By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, June 25, 2018
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @MicGustafson.
I recently read an article from January 2014, from "Golden Age Swimmer." It talked about his experience as a college swimmer and wanting to quit swimming, to "do other things." I'm not sure what the Golden Age Swimmer ended up doing, but, this is what I did:
I quit a week into my junior year of collegiate swimming. I wasn't there mentally, definitely wasn't there physically, and thought my team deserved more than that. So, I took the easy way out: I hung up my suit and goggles.
I transferred my sophomore year, to a school I thoroughly loved before swimming, and even after swimming. It rekindled the flame I knew I had for the water, but that flame dwindled after that season, and throughout the summer.
While it's so easy to say I miss swimming when everyone is swimming fast, there's much more. I miss waking up at 5:15 four times a week. I miss having my days planned to the T. I miss being in shape. I miss my teammates, even though I live with four of them. I miss traveling. I miss competing. I miss my passion to succeed.
Old teammates and their parents always say me: "When are you coming back? We need you!" And truthfully, since the day I cleared my locker out, I ask myself that same question at least once a day.
You took time off, and eloquently said, "I stopped thinking about it in terms of, ‘What would life be without swimming?’ because I knew what that life entailed." Almost a year now since my last competitive swim, and I know what life is like without the pool. But, there's a large part that is missing.
So, what now? As fun as it is to be in the stands cheering on my best friends, I miss being on the deck, having soaked socks and shoes. I'm deathly terrified of reaching out to my coach because our last meeting ended poorly.
Where do I begin? What do I say? Do I apologize? Admit I was wrong? What?!
Sorry for the length, but this is only a fraction of what I really want to say.
Thanks for the help.
-John "Regretful Swammer" Doe
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Hey Regretful Swimmer,
Our journeys sound similar. Yes, I hung up my suit and goggles after my sophomore year and intended to keep those goggles and suits hung. Like you, I missed the sport for similar reasons. I missed being in shape, missed my teammates, missed the challenge.
I took a few months off, not an entire season. But I don’t see why you can’t talk to your coach and say what you wrote to me: You took time away from the sport, you miss it, and you can offer your team more.
It sounds like you want to do this. So, what are you waiting for? Don’t be afraid to follow your heart. Such a cliché. So much truth: Don’t let fear dictate how you live your life. Don’t let fear be your boss. Don’t let fear control you or your heart.
Easier said than done. I get it.
You may be afraid that your coach will say no. You may be afraid your coach will shake his head, “John Doe, you had a commitment, you quit, and unfortunately, we don’t have an open roster spot.” It’s easier to be the breaker-upper than to be broken up with. You’re afraid you’ll have to admit that returning to competitive swimming is something you want to do, and that decision might not be in your hands. The possible rejection is scary.
But you knew all this when you quit. I know I did. I knew if I quit, I might not be accepted back. Once you accept that rejection is a real possibility, swallow that possibility like a huge gigantic pill, and move on. You can’t let fear of rejection stop you from asking the question.
Honestly, Regretful, if you want to do this, then self-analyze your passion, form and mold it into words, and talk with your coach. Read him your letter to me. Talk honestly with your teammates. You don’t have to say, “I was wrong” because I don’t think you were—not in your heart, at least, when you quit. You quit because you were miserable. You lost passion. And now, you found that passion, and that’s what you should say. “I found that passion again.”
If you found the right words and had fire behind your eyes, most coaches and teammates would love to have you back. This is a tough sport. Everyone doesn’t dive in each morning thinking, “I love competitive swimming! Life is wonderful and this pool temperature is perfect and I can’t wait for those upcoming 200 butterfly repeats!”
If anything, with 100% commitment and dedication, your teammates and coaches might be inspired, too.
The only rule here: If you return, and if you meet with coaches and teammates, if you announce your comeback, make every day count. Give everything. Give your entire soul. Not everyone gets second chances, so if you are fortunate enough to have one, make the best of it.
Talk to your coach.
Be prepared to hear, “No thanks.”
Be prepared to hear, “You left us, and honestly, we don’t want to go through it again.”
But you won’t know until you try. Worse than admitting you want to do something is knowing you want to do something…and doing nothing. The chapter of competitive swimming in our lives is so short. Too short to be too scared to dive back in.
So, get back on those blocks. Clear the fog from your goggles. Listen to your heart pounding in your chest. Tell them, “I’d love to take one more leap.”
You can’t dive in if you don’t get back up on those blocks.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson.