"It's Complicated" Is That The Status Of Your Relationship With Swimming?

The following is an article I wote I few years back regarding athlete's relationship with the sport of swimming. I hope you and your swimmer(s) can take a few moments and read it over. Swimmers, after reading the article, honestly ask yourself what stage are you in? Feel free to reach out to us and discuss your thoughts. 


As swimmers develop, from 6 & unders into high performance athletes, they have to learn to successfully cultivate and strengthen many types of 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, will put you in a better position for long term success and more enjoyment throughout your swimming career.


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 understanding the seemingly complicated relationship between a swimmer and the sport. Humans are amazing; and they endowed with so many great gifts.  Sometimes, however, our gifts can become our curses.


At some point in our lives, each of us has abused the gift of imagination, for example. Ahh , the “Tyranny of our Imagination”. Think, think and over think. We are presented with an issue and have “over thought” the options and angles to the point of what I call, “analysis
paralysis”. Let's not make this difficult. 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 gives you, 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” stands for “Enthusiasm”. This is a fun stage.  Everything revolves around swimming. Your Instagram handle becomes “SwimrChk_04”, 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 they are to be successful. 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? 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. Fear, more than anything else, interferes with excellence and stops people from reaching their full potential.


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 the important relationship of marriage. 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. "Making it" doesn't have to be an Olympic Gold medal. Each athlete comes to the party with their own talents, goals and expectations. Swimming is a big tent with a lot of ways
to have success...but that is fodder for another article. Sticking to this point...


Relationships rarely end because of a single event. They usually erode slowly, over time. It’s the little things, day after day, month after month and year after year, that lead to the
divorce...and that can be the same with an athlete's relationship with swimming.


When the swimmer is deep into the fear phase, they stop doing the little things to keep their relationship positive. 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; many times ending in a divorce, of sorts. When this happening in the swimmer's relationship with the sport, what should he or she 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 it 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 us trust airplanes. We use them to fly all over the world without fear or even a second thought. If you really think about it, flying in something the size of a football field at 30,000 feet, it could truly instill fear. Planes have proven themselves trustworthy...and we do not over think it when we book a flight or get on board.


From my vantage point, swimming has proven itself to be trustworthy. I have seen thousands of people change their lives and do remarkable things when they had trust and cultivated a great relationship with swimming....and when you trust in swimming, and get on board, swimming can help 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 combined 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 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 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


Think of the strongest relationship on the planet...the one between a parent and their child. Parents will 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 a rebuilding club. That said, I know there are some who are making efforts to become real swimmers; not just people who swim. Knowing your relationship with the sport will help you understand the journey better.  It doesn’t have to be complicated...just have to trust and learn to enjoy the ride.


It is my sincere hope that each you get to experience a mature and deep relationship with swimming. Understanding, cultivating and enjoying that relationship will help you succeed in and out of the water. It can do so by giving you an understanding of how to have successful relationships after you hang up your goggles and move on to new relationships; in both 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