Mike's Mailbag: Be Patient With Progress

Mike's Mailbag: Be Patient With Progress

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, February 27, 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. 

Dear Mike,

I find that I have a lot of trouble with every stroke except butterfly. When I'm sprinting butterfly, everything seems to make sense. The same doesn't go for the other three strokes. My speed on butterfly is so much faster than anything else, and I'm afraid it's going to prevent me from moving up groups in practice or attending multiple sessions of big meets. Is it okay to only be good at one thing? If not, what do I do? 

-Butterfly Lover


Butterfly Lover:

A coach once told me, "You can be good at many things, or great at one thing." At the time, this coach wascommunicating about my decision to be a multi-sport athlete. I was a soccer player, baseball player, and swimmer. And in his eyes, it was time to choose one sport to be great. 

Being great at one sport, or in your case, one stroke, is an advantage. It's not a disadvantage. You love butterfly. Embrace it. Many people despise butterfly. Use this to your advantage. Like that old adage: "Focus on what you can do rather than on what you cannot."

I've known many solo-stroke swimmers. Athletes who, for whatever reason, excelled at only one stroke. It never felt like a disadvantage. I never thought to myself that these swimmers were any less of an athlete because they did not excel at all four strokes. Rather, I always appreciated and admired their talent and tenacity. At elite levels, almost all veteran swimmers focus and concentrate on one event or one stroke. They specialize based on talent and skill. Rather than being good at all events, they try to be great at one or two. 

You will be placed in the right practice group for your abilities. Your coach won't keep you in a slow practice group if you are ready to move up. Likewise, your coach won't push you into a faster group if you're not ready. For years, I was a breaststroker who had difficulty keeping up with teammates during distance freestyle sets. So I trained with other people who had similar practice abilities. One day, after years of trying, I could keep up in those freestyle sets, so I changed practice groups. 

If you're worried about this, embrace when the opportunity comes to work on your other strokes. The most important thing is to keep churning away. To keep trying to improve at strokes that don't come as easy to you as butterfly. Some swimmers who are naturally gifted in one stroke get discouraged that other strokes don't come as easily, so, after a while, they give up trying. Embrace your butterfly prowess, but also don't stop trying to improve at the other three strokes. 

Ultimately, Butterfly Lover, you will succeed because of your enthusiasm. Not just for butterfly, but for your improvement and willingness to improve. You might be a butterflyer now. But in three years, you might be a freestyler. Or a backstroker. Or an IMer. Don't write off other events just yet. Keep trying to improve when you can, and don't fall into the trap of thinking, "This isn't butterfly, so I don't need to try."

Try. You may not move up practice groups or attend all the swim meet sessions you want, but you can't predict how your body might change, how your strokes could alter and improve, and where you could succeed in the future. I began as a sprint butterflyer, morphed into a 200 breaststroke, and finished my career as a 400 IMer. I competed in sprint backstroke and sprint butterfly, too. 

Embrace butterfly. Keep trying at the other strokes. Be patient with progress. There's no harm in being great at one thing, but you can still be good at the other three strokes, too. 

I hope this helps. 


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