Mike's Mailbag: Being a Leader Isn't Necessarily About Swimming Fast

Mike's Mailbag: Being a Leader Isn't Necessarily About Swimming Fast

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, January 29, 2018

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


Dear Mike,

I started swimming on my 11th birthday and immediately wanted to be a huge competitor in swimming. Currently I am 13 years old, and this season I was moved up a lot in my team to a much higher and more hardcore group than I was used to. Naturally it was pretty hard at the beginning of the season to keep up, but I got used to it quickly, just like my coaches predicted. However, while I may be one of the oldest in the group, I have some of the slowest times. I know kids 3-4 years younger than me who are 20 seconds faster in the 200 free. This leads to a lot of discouragement because my parents expect me to be a role model for kids younger than me. Please help.

- Struggling in the Fast Group



Hey Struggling,

Being a role model doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with times. Being a role model is as simple as showing leadership: Being on time (early), having a positive attitude, encouraging and supporting others. To be a leader, that’s really all you have to do.

Many people think/assume that fast swimmers are inherently leaders. Or that fast swimmers are just naturally good role models. In my experience, this is rarely true. There are some exceptions, of course, but from my experience in the sport over the past 30 years, the best kinds of leaders aren’t the fast swimmers. They are the swimmers who care the most, display that passion vocally and through actions, and are the best teammates.

In other words, if you want to be a role model to younger swimmers, just be a good teammate.

Cheer. Stand up during races. Lead pre-meet team chants. High-five swimmers. Show an interest in their times. Be a friend to everyone. Be someone who will help younger swimmers with a flip turn, a start, or a stroke technique. Just be a good teammate.

As for your time progression, adjusting to “life in the fast lane” is hard. At first, it can seem overwhelming — older swimmers are faster in practice, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be fast like them, too. Your coaches believe in you. Believe in yourself.

But also know this:

You don’t have to lead a lane to be a team leader. You don’t have to win races to be a role model. You don’t have to be the best swimmer in your state in order to help others.

Every day, be a leader by doing all the little things right. Cheer; don’t complain. Show up for practice early; don’t show up five minutes late. High-five others; don’t talk behind your teammates’ back. And most importantly, be supportive.

Leadership and being a “good role model” doesn’t happen overnight. Leadership requires an everyday commitment, an everyday positive attitude, and an everyday passion for the sport. But true leadership is built by attitude, not by race times.

I hope this helps. 

- Mike



    Show More

    This is used as a workaround to display Twitter feeds properly. Please do not modify or remove - Michael C