Mike's Mailbag: Balancing School and Swimming

Mike's Mailbag: Balancing School and Swimming

By Mike Gustafson  | Monday, May 15, 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,

During the school year I have been having a hard time balancing school and swimming. During the past school year I have been having to skip way too much swimming for school work or school related stuff. My dad says that I should just wait to get serious with swimming in high school, but I don't want to be out of shape. What should I do?

-School vs Swim


Hey School vs. Swim,

School should always take priority. Swimming is a sport: It’s an activity. It’s fun. It’s competitive. But swimming should not be your first priority. Competitive swimming, while enjoyable and fun, should only be part of an overall growing up experience that centers around academics. You should never sacrifice academics to participate in a sport. Sports have a shelf life; they end when you graduate, or when you hit a certain age. Academics, the things you learn now, the college you get into, the passions you cultivate now that set you up for future careers, those last a lifetime.

However, I don’t think you have to choose one or the other, either. Instead, re-calibrate how you spend your time, and take a hard, good look at your daily schedule.

Write out everything you do throughout the day. Take a look to see if there is time being wasted. Part of getting older is learning how to use time more effectively. I’m not saying you don’t use time effectively; I also think all of us can use our free time better. I think back to some of my friends in college: We trained 20 hours a week, we traveled to swim meets on weekends, and they were studying engineering — a major that required intense, intense hours. They also hung out with friends and saw family, too. I’m not saying it was easy. It was not. But watching them take control of their own personal calendars was inspiring. There was not a wasted minute in their day.

I, myself, have never been great about creating daily calendars. To me, life is about balance. Throughout my day and week, I need to make sure I have time for a wide array of things I’m interested in. You should find a balance, too. Find time for school, homework, family, friends, chores, art, getting outside, swimming, and relaxation. Again: Balance is key. Once one of these things begins to take up your schedule, another aspect suffers. It’s very, very difficult to live a fully balanced life, but part of growing up is identifying which of these aspects (or another that I didn’t list here) is important, and making sure you schedule time for it.

So, if you’re flat out of free time, I can see how you could cut back a little on swimming. Make sure you can focus on school and homework, and that you aren’t falling behind in classes. Catch up. Get back on track. Then, add swimming back in through your afternoons and free time. Get organized. Make a calendar of how you spend your time. Stick to the schedule. And make sure to schedule other things in that you enjoy, like hanging out with friends.

The ironic thing I’ve realized is, whenever I focused more on school, I got burned out on school. When I focused more on swimming, I burned out on swimming. Whenever I focused on hanging out with friends, my school or swimming suffered. I needed not to cut back, but to balance.

Your father is right: You can get serious about swimming in high school. You have plenty of time to get serious about swimming. But if you’re feeling stressed and pulled in opposite directions, make sure to get your academics straight first. Make sure you’re caught up, and you feel comfortable with your school obligations. Swimming should complement your academics, not become the priority.

It’s possible to balance school and swimming, and to excel in both at the same time. They can complement each other. Make a schedule, make sure you’re not overextending yourself, and find that balance between everything that’s important to you.

I hope this helps. 



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