Mike's Mailbag: Will Swimming Ever Be Fun Again?

Mike's Mailbag: Will Swimming Ever Be Fun Again?

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, April 10, 2017

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


Over the years I've grown gradually less and less enthusiastic about swimming. It's gotten to the point that I dread every swim practice. I just find swimming so stressful, hard, painful and discouraging. I used to be pretty decent at swimming, but have only plateaued. I don't think this is the only reason why I dislike swimming so much, though. It's more of the physical pain that each practice causes. I don't even want to try that hard anymore. When I see the main set, I feel a cold, immobilizing slab of ice just slide down my insides and am utterly numbed. 

People always tell me that swimming's for you. That you need to try, and what you put in is what you get out. These supposedly encouraging statements are all founded on the assumption that I have some desire to excel at swimming. True, I do like succeeding, but I just don't want to have to undergo the physical torture to reach it. Further, I hear a lot about the satisfaction you get after practices, and how your self-confidence increases when you finish a hard set. It takes all the self-discipline I have to avoid scoffing out loud at these. Very rarely do I receive that sort of "satisfaction." More often, I just feel a profound sense of relief that I finished the practice, only to be replaced by dread that I have 24 hours until the next session, and then the cycle restarts itself. As for the "get out what you put in" statement, I find it perfectly ridiculous. I feel no incentive to put myself through practice to succeed. A few years ago, before I started hating swimming, I busted my gut at every practice. The result? The same or worse times. I watched as kids who cheated in practice drop times continuously. Even if hard work actually leads to better times, I still wouldn't want to swim. I just don't feel like anything I could get out of swimming is enough to assuage my growing dislike of swimming.

Nothing has really helped stem my lessening interest in swimming. I switched teams, and that helped for a while, but then I sank back down to even lower depths of dread. Despite all this, I still want to learn to love swimming again. After all, I have to swim to keep fit (and my parents are adamant that I continue it), and I might as well like it if I have to do it.

Please help me overcome this hatred.

-Depressed Swimmer



Hey Depressed Swimmer,

I hear you about all those cliches. I use them sometimes, but I agree with you... they can get stale. Especially the "you get out what you put in" statement. If that were true, every hard worker would win Olympic gold.

Swimming is a physically tough sport. So, if you continue to swim – and I want you to really consider whether or not you want to spend your years doing something you dread – you have to be ready for the physicality of it. That part will never go away.

But there are different versions of physicality, and there are different perspectives about that physicality. Some swimmers love that kind of hard work. Some swimmers think that's "fun." I once trained with a guy who loved 400 IM repeats. At the time, I didn't think there was much fun to be had there. Actually, I was miserable. I didn't see much point in it. But, weirdly, he had fun doing them. He'd finish each one and shout encouragement and tell jokes – sometimes one massive continuous joke that lasted throughout the workout. It was so ridiculous – we were all dying, just struggling to make it through the workout, and here was this guy actually telling jokes. It was impossible not to laugh at him. Or with him.

He showed me it was strangely possible to have fun while working hard. To find fun in practically any situation, even if that situation is a series of 400 IM repeats.

Forget about the times and goals and cliches. Forget about your parents. If you want to love swimming again, and I think you do since you wrote me that email, you have to make it fun.

I know you hate cliches and vague platitudes, but you're the only person who can make this fun. It can be fun. I've had incredible amounts of fun. I've also been miserable. And it's not about coaches or teammates or times. It's only about you, and your willingness and creativity to find the fun even when you think fun cannot be found.

This extends to a lot of other areas beyond swimming. Down the road, you'll experience much harder things in your life. Not everything will be fun. But if you fixate on the negative, it will be. If you think how terrible everything is, it will be.

I'm not saying to blindly venture forward and keep doing things you hate. I'm saying, laugh a little. Joke with teammates. It makes the hard work more tolerable.

Find a small part of swimming you could love. In your note you mentioned the exercise aspect of swimming. That's good. Embrace swimming not as this crazy endeavor of unnecessary pain, but as the means to living a healthy, active life. Or find something else to embrace about it – friends, relays, joking at practice.

Swimming can be no be fun. Or it can be the best time of your life. I've heard both, from swimmers of all different backgrounds. It comes down to: Did you laugh? Did you make the best of the situation? Did you find something to love?

Talk with your parents. Talk with your coaches. Tell them you're just not having fun. Maybe they can help. And if this continues, consider taking a small break from the sport. Just to take a breather. A vacation away from swimming.

You might have to try harder than others to find it, but fun can be found. For some, fun is 400 IMs. For others, fun is feeling healthy. Or it could be racing. Or hanging with teammates. Or going to travel meets.

The fun is there, floating around. You just have to dive in and find it (or cannonball).

I hope this helps.



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