Mike's Mailbag: Junior Year

Mike's Mailbag: Junior Year

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, January 22, 2018

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 competitive swimming, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to answer.


Dear Mike,

As I'm 8 weeks into my Junior year, I'm feeling the extreme amounts of pressure. Not only is this year hard for me academically but as you know, swimming is very important during your junior year.

I've started being recruited by some smaller colleges, which I'm fine with, I want to go small. However, I'm worrying about what if I don't drop time? Would colleges even look at me? How would my teammates feel?

Also, I've already planned overnight visits at two colleges and let's just say I'm a tad bit nervous as an understatement.

I know every swimmer has to handle pressure, but what were some of the ways you overcame your junior year?


Worried Sick Swimmer


Hey Worried Sick Swimmer,

I’m sorry you’re feeling pressure and anxiety about your junior year of high school. What should be a fun and rewarding experience, I can see, is morphing into something else. A little bit of self-pressure can be a good thing: A little internal pressure can help you be the best student and swimmer you can be.

But too much pressure, especially from external sources, can ruin your experiences.

To overcome this external pressure, take a step back and fully analyze the facts. Sometimes, we can get so worked-up by the stories we create in our heads (that we have to go to a better college, that we have to drop more time, that we have to accomplish even more things to be happy) that we forget to see the big picture.

Here’s the big picture:

1. You’re being recruited? That’s amazing. Seriously. I wasn’t being recruited my junior year. I wasn’t fast enough — and I was pretty fast, relatively speaking. Even when you see teammates and friends being recruited by bigger, faster colleges, you still should remind yourself, “I’m being recruited, and that in itself is an accomplishment.”

2.  You are going to college in the first place. I knew a lot of people who couldn’t go to college — either their grades weren’t good enough, or they didn’t have enough money, or they had to take jobs as soon as they graduated high school. Remember: Not everyone in this world has the opportunity to go to college. You’re in a small minority of people who can. Remember that, embrace that, and be thankful and grateful for that.


3. Do the best you can do, because that’s all you can do. So, some big, fancy, fast college doesn’t want you on their swim team? Their loss. The big lie in our sport is that you have to accomplish certain things to be happy — you have to win, you have to attend a D-1 Swimming School, you have to be the best. You don’t. Happiness comes from personal contentment, and in my opinion, personal contentment comes from the knowledge that you tried your best. Such a cliché, I know, but for me, it rang true.

Here’s the thing: In your note, you write that every swimmer has to handle pressure. But is that actually true? Who is applying this external pressure? What does it look like? Why is it there in the first place? Ask yourself these questions. Analyze that pressure. Look at it. Understand it. Understanding where it comes from, and how it makes you feel, is the first step towards living with and embracing that pressure.

Also, I refuse to accept the premise that this sport has to be a stressful experience. It doesn’t. This pressure often comes from outside sources — coaches, parents, teammates, peer-pressure. Forget them.

Do the best you can. Worry about only what you can control. Breathe.

Do these three things over, and over, and over again, and you’ll find that this sport’s pressure only comes internally, and that internal pressure can help you achieve what you want to achieve. But if you don’t — if you fall short, if you just miss but tried your best anyway, that’s okay, too.

I hope this helps.


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