By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, March 26, 2018
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love reading your articles and always find them very inspirational. Lately I have been questioning why I swim, and I was wondering if you could help me piece things together. I am a freshman in high school and swim for both my high school and my USA club team. My times are improving, and I am making cuts that were way faster than any of my goals. I even broke a school record! For some reason I am not happy or motivated, and I don't understand why. I can't think of a goal that inspires or motivates me. I don't know why I am feeling this way and not loving my hot streak, but I feel like I have lost my passion, and I am no longer swimming for me anymore. Lately I have been dreading practices, and I come every day out of habit because I don't know what else to do. How do I find my passion again and fall back in love with swimming?
Hey Spiritless Swimmer,
I had a similar freshman experience as you. Mine was in college: I trained hard, dropped time, and lost my passion.
Why wouldn’t I feel great about dropping time? I don’t know. I finished my last race freshman year, hopped out of the pool, and felt underwhelmed. Like I didn’t want to swim anymore. I still don’t understand that feeling… but it was real, and I felt very depressed.
That feeling lasted throughout my sophomore year, too.
For me, it was a sense like, “This sport is taking over my entire life.” Thoughts like, “I need to do other things with my life,” and, “I should quit, and if I quit, I’d be happier doing other things,” permeated my brain. So, after my sophomore year and after two seasons of feeling that way, I quit. I walked away for a summer and had a meeting with my coach to explain I was done swimming.
In that meeting, I expressed my reasoning: I wanted to do other things. Swimming was taking over my life. Swimming felt all-encompassing: Six-days-a-week practices. Four hours a day. Long weekend meets. Mornings. Afternoons. I was exhausted.
When I walked away that summer, that first week of not-swimming, time felt unlimited. I slept in. I hung out with friends. I watched a lot of TV. And I thought, “I can do anything I want!” And I did: I watched a lot of TV. I hung out with friends. And I mostly did a whole lot of nothing.
My coach, though, put it to me a different way in that meeting: He said, “Swimming doesn’t have to take up your entire life. You can swim five months now, five months your senior year, be a team captain, be part of the team in a positive way, and still do all the things you want to do.” I had it in my head that swimming had to take up my entire life and life would be so much better if I wasn’t swimming. However, when I took a hard look at my lifestyle that non-swimming summer, I wasn’t out conquering the world. I was laying around on my couch. Procrastinating. Sleeping in. Watching TV.
When I returned to swimming my junior year, I had a different perspective: I would swim, but I wouldn’t let it take up my entire life. I would set a goal and I would chase that goal with the entirety of my soul… but outside the pool, I would pursue whatever I wanted to pursue. In other words, I found a work-life balance.
My coach was right: Swimming didn’t have to take up my life. I did what I wanted to do in college, and I swam. Sure, there were early mornings and long weekend meets. But with a perspective of, “This isn’t my entire life, so I might as well enjoy it,” I enjoyed the sport more, knowing it was okay to not let it take over my life. I learned to just enjoy this limited time frame of sport.
That’s my experience, Spiritless Swimmer. For me, the pool was bluer on the “other side.” But when I quit, I did less with my life than when I was swimming. And I was actually more emotionally lost without the pool than with it.
Ultimately, spirit and passion come down to goals. Choose one goal to accomplish — an easy-to-accomplish goal to chase, something that motivates you, something that makes you wake up in the morning. What do you want to accomplish before you stop swimming? A certain place at a meet? A time? Really identify that goal. Analyze why you want to accomplish that goal. Make it your focus in the sport.
Then, once you pick that goal, find a balance outside the pool, too. Don’t let swimming take over your life. Hang out with your non-swimming friends. Find other passions outside of the sport. Take walks outside. Swimming is just a sport — it’s not your entire life. And with that perspective, it can be fun again, and that spirit you once had for the sport can return.
I hope this helps.