Mike's Mailbag: Making a Schedule


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

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


Hello I’m a swimmer from Canada. I’m 14 and I’ve been swimming for about 5 year round seasons ( I’m halfway through my 5th ) and I want to quit swimming. I train 8 times a week and I’m in the IB Programme in high school. I find it really difficult to stay on top of my homework and expectations from my teachers are high. In swimming I’m low-mediocre, I haven’t made the provincial cut and I am trying my hardest in practices to reach that goal, however I have not been improving for over a year. My coach sometimes notices that I burn out in the middle of the week and he says it’s a result of the lack of rest. The problem is that I can’t get more rest because of homework. I am also lacking time to study because of swimming. It’s a cycle I can’t control. I want to be successful in school and get my IB diploma in grade 12 so I can get into a good university and swimming at provincials and then nationals are my goals.

I came here to ask you if I should quit swimming. I have lost motivation and I’m not as in love with the sport as I used to be when I was 9. I’ve not been improving, despite my efforts. I wake up constantly tired and never happy to start another day. I dread going back in the pool for 2 hours every day, sometimes 5 1/2 hours a day. To me, it seems I have nothing to lose in this sport except for my friends and coaches. I feel like my life would be so much easier without swimming.

Please help,

-Canadian Swimmer


Hi Canadian Swimmer,

Age 14 is also the age I refer to as “The Decision Age,” or “When Life Gets Tough” age. It’s the age when you begin to make decisions about how to spend time — play soccer or practice piano? Study or hang out with friends? Become a straight-A student or watch TV six hours a day?

When I was 14, I decided between being a year-round swimmer or being a two-sport athlete. See, I loved soccer. Loved the smell of the grass, the freeing feeling of being surrounded with teammates, being out on the field, running in the rain. But I also loved swimming — how you reap what you sow, the technical variations of each stroke, the feeling of the perfect taper and swim. Though it was a hard decision, I knew in my heart I wanted to swim. 

You’re at The Decision Age, an age where your decisions can affect the rest of your life. I’m not telling you this to freak you out. Many people see these kinds of decisions made at The Decision Age as being “final” — I’ve realized in life there is no final decision, no end-all-be-all thing. If you decide to quit swimming, you can always go back in a year, or in eighty years. Circumstances may change, but you can always continue the sport again.

Here’s what I would do: Write out exactly how you spend your days, every single day, down to the minute. Include the five minutes you may spend browsing social media or the thirty minutes a night you spend watching TV. Be honest with yourself. Don’t leave anything out.

Once you have that schedule, think about each outside-school activity you do: Make sure everything you do, every single minute, has purpose. Make sure every minute is well-spent. Once you see everything written down, make sure there are no minutes wasted. (And also make sure you have time scheduled to rest and relax and sleep, as those things are as important as anything else.) 

Commitments can build quickly, like an avalanche coming down on your time schedule. The Decision Age is about finding new passions, but it’s also learning how to say “no” — you can’t do everything. You can’t be a professional piano player, soccer player, swimmer, scholar, artist, writer, mathematician, cross country superstar, golfer, volleyball player, scientist, and Student Council President all at the same time. You have to choose where your passions are, and follow your heart. 

But first: Write out your schedule. Get creative. Figure out where there is time wasted, and cut those things. Try out your new schedule for a week or two. If you still feel completely overwhelmed, talk to your coaches and parent/guardian. Tell them that you just don’t have enough time to do the schoolwork you need to do. They may get creative, too, and find a way for you to stay involved, but on a lesser scale. 

There’s no easy answer with this. I know you want to make one big decision quickly, but often, Big Decisions are made in increments, slowly analyzing and using all data and solutions before the ultimate decision is made, whether or not to quit altogether. Try going in steps first, and see if those small little steps make a difference. 

I hope this helps.