By Will Jonathan//Contributor | Wednesday, August 14, 2019
It was Allison Schmitt, an 8-time Olympic medalist for Team USA, who said a very important swim-quote that I think all swimmers need to really listen to and absorb. She said:
“Swimming is such a small part of life. Yes, I love it. But at the end of the day, it’s just a sport. Whether you finish first or last, you’re still loved by the same people, and you still are who you are.”
A perspective like this isn’t always very-well accepted within competitive sport, even swimming. The common perception is that, to be successful in something, one must treat the sport as if it were their very existence—the sole reason they wake up each day and the absolute most important thing in their life. It has to be an obsessive passion. While having a passion for swimming is certainly an important, and even necessary, ingredient to excel at it and do well, even too much passion is a bad thing.
Psychologically, there are two different forms of passion. And, these two different forms of passion comprise what is called The Dualistic Model of Passion. Let’s take a look at these two different forms of passion, and we’ll start with the first one:
Obsessive Passion – When your passion for swimming becomes all-consuming. You have difficulty pulling yourself away from the sport, and your identity as a person is tied to your swimming. It is fueled by external motivators and an unhealthy desire for external success/material success.
Scientific research on the effects of obsessive passion are well-documented and thoroughly studied, and have yielded the following results:
- Tying your sense of validation and self-worth to the results of your swimming.
- Becoming more passionate about the results of your swimming rather than the pleasure and fulfillment of swimming itself.
- Developing an extremely harsh and debilitating self-criticism towards yourself and your swimming.
- Failures & setbacks are seen as personal attacks against you rather than simply obstacles to overcome.
- An unhealthy, never-satisfied attitude for more; more medals, more records, and more validation.
- A far-greater tendency to consider cheating or other forms of unethical behavior in order to attain external success, no matter the cost.
Obsessive Passion is passion taken too far, and it can lead to these kinds of negative side-effects that breed an extremely unhealthy mindset and will inevitably lead a swimmer down the path to physical and mental burnout and walking away from the sport.
However, as I mentioned previously, passion is still a necessary ingredient for performing well and succeeding. So, how does one have a passion for swimming, while at the same time, not allow that passion to devolve into something that’s all-consuming? By cultivating what is called Harmonious Passion:
Harmonious Passion – When your passion for swimming is in a healthy, balanced state. You’re able to disconnect yourself from the sport when necessary and your identity/self-worth as a human being isn’t tied to your swimming. It is driven by internal motivators and healthy desire for both external success and internal fulfillment.
Just like with Obsessive Passion, the effects of Harmonious Passion are thoroughly studied and well-documented, and yield the following results:
- You become more interested in the joy and satisfaction the activity of swimming itself gives you rather than the external rewards it can give you.
- You increase your overall levels of happiness, health, and overall life satisfaction.
- You’re much more likely to continue in the sport over a prolonged period of time and are far less likely of experiencing physical or mental burnout.
- You experience greater internal fulfillment from your growth and improvement as a swimmer.
- You’re able to voluntarily pull yourself away from swimming when necessary and have a life outside of swimming.
- Your sense of self-worth and personal validation is not tied to the results, rewards, outcomes, or goals you achieve or don’t achieve in swimming.
THIS is the kind of passion you want to have as a swimmer – the kind of passion that gives you the emotional drive and commitment to perform and succeed, while at the same time, providing the mental and physical balance you need to maintain a healthy, happy mindset and not burn yourself out.
How do you obtain this mindset? That’s a topic for tomorrow’s article.
Will Jonathan is a sports mental coach with an extensive amount of experience working directly with swimmers and swim programs. His clients include Age-Group National Champions, NCAA All-Americans, Senior-Level International Swimmers, and Olympic Swimmers, as well as having worked with various NCAA Division 1 nationally-ranked swim programs such as Florida State University. He gives talks and presentations on the mental aspects of swimming to swim programs all over the country, and is the author of the book “The Swimmer’s Mind: Mastering The Mental Side Of Swimming” which can be found at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.