Am I More Than a Swimmer?

This is for the swimmer who sees themselves as only that.

By Kiah Francis, Swimming World Intern

Do you place your value as a person upon the digits displayed on the scoreboard?

Maybe you joined the sport at a young age and latched onto the idea that your mission in life is to swim. Maybe you tried out for the high school team and found yourself living for the thrill of dropping time. Or perhaps you had a successful few years, only to have your swimming performance affected by outside factors like injuries or big life changes. Whatever your swimming story looks like, I assure you that it is not your only story.

Really, it isn’t. Swimmers come with so many talents, gifts, and roles.

The time on the scoreboard could never reveal the complexity of your life. As time passes, you may have noticed your identity becoming the sport itself. It makes sense, considering swimmers train in the early hours of the day, sometimes sacrificing much-needed sleep to jump in the water. They are introduced as ‘the swimmer’ and it is typically the first thing they share about themselves. Their day is determined by how difficult practice was or is. The sport is in their bio on Instagram and often the reason they met a lot of the people in their life. Conversations often revolve around when the next big meet is or how practice has been going.

But you are still an intricate person with aspirations, experiences, and passions that encompass who you are. You may be a crucial team encourager, the comedic relief during long meets, or bring a joyful attitude to the pool deck. Each new season brings new opportunities to improve within the sport, but you can also fine-tune your role on the team as well. There are many dimensions of contributing to a team other than swimming.

For example, you could focus on your vocal leadership skills by bringing the energy at meets. Or create a habit of encouraging teammates by uplifting them during challenging practices. Do you inspire others by leading by example, quietly putting in the work each day? Do you have an opportunity to mentor and support a teammate heading into a big competition? Swimming brings some incredible opportunities that may have nothing to do with swimming.

The time on the scoreboard does not reveal that you are encouraging, kind, funny, or joyful. It does not show your persistence despite a challenging semester of school. It does not measure how great of a sibling, son, daughter, friend, or teammate you are.

Start small. Ask your coach how their day has gone. Grab lunch with a teammate. Help a training partner map out their goals for the season. Even choosing to smile at that teammate that keeps leaving early on the intervals makes all the difference. Reach over the lane to fist bump a competitor who out-touched you. Give back to the team in a way that complements your unique strengths.
You never know what kind of a day your teammate has had and what your actions could mean to them.

It takes a lot of practice to see yourself as more than a swimmer. But the freedom that comes from that mindset can bring you more joy than a personal-best time ever could.

How do you know when you have reached that point?

You will start genuinely wanting your teammates to succeed (yes, even when they swim faster than your time). You will go the extra mile during practice to finish that last set with a teammate. Instead of telling acquaintances about how much time you dropped at the last meet, you will tell them about the friendships and experiences swimming has brought into your life. Practices will become more about the fun act of swimming and less about the outcome. Suddenly, challenging sets become an opportunity to improve instead of a task to complete.

Training out of obligation, expectation, and frustration will take you nowhere. But when you begin discovering your unique role on your team as something that has nothing to do with performance in the pool, that is how you know you are more than a swimmer.

“The value of identity, of course, is that so often with it comes purpose.” -Richard Grant