"It's Complicated" What Is Your Relationship With Swimming?

I have a small break in between sessions here at NCSA Junior Nationals. I am writing this post in a cold Orlando hotel room with bad daytime TV shows playing in the background.  As our first season together as Blue Wave comes to an end, I feel it is important that we evaluate our relationship with the sport of swimming. Hang on, this will all makes sense soon enough. Have a few spare minutes and a cup of coffee handy? Good, here it goes...

As swimmers develop from 6 & unders into high performance athletes, they have to cultivate and strengthen many relationships along the way. Some of those relationships include ones with their parents, coaches, teammates and even their competitors. Great relationships are key to great results.

But, as a swimmer, have you ever thought about your relationship with the sport of swimming itself? For many, “It’s Complicated” is a term that comes to mind. Taking some time to evaluate that relationship may help strengthen it and, in so doing, may help you obtain great results, season after season.

Sometimes, it is important to take the complicated and make it simple. That is just as true a statement for teaching an in water skill as it is for helping an athlete understand their mental skills.  Humans are amazing; and they endowed with so many great gifts.  Sometimes, however, our gifts can become our curses.

A good example is that at some point in our lives, each of us has abused the gift of imagination. Ahh , the “Tyranny of our Imagination”. Many times, we are presented with an issue and “over think” the options and angles to the point of what I call, “analysis paralysis”. I want to make this easy. Here is a simple way to gauge your relationship with swimming. Go LEFT.

LEFT is an acronym that will help you examine where you are on a relationship continuum with swimming. Each letter will represent a concept, or stage, of your relationship. Let’s start with the first letter, “L”.

“L” stands for “like”. It is not as simple as you like to swim, but rather, you like what swimming gives you. You like the fact that you can eat more food than other people without worry. You like the fact that you have something to do after school. You like hanging out with other swimmers on your team. The essence of this stage of your relationship is what does swimming give me, not what you give back. After some time in the sport, most swimmers move on to the next stage which is represented with the letter “E”.

“E” stand for “Enthusiasm”. This is a fun stage.  Everything revolves around swimming.  Your Instagram handle becomes “SwimrChk_99”, for example. You tell people that chlorine is your new perfume. You spout out that swimmers are only “real” athletes in any discussion related to sports...I think you get my point.

At this phase in your relationship, your are willing to do new things (AM workouts, dryland, etc) and are enjoying success. Everything is new, exciting and fresh. The term “Puppy Love” comes to mind when I think of this stage. Relationships are always great when things are going well...but all relationships eventually have “issues”.

It should be noted that some athletes stay in the enthusiasm stage forever. They, from my experience, are in the minority. Most swimmers hit the next point in their relationship at least once. This stage is represented by the letter, “F”.

“F” stands for “Fear”. The fear usually comes when one party in the relationship starts to think that this is getting too serious. Do I really want to be stuck with this person (or swimming, for our purposes) for such a long time? I am young and have options. Should I play the field and see what else is out there?

The fear also comes from a realization that relationships take hard work. If I invest all of that energy into this relationship, am I sure (read, “guaranteed”) that I am going to get everything out of it I want? How do I know my love is reciprocated? Do I really want to put the time and effort needed to make this relationship a success? That can be a scary proposition for anyone in any relationship.

There have been so many times in my coaching career where I have pictured myself as a marriage counselor; one trying to keep a relationship together. The relationship, of course is between the athlete and the sport. Unfortunately, if a swimmer can not get past their “fear of commitment” to this relationship, they will never experience true success in the sport.

Here is the insidious part of the fear stage.  It does not happen all at once. It comes on in small ways, over time.

Think of any relationship. People do not get married with the expectation of divorce. Sure, they may know the stats, but they usually enter into the marriage with love and appreciation for the other party.  They know that person loves them as well and, by working together, they can take on the world and win. They are going to make it.  

Most swimmers get serious with swimming because they feel they are going to make it as well. All relationships rarely end because of a single event. They usually erode over time. It’s the little things, day after day, month after month and year after year, that lead to the big “event”...and that is the same with an athlete's relationship with swimming.

When the swimmer is deep into the fear phase, they stop doing the little things right. It’s like when a marriage goes bad and the parties stop telling the other that they love them, or do not make the bed or one of a thousand other little things that say, without saying, you are not as important to me anymore. For the swimmer, they do not get a real opportunity to say, “I Love You Swimming”. They get to say it by their actions and choices.

Maybe the don’t eat as well. Perhaps they miss some mornings or weekend practices. These choices can be justified. They may have a test, a visitor in town, etc. Over time, it becomes easier and easier to make those types of choices...and the relationship suffers as a result. When this happens, what should a swimmer do?

Well, the first step is to do what we are talking about right now. Examine that relationship. What stage are they in?  If they are in the fear stage, know that it is normal (it is amazing how many people are unique ). Let me state that again. It is normal to have these feelings from time to time throughout your career. If, after much reflection and counseling (speaking to your coach & family about your concerns), you still want to make the relationship work, realize that it will take a rededication to make the relationship work on your part. Then, take the leap of faith and know you will be rewarded. All it takes is the letter, “T”.

“T” stands for “Trust”. Trust is very powerful. When someone or something is trustworthy, together, you can do great things. Most of of trust airplanes and can fly all over the world in them without fear or even a second thought. If you really think about flying in something the size of a football field at 30,000 feet, it could truly instill fear. Planes have proven themselves trustworthy. From my vantage point, so has swimming...and when you trust in swimming, it can take you all over the world, too.

Of course, it takes more than trusting the sport. Once you learn to truly trust in your program, your coach and yourself, you can transcend the fears that come with the earlier stage and give yourself so many more opportunities for success. Trust, when combines with passion and preparation, can lead an athlete to peak performances. season after season after season. Trust me, it can :)

Trust quells fear and makes swimming fun may even become enthusiastic again. This time, however, the enthusiasm will come from a mature love of the sport; one complete with the understanding of your roles in that relationship. This type of love will be deeper and more meaningful than the puppy love described when I first introduced the letter, “E”.

Trust is earned over time...but, like all great relationships, it take time to mature and flourish. Trust leads to fruitful relationships. When you are in a strong, positive relationship, you are never alone, you have the confidence to take on the world and you are generally very happy...and you rarely see doing the little things for your partner as a chore or a sacrifice.

Think of some of the best relationships...perhaps a parent and child comes to mind. I know committed parents do things for their children that the outside world sees as such a chore, but the parent sees as something wonderful. I could go on, but I am sure you get my point. When you are in a strong relationship, you want to be with that person as much as possible. The same holds true when you are in a great relationship with our sport. You want to be here...and you want to do the little things right.

We are just beginning our journey together.. That said, I know there are some of our athletes who are making efforts to become real swimmers; not just people who swim. Knowing your relationship with the sport will help you understand our journey better.  It doesn’t have to be complicated...just have trust and enjoy the ride.

It is my sincere hope that each you get to experience a mature and deep relationship with swimming as you grow in the sport. Understanding, cultivating and enjoying that relationship will help you succeed in the water and will help you understand how to be successful in any arena when you finally hang up your goggles and move on to new relationships in your personal and professional lives. Hopefully, you will be able to keep all those important relationships in your life right, by thinking LEFT

See you at the pool - Rich