Mike's Mailbag: Switching Events to Feel Unstuck

Mike's Mailbag: Switching Events to Feel Unstuck

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, March 12, 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 am a grade 11 swimmer and my main event is the 800 freestyle. I used to love swimming and training distance, but now I find myself dreading it. I hate seeing other swimmers get out of the water half an hour before me, and I dread seeing my name on the heat sheet for the event. I'm not ready to give up on swimming but I really can't seem to enjoy distance. My coach says my thoughts are my biggest obstacle to swimming fast. But I haven't gotten a best time in over a year.




Hey Stuck,

Thoughts — good thoughts, bad thoughts — will only affect you so much. You could have all the positive thoughts in the world, but there’s no Olympic gold medal for positive thinking (yet).

Of course, Olympic champions do have a certain mindset — refusing to lose, resiliency, a determination unlike any other — and that mindset and those positive thoughts lead to positive action. But actions are what counts.

You’re not swimming fast in the 800 free? Switch events.

Switching events, even just for one month, one meet, one race, can help you feel un-stuck, Stuck. When you’re locked in the Cave of Negativity, switching events can feel like an escape hatch.

Forget about the 800 free (for now). Try something completely different, just to see what happens.

When I was a swimmer, I tried, and tried, and tried to drop time in my 100 breaststroke. “I am a 100 breaststroker,” I thought to myself. And each time I didn’t win or get a personal best, I questioned myself. One month of not-dropping time turned into a year. And that turned into two years. And three years…

So, I switched events. To heck with the 100 breaststroke, I thought. I’ll try to do something else, like the 400 IM. I figured, I had nothing to lose. I had no expectations. I had no pressures. And that meet, I stepped up to the blocks, dove in, and dropped ten sections in my 400 IM.

And that’s how I became a 400 IMer.

The events we swim when we’re younger don’t have to be the events we swim when we get older. Our bodies change. Our mindset changes. And — more importantly — sometimes, we just need a change of scenery. Sometimes, a new event can bring a new perspective to the sport.

So, Stuck, try feeling un-stuck, even just for a meet or two. Try swimming the 200 freestyle, or the 100 butterfly, or, like I did, the 400 IM. And when you swim this event, try your best, but also, let go of pressures. Forget about the 800 freestyle. Tell that 800 freestyle to bug off. Right now, this 800 freestyle is like a piano strapped to your shoulders, and all those pressures and expectations to succeed are weighing you down. Making you feel stuck.

The easiest way to let go of that mammoth piano? Switch events. Swim an off-event. Mix up a racing strategy. Sign up for the 100 freestyle and tell yourself, “I’m going to fly and die and whatever happens, happens.”

Because when you’re unstuck, you never know what can happen.

I hope this helps.



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