Mike's Mailbag: The Funnest Sport

Mike's Mailbag: The Funnest Sport

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, February 12, 2018

Every Monday, I answer emailed questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question that you’d like answered on USASwimming.org, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


Hello Mike,

I am 9 years old, and my sister is a 6-year-old little bug who is obsessed with swimming. She is very good at it, but she is the smallest on her team and the youngest. She competes in the 8-and-under age group among other talented swimmers, but very often she is far from being first and cries about it. She is super competitive. She only swims 25-100 free and back strokes so far. Twenty-five meters is OK, but anything beyond that, she seems to get tired too fast and loses her time. Now she makes my mom take her to the Y almost every day for 3 hours at least so she can improve her time and maybe get the 10th place and receive a ribbon. Last time she was 14th. She has good technical skills and is still working to improve, but is there something else she can do to be more strong the last 50 meters? 


Thank you,

Big Brother Who's Trying to Help



Hey Big Brother,


You’re doing the right thing, here, being a responsible Big Brother and looking out for your little water bug sister. I wish every older sibling in this world took the time to worry and care about a younger sibling.

But I also want to step back a bit: Three hours a day is a long time for a 6-year-old to be in the water practicing. I understand your sister is competitive and wants to get stronger and faster. I understand that she wants to get faster and beat those 8-year-olds. But a swimming career is like eating a really, really, good, intricate meal: You want to eat slowly, pace yourself, and make sure you have a balanced approach.

In other words, you don’t want to scarf down a cheeseburger in five seconds, just like you don’t want to train 10 hours a day when you’re 6-years-old. Scarfing down a cheeseburger in a rush just means that you won’t really stop and enjoy the process and what you’re doing. You’ll just end up getting a bellyache.

While I’m sure her coach could provide her with good practices to help increase her stamina the last 50m, I’m more worried that you provide a balanced atmosphere for her to really thrive in. If you really want to support her as an older brother, cheer for her even when she loses; high-five her even when she cries, and tell her that it’s all going to be okay even if she doesn’t want to hear it.

I would also say that success won’t happen overnight, and she doesn’t need to train three hours a day as a 6-year-old to get there. She will get stronger as she grows. The more important thing, at this young age, is to make sure she has a ton of fun with the sport and is doing it not only because she is super competitive, but also because she loves and enjoys the process.

I’ve seen a lot of swimmers burn out, injure themselves, or quit the sport altogether because they trained too hard, too young. Training too hard and too young can lead to quick time drops, but not a long-lasting appreciation for the sport and all its fun. After all, if you define your participation in something by success, then when that success doesn’t come, you feel your participation in that “something” doesn’t have much worth. You must also define your participation in your lifetime “somethings” as enjoying the process, enjoying the sport for its own journey, and not necessarily get caught up in destinations or outcomes.

There’s plenty of time to talk about all this, too, down the road, Big Brother. The best thing you should do is just make sure your little sister is having fun. Make sure she’s laughing and smiling and enjoying being around her teammates and the water. And if she’s not? If she seems stressed and cries and gets frustrated? That’s okay, too — that’ll happen — but it’s your job to be there for her, support her, and find a way to make it all seem fun again.

I hope this helps.



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