Starting a Second Season

Starting a Second Season

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You’ve heard of second-chance swims or second-chance meets. But what about a second-chance season?

I remember many of my season’s final swims that ended in disappointment: A disappointing time. A disappointing finish. A just-missed place. A just-missed qualifying time. I would hit that final wall, stare at the scoreboard, and I would want to hop in the DeLorean with Marty McFly and time travel back to Day One.

To restart the season, and have a second chance. Right away, I would want a second-chance season.

So many swimmers send me emails reflecting that awful, end-of-season feeling of disappointment: A swimmer does everything right throughout the season, has the right mentality, works hard, and misses out on a personal best time. Or is disappointed by their final race. Or second-guesses everything.

This kind of deflating disappointment is, I hate to say, very, very normal. Every single swimmer I know experiences it. And it’s normal to want to restart the entire season, time-travel back to Day One, and begin again.

Even though time traveling is impossible (for now), what should be said is this: Second-chances are really first chances, repeated. Every single practice, every single dive is a new opportunity, a new “first chance.” But sometimes, just for inspiration’s sake, it’s helpful to think about an upcoming season as a “do-over” season. A refresh. A restart. A second-chance to adjust. A second-chance to change. A second-chance to push off the wall again, and keep swimming.

Here are six ways to have a great “second-chance season” this spring and summer:

1. Make a list of things that went well.

After a disappointing season, many swimmers want to focus on the negative. (“I will never be as fast as others, I lost even though I did a 400 IM from the blocks every single practice…”) But success often comes from sticking to things that went well, even in the face of disappointment. Make a list of those aspects of the season that were positive. Make sure, in the reshuffling and recalibrating of the off-season, you don’t lose focus of those positive things. Stick to that end-of-practice 400 IM. Stick to the positives.


2. Make a list of things that didn’t go well.

Stick to the positives, but change the negatives. Change starts with being realistic about ourselves: Were you late to practice every Monday afternoon? Did you have a grumpy attitude some mornings? We can never be perfect. But we can at least acknowledge our own faults and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. Be real with yourself. Even documenting these things could help you years down the road. Like keeping a reflective diary, you may want to revisit these when you’re older. (And you may laugh at those thoughts you once had years ago.) Acknowledging the things that didn’t go well is the first step towards change.


3. Pick three “small things” you can change that are under your control.

Maybe you want to arrive at practice five minutes early, every day. Or maybe you want to fix your breaststroke turn. Pick something under your control. Not times. Not places. Pick three specific things you control, like your attitude before 800 freestyle relays, or the effort and mentality during those final fifteen meters of your 100 butterfly. Or improving the endurance over the last leg of your 400 IM. Three small things you can accomplish next season, tell your coach, and make a plan.


4. Write down one BIG GOAL that inspires you. Then put it somewhere visible.

What inspires you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Whatever that thing is, put it over (or near) your bed. Tape it on your alarm clock or car dashboard. Write it in big fat marker all over your kickboard. It’s okay to lose focus on your destination, but, if you see more reminders about your BIG GOAL, you’ll be more inspired to get through the gritty every day hardships. (5am distance freestyle sets.)


5. Have an “exit interview” with your coach.

When you leave a job, often, you’ll have an “exit interview” with an employer. This is your opportunity to talk about the job in a more honest circumstance, and give honest feedback about what it was like to work there. I believe every coach, and every swimmer, should have an “exit interview” at the end of the season. What went well? What didn’t go well? What could be different? What should stay the same? Don’t you think we should have a pizza party EVERY Friday, Coach? Leave that season behind with a frank discussion, and move on to the next season.



This is the most important thing: Take a break. Catch your breath. After disappointing seasons, often, I’d want to dive back into the water as fast as humanly possible. (Like, the next day.) Some seasons, I took hardly any break at all (those seasons always ended up my worst). At least two weeks. At least. Three weeks seems to be an ideal number if coming up on a long season (winter) and two is a nice number coming up on the summer season.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson or send him an email for his weekly Mailbag @



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