Mike's Mailbag: If You Want to Quit, Ask Coach First

Mike's Mailbag: If You Want to Quit, Ask Coach First

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, February 13, 2017

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

Hey Mike,

So this fall I started swimming at a big D1 school, I was offered some money but I am one of the slower freestylers on the team. My senior year of high school I lost a lot of weight and my times suffered a lot. I am currently swimming really well in practice here, but my times in meets are really off from my best. I just feel like I am not going to improve. I have always enjoyed tough workouts but with classes and everything I am getting really burnt out. I have an awesome relationship with my coach, which helps. But I really don't know if swimming is right for me anymore. Any advice?

Confused swimmer


Hey Confused Swimmer,

Transitioning from high school to college can be very, very difficult. It was for me. Classes are intense. Practices are harder, more frequent, tougher. Acclimating to “being on your own” can be a struggle. Homesickness. Schedules. Social obligations. Meeting new friends. New teammates, new coaches, new training programs, new events, travel meets… it can add up. It can feel overwhelming. 


Remember no matter what happens: Just breathe. Find a quiet spot on campus, or on the pool deck, or in your dorm room. Find a quiet place and breathe. Start by breathing. (When we get stressed, we resort to the ‘fight or flight’ mentality; anxiety worsens our ability to think clearly. Breathing deeply has shown the brain returns to stress less levels, without anxiety, so you can think clearly and make better decisions. Breathing relaxes the mind, and it’ll also help you think.) 

When you feel overwhelmed, breathe.

Okay. You’re breathing deeply. You’ve got a clear head. 

What now?

Your freshman year of college is a strange, odd year. It is not a normal year. It is a year of transition, change, and newness. Life during freshman year will seem chaotic compared to life as a senior. This “overwhelmed” feeling doesn’t last forever. (For me, it dissipated junior year.) When I think back to a similar transition I made — like, you, I transitioned from club swimming to a more competitive D1 environment — I, too, was overwhelmed. Classes, practices, new living situations — it was difficult, not just for me, but for many of my teammates. 

And I can tell you: You acclimate. You adapt. You become not only a better swimmer, but a human being who can navigate struggles and time commitments. 

Talk to your coach. Seriously. Not just in passing on the pool deck, but over lunch. Set up a meeting. Tell your coach how you feel. Your coach may not know how you feel, and may conjure ways for you to succeed. During my first two years of collegiate swimming, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to pursue educational opportunities and I believed that swimming was in my way. I bottled all my emotions about swimming; one day, I just quit. Quit for a spring and summer. Stopped swimming. Stopped training. Stopped being active. Before the next season began, I spoke to my coach. He put the sport in context:

“Swimming is such a short time: It’s five months now, five months your senior year, and you can graduate knowing you gave it everything you had and knowing that you finished.” 

If you want to quit, that’s perfectly fine. 

Whatever you decide, you will have support from your family and your teammates, too. 

But remember the arc of this life is long. Swimming may feel like “forever” right now, but it’s really a blip on the radar, a small chapter in a long life. You may feel you are missing out on opportunities, but opportunities are plentiful. Swimming is a limited experience. It ends when you graduate. It ends your senior year. 

Instead of focusing on your times, focus on experiences: Are you trying your best? Are you putting yourself in the best position possible to help your teammates? Are you having fun? Are you being a leader? Ask yourself these questions. Improvement begins with this shift towards experiences, and asking these questions. 

I look back now at my collegiate swimming experiences as some of the fondest moments of growing up. They weren’t all happy moments. But I learned during those unhappy moments. 

Talk to your coach. When I spoke to my coach, a piano magically lifted from my shoulders and I could put into context what this experience is: A sport, competed in five months a year, for a season. Once I put it into context, I became a happier swimmer, a co-captain of my swim team, and a guy who swam personal bests at the last meet of his career. I didn’t win Olympic gold, but it felt like I had.

Talk to your coach. Share your frustrations. Share your concerns. 

And breathe.

I hope this helps. 


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