Mike's Mailbag: The Mental Anguish of Injuries

Mike's Mailbag: The Mental Anguish of Injuries

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, December 4, 2017

Every Monday on USASwimming.org and inside every issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question you’d like answered, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer your question.


Hi Mike! I’ve been reading your articles and I really enjoy them. I had been injured for a while and I’m just back for about a month now and I’m trying so hard to qualify for meets. But I never do. And I really want to and I’ve been working hard and taking time off each meet but never enough time. I only have 2 more meets to have a chance to qualify.

-Struggling Swimmer

Hi Struggling Swimmer,

Injuries can be tough, especially in a sport like competitive swimming, which is so dependent on momentum and ritual. In swimming, if you’re out of the pool for four days, it can feel like an eternity. So an injury, which can put you out of the pool for weeks and even months, can really throw your schedule off.

A few suggestions for when you’re injured:


1.) If you’re injured and you can’t swim physically, “swim mentally.” Literally find a quiet place for twenty minutes, close your eyes, and “swim.” Imagine yourself swimming through warm-ups, freestyle, IM, butterfly. Imagine yourself being in the pool, churning with your muscles, breathing, flipping, and turning. It may sound silly, it may sound placebo, but I believe there is still something to be gained by “swimming mentally.”


2.) Take the required time to heal. Injuries need time. It’s frustrating. It’s irritating. It’s upsetting. But injuries require and demand time to heal. If you rush yourself back into the pool, you may re-injure yourself. It may be emotionally distressing to remove yourself from the pool for several weeks to heal, but it’s better than dealing with years and years of the same injury. When you’re growing and you incur an injury, your body just needs time to heal.


3.) Go slow. Struggling Swimmer, this may not be the advice you want to hear. But you may not end up qualifying for those meets you want to qualify for this season. And that’s okay. You were injured. There is only so much you can do. The more important thing is to recognize that you were injured, and after you heal, go slow enough to ensure that you don’t experience re-injury. While our sport constantly demands speed, speed, and more speed, when it comes to injury, you must slow down.

Struggling Swimmer, once you’re healed and back in the pool, the mental frustrations of “making a comeback” can be the most difficult part of any injury. Because you are not the swimmer you were before the injury. You will get there. But it will take time.

If you don’t qualify this year, don’t quit. Don’t throw your goggles. Don’t hang your head. Go slow and go confidently. You will one day return to the swimmer you once were, stronger than ever before. Even if you don’t qualify this year, you must realize that this season wasn’t the “usual” kind of season because you suffered an injury.

More important than qualifying? Healing. Heal your body, heal your mind, and be ready to go next season.

I hope this helps. 



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