Mike's Mailbag: Age is Just a Number

Mike's Mailbag: Age is Just a Number

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, October 23, 2017

Every Monday, swimmers from around the country email me questions about our sport, and I answer them on USA Swimming’s website and in Splash Magazine. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com, and I’ll try my best to answer.

Dear Mike,

About 1 year ago I joined a really good swim team. I entered state level and have moved up to a middle level between National and State. But still I have little kids (who are 9-10) better than me (12) and it is lowering my self esteem for swimming. What should I do?

-"Behind the Others”


Hey Behind The Others,

A weird thing happens when you get older: Time speeds up. Weeks, months, and years experienced just keep getting faster and faster. Some days I swear I wake up and can’t believe 2017 has already happened. That we’re almost done with the year…

Of course, this is insane (and perception). Time doesn’t speed up as you age; seconds are seconds and days are days. What happens, though, is that our perception of time speeds up. This is actually documented: When you grow up, you will perceive time as speeding up. Our brains categorize new memories and new experiences differently than the familiar and mundane. When you’re young, virtually everything you do is “new.” But when you’re older or middle-aged, time seems to speed up because our lives are basically a repeat of the day before.

This is a long answer to say: I know that right now, it seems very important that kids younger by two or three years are faster or better than you. And I hear you: That used to worry me, too. I would compare myself to other kids not only my age, but a year or so younger and a year or so older. And I got stressed whenever younger kids were faster than me.

However, along the journey of swimming, when you get older — 17, 18, 19 years-old — it usually evens out. Those young fast kids? They stop being so fast. Those older, slower kids? They get faster. This is because everyone grows at different speeds and everyone has different journeys along competitive swimming.

Your journey is your journey. I know that right now, time seems to pass so incredibly slowly, and every day can bring struggle, and sometimes, days stretch out into what seems like years. But one day you will wake up and you will be teammates with those younger kids. You will be on the same relays. You will be racing the same events. And what seems like a big deal now — that they are 9 or 10 and are as fast or faster than you — won’t be.

And the farther along in your swimming journey you go, the less and less age matters. In college, I was beat all the time by freshmen. By younger swimmers. But the next year, I’d be beating them. It didn’t have to do with age. It had to do with work ethic, attitude, and approach to the sport.

I know this hurts your self-esteem. My advice to you is to remember that time isn’t all that important: It can speed up, it can slow down, and what your age is doesn’t have anything to do with what is really important. And what is important?

Making sure every single day, you do the best that you can. That you try new things and new experiences. That you don’t fret about what other people are doing, even those younger than you, and instead, you just focus on your own journey and your own attitude. Because in a few years, those faster, younger kids? They’ll be wishing they were as fast as you. And you’ll be a role model to them, you’ll help them, you’ll encourage them, and you’ll mentor them.

I hope this helps.


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