Mike's Mailbag: Play the Hand You're Dealt

Mike's Mailbag: Play the Hand You're Dealt

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, December 11, 2017

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

Hi Mike,


For the last two years I've struggled to drop time.  I would only drop a second or two at state meets. I would work hard, come to all the practices. Then, finally, last long course season, I started dropping time like I used to when I was younger. I went into high school season and struggled to the adjustment, but I eventually adjusted and was dropping time and did great, but after high school season, I was unable to go to club practice. I was still practicing in my town but it just wasn't the same. I swam at State and stayed around my times. Now I'm going into long course season and I'm struggling terribly. I've been working so hard to get back into regular shape but it isn't going too well. I was hoping you could give me help.

P.S. I used to be leading lanes with a body length or two behind me now I'm usually not leading.



Stressed Swimmer


Hi Stressed Swimmer,


I know how you feel. Often throughout my swimming career, I couldn’t train the way I thought I should. Sometimes, it was because I was swimming high school and training more sprint-based yardage than distance yardage. Other times, it was because I was away from my club team.

While there are ways to get creative about training, I encourage you to talk to your club coach about how to stay in shape — or get back into shape — if you can’t train club. In my past, sometimes I’ve been emailed workouts, sometimes I’ve joined or temporarily practiced with other club teams, or sometimes I joined gyms and worked out there.

The bigger and more important obstacle is not physical. It’s mental. Mentally, it can be difficult to think, “I’m not training as hard as I should be.” We are in a sport that celebrates tough work, more work, and hard work. We are in a sport that often has a mantra of, “You reap what you sow.”

Sometimes, though, hard work doesn’t pay off. Sometimes hard work leads to injuries or fatigue or burn-out. Sometimes, when we can’t work as hard as we think we should be, we worry or stress. We think, “I should be working harder,” and that negative thinking is actually detrimental.

The more important thing, here, is to repeat a different mantra: “Worry about what you can control.”

If you can’t control where you workout, then don’t worry so much about it. If you can only train with your high school team and your high school team only trains 3,000 yards a day, don’t worry about it. Instead, make those 3,000 yards the best yards they can be. Focus on what you can do with what you’re given.

My grandfather had a saying: “Play the hand you’re dealt.” It’s a popular saying, one that’s stayed with me through my own personal obstacles. When you’re given a hand in poker, and the odds don’t look good, you only have two options: you can fold your hand, or you can play it the best you can. You never know. You might win.

So, Stressed Swimmer, do your best to get in shape. Do your best even though you can’t train with your club team sometimes. And do your best even if you aren’t dropping time. We often judge ourselves based on one or two minutes of racing. We will judge an entire season’s worth of training based on thirty seconds of sprinting. And yet, if we don’t drop time, or if we slip on the wall, or if we miss a turn and don’t get that personal best time, was the season wasted? Were all those mornings for nothing? Were all those afternoon distance sets worthless?

Of course not. You learned about yourself. You pushed yourself. You’re learning valuable life skills. And you became a better swimmer during those practices, despite what the scoreboard says.

Throughout your trials and tribulations, Stressed Swimmer, when you feel anxious or nervous or depressed, keep repeating this mantra to yourself over and over and over again: “Worry about what you can control. Play the hand you’re dealt.”

Do the best with that hand, and you’ll be ahead of the game, no matter what cards you play.

I hope this helps. 



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