Mike's Mailbag: Starting Over

Mike's Mailbag: Starting Over

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, December 19, 2016

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com


I swam competitively from ages 7-18. Around the age of 15, I hit a plateau and gave up trying; I stayed on theswim team but did not push myself any further. I am currently a sophomore in college and am trying to get back in shape after 7 months off of swimming and am hoping to join my college team next year. I was wondering what the best way to get my competitive mentality back is, how to sign up for my college team, and how to get back in shape?

Thank You,
Starting Over


Hey Starting Over,

There is no easy way to start over. You simply start, over and over and over.

By which I mean your process of starting won’t be limited to once or twice or ten times. You will have to start over your practices, start over your mentality, start over your racing speed, your mental toughness, your determination, your alarm clock, your internal will. You will have to start over on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and every morning, again and again. You will get tired of starting over, and it’s important to remember why you’re starting over in the first place.

Why are you starting over? Do you want to improve your times? Do you miss your teammates? What is important to you now that wasn’t as important to you last year? What has changed? 

In many ways, starting over can be a thrilling ride: You’ve already been on that swim season rollercoaster. You know what to expect. This time, maybe you can learn to throw your arms up and enjoy the ride. 

Starting over also takes a ton of courage. I give you credit. It’s not easy to vocalize your starting over intentions, and it won’t be easy when you aren’t immediately your old, former swimming self.

But when you start over, you have one more chance to write the kind of story you want to write for yourself. You have a blank slate. You are the artist. You can draw what you want. You just have to decide what it is you want to draw.

I suggest that you come up with the number one reason why you’re starting over. Come up with a time, perhaps. “I want to get one personal best in one event.” Write that time on your kick board. On your locker. Focus on that time. Look at that time in the morning. Let that time become your obsession, so those start-overs are easier. 

Or, choose a more team-oriented goal: “I want to become team captain.” Okay. How do you do that? What sorts of leadership qualities do team captains usually exude? Do you have to get to practice early, leave late, support teammates, that sort of thing? 

Or, choose a personal goal: “I just want to be healthy.” You can start that now. Eat better. Throw out your junk food, and only purchase food that will make you feel good. 

Whatever your intention for starting over, the important thing is to have intention, stick to it, and make a plan. Don’t float aimlessly through a comeback, because you’ll get burned out, just as before. Choose something tangible and accomplishable. Choose something that will get you out of bed in the morning and make you a better person. Choose something simple. And, most importantly, choose something you truly want to accomplish with your whole heart, mind, and soul. 

I’ll be honest with you: If you’re starting over for the sake of starting over, you won’t go far. You’ll have two, four, six weeks of great training, but then it will fall off. You need to decide just why is it you want to start over, and believe in it. And you must believe in it with your whole essence of who you are, then not let yourself fail. 

And when you are feeling lost — watch videos of past Olympics races. That will motivate you, when nothing else can.

I hope this helps, and good luck. 


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