By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, October 16, 2017
Every Monday and in each issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question that you’d like answered, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question, and I’ll do my best to respond.
I've been swimming for almost 6 years now, I've always loved going to practices, meets, and hanging with my friends. I have a great team and the coaches are all super nice. But lately things have changed, I've started to not enjoy practices and meets anymore, it just feels like work & pressure. It used to be something I can do, but now it's something I have to do. I don't wanna quit, but sometimes I feel like I should. What do I do?
Hey Confused Swimmer,
I think there are two problems happening here. The first is that you feel like swimming shouldn’t be work. The second is that you feel pressure.
First, swimming should be, at times, work. It should be occasionally difficult, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
When you ascend up the sport and get faster, it becomes more difficult to succeed. Your personal best times are harder to achieve because you’re in better shape, you’re technically more sound, and your growing has likely slowed down. So, to get better, you have to work harder.
I think a lot of swimmers get frustrated quickly during these occasional periods when swimming just feels like work. And that’s okay to get frustrated. But also know that an attitude change can make all the difference.
When I swam, especially during cold, early morning practices, I used to purposefully try to trick myself. I’d talk myself into enjoying the work. I’d talk myself into enjoying the process. And that self-talking trick began as soon as I’d wake up: “This is supposed to be work,” tell yourself, “and today, I’m going to enjoy working.” I know this sounds silly. Weirdly, though, over time, those little self-motivational comments begin to change your attitude.
Secondly, and more importantly, I’d like to talk about the pressure you feel. Pressure comes from two places: External and internal. Often, these can be related.
In addition to self-motivational comments like the one I described above, I want you to repeat another comment to yourself at least once a day: “Let go.”
Let go of pressure. Let go of expectation. Let go of feeling like you always have to succeed in order to enjoy.
The difference between letting go and not letting go is best described like this:
Imagine you want to take a pleasant afternoon autumn walk. So you put on your shoes, jacket, and hat, and you begin. You stroll around your neighborhood, look at the leaves, listen to the wind, watch the world turn colors. You wander for an hour, and when you return home, you feel a little winded and relaxed. You had no expectation for this walk. You felt no pressure. And even though you walked for an hour, it felt like only ten minutes.
Now imagine that same walk, but instead of just wandering and observing, you tell yourself, “I need to be back here in 45 minutes flat and my heart rate needs to be 140 beats per minute and I need to burn 400 calories.” So you set out. You check your watch. You pick up the pace. You do not look at the leaves, or hear the wind. And each step feels like a marathon. By the time you make it back home, you feel like you’ve worked out for two hours.
Obviously, competitive swimming is no easy walk in the woods. But at the same time, simply by letting go of some expectation and pressure, time will pass faster and activities will feel effortless. It’s that “effortless effort” that some coaches often preach. Effortless effort comes from that Sunday stroll mentality, fused with a few self-motivational comments about enjoying hard work.
The perfect balance, then, is a fusion between the two walks: You put on your shoes, you head out, and you say, “I’m going to enjoy this brisk, quick walk.” You don’t look at the watch all the time, and you observe the leaves and the wind and also notice your heart rate picking up. You smile and say, “What a great hike.”
It all sounds pretty hokey, I know. But it works. Try it for four weeks. You will notice a change in your attitude, approach, and expectation about the sport.
I hope this helps.