Mike's Mailbag: Keep Swimming in College, or Move On?


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

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By Mike Gustafson//Contributor

Hi Mike,

So I recently graduated from high school, and I made the decision to swim next year at a smaller NCAA Division III school. I really like swimming, and generally get excited and enjoy it during the season. I love being a part of such a close knit team, and I have really enjoyed it over the years. When my senior year ended this year, I was less than satisfied with how everything ended. I was really excited to continue my career because I knew that was not the end, and that I still had the opportunity to improve and work to achieve my goals.

Now, I have become a little uncertain about what exactly I want to do. When I picked my high school, I was so positive that this was the right place for me. Now that I have chosen my college, I am not as sure this time. I have been swimming every day from 6-8 in the morning, and it has broken me down a bit. I have begun to question whether this is something I really want to do for four more years, or is it time to move on? I am beginning to wonder if I really even made the decision on the right school, or if I rushed to make a decision because I was so set on swimming. I don’t even know if there is anything I could do to change it. Would that be unfair to the coach?

Any help would be great.

Confused Student


Hey Confused Student,

Give it one season. 

Quitting now is sort of like quitting a movie before you see how it ends. Yes, you have an idea what it’s like, but you don’t really know how it all ties together. If you quit now, you don’t really know what you’re quitting.

College swimming is a lot different than high school swimming. You and your teammates are older. The swimming is faster. The teams, usually, are closer. The practices are harder. The stakes are higher. College swimming is the next level, and though right now you’re sick of the morning practices, to be frank, everyone gets sick of the morning practices. The reason why many swimmers endure the morning practices is to experience the joy and stress and excitement at the end of the college season. 

I think, honestly, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you quit now, before even having gone through a D3 season. It’s like sending back the plate of food before you know how it tastes. It’s like refusing to ask out the girl before you’ve talked to her. It’s like turning down the job offer before even going on an interview. 

The fact that you’re writing to me shows you’re not quite confident either way. Experience breeds confidence, and the only way to gain experience is to go through the season, meet the teammates, talk with the coaches, practice, swim at meets, and try it out. Then, when you’re educated about, “Okay, this is what I’d be giving up,” then you can have confidence about your decision. Otherwise you might always be wondering, “What if?”

Look, I’m not trying to make you swim. If you really don’t enjoy it anymore, you don’t enjoy it anymore. College is a time to expand your horizons, try new things, learn new subjects and passions, and explore. You’re stuck in this weird middle ground where you’re trying to figure out what you want to do in college before you’ve even experienced what it has to offer. 

No one is making you do this. But you don’t have to do this four years, either. You can always stop. If you go through a season and find it’s just not for you, you can always quit. You can always explore other passions. 

But I’d give it a shot first. I’d try it out. At the end of high school, you finish this great chapter of your life, and all you really want to do is sprint out into the world and try new things. And here you are, still swimming 6 a.m. every morning. I get that you’re tired of it right now. I get that you’re frustrated and feeling burned out. Take a break. Take a breather. Step away for a bit – there’s no harm in that. 

Then, when you are ready, go see what D3 swimming is all about. I have many friends who loved the experience. You might feel the same way. You might not.

But you’ll never know unless you try. 

I hope this helps. 


- Mike