for sticking with it. It truly is an admirable accomplishment.
Yes, swimming is a sport that revolves around times and success can very well be determined by time drops. Yes, each practice we participate in is in an effort to help improve our performance at competitions. Yes, many swimmers can reflect on a time where they have either thought about or said they wanted to quit. For many of us, college swimming is our last four years with the sport. With this knowledge, questions arise such as “what are we working for” or rather “will our times even matter in a few years?” Again: mental. sport. This open letter goes out to the swimmer who is feeling/has felt this way and to offer some positively hopeful or better yet, hopefully positive advice!
Unlike high school and club where you went from one meet to the next, swimming both on and off events, and most likely not caring what the outcome would be, college is a whole other swim meet. With two years of college swimming under my belt, I can safely say that the expectations set by coaches, teammates, and yourself seem like that unattainable time standard. Statistically, most people that swim in college experience time drop whether in their first year or throughout their four years. I will be one to admit that I tend to dwell on times and compare to past years.
Lately, I have found myself going on Meet Mobile immediately after a race, even before I warm down, to compare the time I just swam to the time from the previous year at the same meet. And aren’t some swimmers guilty of this? I will walk around the pool deck and overhear conversations that consist of “How was that time for you” followed by “Eh, I swam faster last year”. These remarks tend to lead to feelings of defeat or doubt in one’s ability that may ultimately come full circle to the dreaded thought of “why am I doing this sport?” Swimming has taught me to confront these uncertainties.
Wondering whether you are better off now than a year ago? Don’t. That’s a lot of laps ago. Not feeling like yourself in the water? Don’t let that slow you down. Know that you will eventually get over this hump, whether in a week or a whole season. Have a bad race? I will tell you something my coaches have told me many times before. It’s just a race! Not having those big victories you want? Focus on the small victories, whether that means conquering a hard set at practice or going a season best at a meet.
And with all the calories we burn on a daily basis, you have the right to eat whatever you want if you feel this will help you. Already eaten everything in sight? Here’s something I will share with my readers about when I find myself needing to recharge. I turn on my favorite dance song (currently it is Turn All the Lights On by NeYo and T-Pain) and I throw myself a personal dance party. It definitely relieves the stress and motivates me for the next workout, meet, or big race.
Just know that many swimmers have found themselves conflicted or frustrated with the sport, even the pros! Don’t believe me? Go on YouTube and watch Olympic swimmer Cody Miller’s vlog following Summer Nationals. Powerful stuff. So, keep your head up and your streamline tight! You will get through this. And at the very least, just have fun with it and enjoy the last few years of your favorite (whether you’ll admit it or not) sport!
About Alexa Kutch
Alexa Kutch is currently a junior on the Division I Drexel Swimming and Diving team and is studying to become a secondary English teacher. She enjoys helping people and expressing her thoughts through writing.
She hopes that along with teaching, being a swim coach will also be in her future.