Sometimes, having an intense desire for something can actually be a bad thing.
I’m sure you love swimming. I’m sure it’s something that you’ve put a lot of time, energy, and commitment into over the years. I’m sure you work hard. I’m sure you push yourself to your limits. I’m sure you’re up early in the morning at an ungodly hour, ripping through laps in the pool. I’m sure you’re grinding away endlessly in the pursuit of swimming excellence. I’m sure swimming is something you’re determined to succeed at and I’m sure you have things within the sport you’d like to experience and achieve.
However, I have one very important question I’d like to ask you: Do you have fun with it?
It seems like such a silly question. But unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a question that absolutely needs to be asked. As a sports psychologist who works with a lot of athletes, not just in swimming but in numerous other sports, I work with athletes with whom, too often, the simple concept of having fun and enjoying the sport they love tends to get lost and sacrificed at the expense of the “business side” of the sport; the goals, targets, aim, and achievements that need to be reached, both individually and collectively.
Who knows, maybe you’re in the same boat and have a hard time enjoying swimming anymore. But it wasn’t always that way.
When you first started swimming when you were a kid, what was the only thing you cared about? I’m willing to bet it was simply hanging out with your friends at the pool, doing the best you could, and enjoying this new sport you started that made you feel really good when you did it. It made you happy.
But then, as you got better and better at swimming, things got more competitive. Hanging out with your friends, doing the best you could, and enjoying the sport you love slowly became secondary to the need to acquire times and make cuts. Swimming wasn’t just a fun sport anymore. It started to feel like work, like a job you had to do rather than a sport you wanted to do.
As swimmers get older and move up in level, love, enjoyment, and fun tend to get sacrificed for the sake of competitiveness and success. Too often, the pendulum gets swung way too far in the opposite direction and swimmers will lose that sense of childlike enjoyment and happiness they used to feel towards the sport. Like I mentioned earlier, it stops being a game and becomes a job. It’s no longer a fun sport, but a daily grind.
The simple fact is that you cannot succeed consistently over the long term, or find any kind meaningful happiness within the sport, unless you allow yourself to love it, enjoy it, and have fun with it. The minute swimming starts to feel like a job or something you do purely as a means to an end to achieve targets, you’re going to find yourself burning out physically and emotionally very quickly.
To prevent that, here are some things you can do to help keep the sport fun and never lose that love you have for swimming:
1) See challenges and obstacles as a game.
In working with top level athletes, no matter what sport they play, I’ve found that they all have a few traits in common with one another. One of them is that they love a challenge. The more difficult things get, the more you see their best come out of them. Whether it’s a hard set in training or a goal to drop a certain amount of time in order to make a cut, you have to see these kinds of challenges, not as a problem to stress over, but a fun game to play and a challenge to overcome. Be playful with the challenges and obstacles you have to endure. Say to yourself, “Ok ok, let’s have fun with this challenge. Let’s get it everything we have and let’s see what we can do here.”
2) Do things other than swimming.
To be great and successful at the sport, it goes without saying that you have to dedicate yourself to it and be borderline obsessed with it. However, to keep the balance, you also need to get away from it. Swimmers often burn out because they allow themselves to become utterly consumed by the sport and don’t take enough time away from it in order to decompress and detach. Go and do other things. Pick up a hobby. Involve yourself in other sports or activities that you can use as a haven away from swimming and to prevent yourself from becoming completely entrenched the sport to the point where you get stuck in it physically and emotionally.
3) Remind yourself of why you swim in the first place.
As I mentioned previously, as the sport becomes more and more competitive and as you move up in levels within swimming, it’s going to be easier and easier to prevent yourself from having fun and enjoying the sport due to the pressures and expectations that come from high-level swimming. That grind and that process is only natural and you should embrace it, however, never let yourself forget why you swim in the first place. It’s because you love it. It’s because it brings you inner fulfillment and contentment. It’s because it makes you feel something that nothing else does or has. If you allow yourself to lose sight of that, then as I mentioned, the sport will stop being a sport and it will feel like a job. Once that happens, motivation dries up and burnout quickly ensues. Constantly remind yourself why you do swimming and never let yourself lose sight of that.
In the end, there has to be balance. You have to be serious with swimming, dedicate yourself to it, and be absolutely committed to achieving things and becoming the best version of yourself as a swimmer that you can possibly be. However, that should never come at the expense of having fun and enjoying the sport you love. If it does, you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble. Train hard, swim hard, and go hard. Just make sure that, along the way, you enjoy the challenges and have fun with the ride. A swimming career doesn’t last forever, and you don’t want to look back with regrets feeling like you should have enjoyed it more.
Thanks for reading, and all the best!
About Will Jonathan
Will Jonathan is a sports Mental Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. His clients include athletes on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, Major League Baseball, the UFC, the Primera Liga, the Olympics, and the NCAA, as well as providing numerous talks and presentations on the mental aspect of sport and peak performance to various sports programs and organizations across the country. He also works as the official Mental Coach for the Florida Gulf Coast University Swimming & Diving Team.