Mike's Mailbag: Three Ways to Find Motivation


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


Dear Mike,

Recently my team had a few Olympians come and talk to us, and try to motivate us. It really worked, their stories were extremely inspiring and made me want to work a lot harder, but I know I won’t follow through with my goal. Every time I read, see, or hear something inspiring, I feel like I need to try harder in practice. I’m not the fastest swimmer, but definitely not the slowest. I’ve always had a dream of going to the Olympics, but I know I can’t get there without working hard. How do I motivate myself to work harder in the pool and even out (like nutrition too)?

-Swimmer With No Motivation
Hi Swimmer With No Motivation, 

When I was an age group swimmer, I had a friend I trained with, talked with, raced with, and even lived with for six months. He was faster than I was, and much, much more talented than I was. But we agreed that we would be Motivation Buddies. Meaning, we were responsible for picking up the other person day-to-day, week-to-week. He would often yell at me during long dryland training runs, “Let’s go, Gus! Get moving! Keep up!” and I would often yell at him when he wouldn’t show up to practice. It was a friendly-fire type of yell, and through a few years of this, we kept each other honest. And, wouldn’t you know it, our senior year in high school, we finished 1-2 in the 200 IM at the high school championships -- a seemingly once-impossible sounding goal we had talked about for four years. 

My first suggestion is to find a Motivation Buddy. When you swim in an ocean or a lake, you’re always supposed to swim with a friend. Swim teams are no different. You need friends not just as complaining partners, but also to motivate each other. High school swim teams are good for this. Sometimes, you need to have an agreement, take aside a friend, and say, “Hey man, this is what I want to accomplish, this is my goal, what’s yours, and can we help each other stay motivated?”

We watched a lot of inspiring movies like “Miracle” and “Rocky”. We sent each other a lot of motivational videos. We tried as often as we could to go to swim camps, big local area meets, and even some collegiate meets. 

Besides finding someone to motivate me, the most motivating thing for me was attending “national” type of meets, not even as a swimmer, but as a swim fan.  I was lucky enough to live in the Midwest, so when the Olympic Trials were held in Indianapolis, I attended a finals session. That was, by far, the most motivating and inspirational thing I’ve ever seen. The races. The intensity. The crowd. The American flag. The man painting Olympians’ names on the wall above the diving well. The pomp and circumstance of it all. It was thrilling. The motivation I gained from that meet lasted years. 

Go to swim meets. Attend. Sit in the stands. Watch the veterans. Don’t just go to local dual meets – that’s not totally motivating – but try, if you can, to attend the National Championships or the Olympic Trials, if you haven’t already. If you like to swim and you attend one of these meets, even sitting in the top row, you will feel long-lasting motivation.

If you’ve already been to these types of meets and still can’t find the motivation, ask yourself: why not? Is it because you think of the goal as too far away? Too daunting? When you wake up in the morning, write down one goal for the day. Something to accomplish. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in long-term, seemingly impossible sounding goals like “Qualifying For The Olympics” that we get paralyzed. The goal seems too hard. Too daunting. Like climbing a mountain.

Start small, and write down a goal. Any goal. Post it in your locker. Look at it every day. Use this goal as a reminder. Then when you accomplish it, choose another goal, write it down, and put it somewhere visible. Above your bed. In your car on your steering wheel (I did this with my goal times). 

So, try doing these three things:

1.) Find a Motivation Buddy.

2.) Attend big, elite-level meets.  

3.) Post written goals in visible places you see every day.

If you still can’t find the motivation, talk to your coach about it. Tell him or her that you’re having trouble finding motivation. Tell a teammate you trust. Sometimes swimming can be really tough. It’s so many mornings and afternoons and weekends spent doing the same thing. But the pay-off can be great. That’s why these Olympic motivational stories motivate: These are the people who slogged through the mundane and climbed to the top of the mountain. They got there through a lot of unglamorous hard work, and they lived to tell about it.

It’s possible. Just accept the daily grind. Try those three things. And in a year from now, I think you’ll feel more motivated than you are now. 

Hope this helps.