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8 Ways to be a Happier Swimmer

10/10/2013

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

You’ve heard the phrase – “Happy swimmers are fast swimmers.” But what if it’s really, really hard to be happy in swimming? Especially when you’re confined in the depths of the ultra-intense Hell Week during the dark days of winter, or when you haven’t achieved a personal best time in three seasons…?

The thing is, you don’t necessarily have to ooze happiness in order to achieve a relative amount of happy, or even just be content with the sport. Like anything in life, “being happy” sometimes takes work and awareness if you’re doing things that make you “unhappy.” While I wasn’t the most ultra-happy of all swimmers, I found tricks to be happier. Since I’m often emailed questions from swimmers looking to be happier in the sport, here are tips I’ve learned that helped make me a Happier Swimmer…

1. Sleep more.

To this, you might respond, “Well, duh.” But seriously—sleep more! If you’re miserable, sleep-deprived, and collapsing in history class, yet you’re awake at 1am texting, or on Facebook/Snapchat/whatever, I throw that “Duh” right back at you.

Sleep! Seriously! It’s the number one thing you can do to just be a more normal, content person. I’ve never met someone exuding tons of happiness while saying, “I just got 3 hours of sleep and I’m so happy!” Don’t fall into the black hole of internet surfing before bedtime that usurps an hour of precious sleep. Close the computer, turn off the cell phone/TV, and sleep.

2. Get to practice five minutes early.

Nothing’s more stressful than speeding through a snowy cold road, sprinting to change into a swimsuit, then throwing on cap and goggles as you quickly enter the pool, late for practice. Arriving late to practice is basically saying, “I have other things to concentrate on.” And if your mind is elsewhere, you’ll be stressed and not mentally ready for the gauntlet that is Typical Swim Practice.

Try to arrive poolside five minutes early. Sit by the pool, relax, and get mentally ready. You have to catch your breath before you lose it.

3. Don’t stress about bad practices.

Things you control: Attitude & effort. Things you can’t control: The occasional bad practice. Make a bad practice better by helping someone else have a good practice. Then, move on and get ready for the next.

4. Find quiet time at swim meets.

Swim meets are, generally, organized chaos. They remind me of packed, humid NYC subways. It’s loud. It’s crowded. At any swim meet, it’s important to find a place to focus and breathe, preferably somewhere quiet, even if for a minute. Regroup. Meets are emotional rollercoasters. Sometimes you have to step off for a second before re-joining the ride.

5. Set down your cell phone at meets.

Nothing is more deflating than seeing an entire team, heads down, clicking on cell phones while you’re behind the blocks, trying to win the meet. Put down your cell phone. Look around. Stand up. Stretch. Take in your environment. Cheer. In other words: Exist in the real world. In 30 years you’ll never regret not spending more time on Instagram.

6. Be a good sport.

Sportsmanship is a choice, not a random consequence. Choose to cheer, encourage, shake hands with competitors, and choose to be a good sport.

7. Eat better.

One season, I had access to an unlimited, all-you-can-eat café. Trouble. I ate everything I could. A veritable insatiable Cookie Monster resided in my stomach. When that season ended--and after I swam the worst I ever had--I analyzed all aspects of my nutrition and realized that, among other poor dietary choices, I consumed upwards of five entire pizzas per week. The lesson here: You swim like you eat. So don’t eat crap.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Just don’t. Oh–-you’ll want to. Especially when what’s-his-face-who-slacks-off-in-practice-but-beats-you-in-a-meet scores another personal best time.

But if you compare yourself to others, you’ll never stop. You’ll always find others to compare yourself to. It’s an endless cycle. The thing is, envy will always win, if you let it. So let it go.


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