Hey there- hope y’all had a great weekend. Today’s post is a little bit different than anything I’ve ever written before. If you’ve been following me for awhile, then you know that I swam competitively growing up. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on some life lessons I learned from swimming, and I want to share some of those with y’all. First I’m going to take y’all on a little trip down memory lane as I briefly recount my swimming days. Then I’m going to jump right into the life lessons I learned from swimming.
Snapshot from my days as a swimmer!
My Competitive Swimming Days
I swam for my high school team all four years, specializing in distance freestyle. In addition, I swam on a summer league team for about five years from ages 11-15, and on a year-round club team from 7th-10th grade. In fact, my freshman year of high school I doubled up on practices a couple times a week during high school swim season. Right after school, I headed over to the pool and practice with my high school team. Then I took a quick snack break, and practiced with my club team. This resulted in about three hours of swimming on those days.
Now, I realize that’s nothing compared to the hours and mileage that elite swimmers put in the pool each week. But I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be a Division I collegiate swimmer or compete at the national level. My main reason for swimming on a club team was to be a strong swimmer in summer league and high school competition.
Even though I didn’t go on to swim in college or compete in high level USA swimming meets, competitive swimming was still a very positive experience for me. In fact, it was a bright spot in my awkward adolescent years plagued by many insecurities. I accomplished my goal of being a strong summer league and high school swimmer. It was extremely rewarding. being a solid contributor to my high school swim team. I earned a varsity letter all four years and qualified for the regional meet three years. Side note, the one year I didn’t qualify for regionals was the year I battled an eating disorder. This serves as further proof of the detrimental effects of eating disorders. But even more importantly, my years as a competitive swimmer taught me some valuable life lessons that I still use today. Without further ado, here they are:
Life Lessons I Learned from Swimming
1. Stay in Your Own Lane
Okay, so we did have lane lines to keep us from literally swimming into the next lane. But when you’re racing in a swim meet you can’t really see and hear much of what is going on around you. You’re literally in your won little world. You’re not always 100% aware of exactly where your competitors are, especially if they’re several lanes away from you.
Furthermore, since your face is in the water, you have to be intentional about taking breaths. And you have to practice doing so with minimal disruption to your stroke rhythm. In freestyle, this involves subtly rolling your head to the side. In butterfly and breaststroke, you lift your head straight up, eyes still facing straight ahead.
When taking a breath, it can be really tempting to look to the side in breaststroke and butterfly, or turn your head further than necessary in freestyle. Although this may give you a better idea of exactly where your competitors are in the pool, it disrupts the rhythm of your stroke. As a result, you loose valuable tenths or even hundredths of a second off your time. Thus, it’s better to stay focused on your own race strategy and push yourself to the best of your ability, rather than worrying about what others are doing.
Similarly, in life it is really tempting to look around at what others are doing. Although there’s value in looking to other people you admire and respect for inspiration, dwelling too much on what others are doing takes away valuable time you could be spending pouring yourself into the task and calling God specifically has for you.
I have found this especially true in blogging. One year in, I have realized that if I obsess about what other bloggers are doing, I will only drive myself crazy, and it detracts from my own passion and purpose as a blogger. Also, I have my own unique combination of interests and values. So dwelling too much on how other bloggers are doing things and feeling the pressure to do the same isn’t helpful at all.
In the larger scheme of life, staying in my own lane helps me keep my focus on the Lord and His plan for my life, rather than worrying about what others are doing or what they think.
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:2
2. You can be successful without being the best.
In our competitive “me-focused” culture, it can be easy to obsess about winning and to feel like a failure if you’re anything less than number one. My time as a competitive swimmer showed me that this is not true. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t college scholarship or Olympic level swimming material. In fact, I wasn’t even the faster swimmer on my high school team. I won the 500 freestyle in multiple dual meets, but aside from that I didn’t have many first place finishes in my swimming career.
However, I was still victorious even when I didn’t win races. I might not have come in first place, but I frequently celebrated swimming a personal best time. At Regionals my freshman year, I missed qualifying for the State meet in the 500 freestyle by one spot. The top 8 advanced to States, and I finished 9th. Yet, what I remember most about that meet is not the disappointment of narrowly missing the State meet. Rather, it’s the feeling of elation when I touched the wall, looked up at the scoreboard, and saw that I had dropped ten whole seconds off my best time in the 500. Fun fact- I swam this personal best after enjoying soft serve ice cream at Golden Corral during lunch. Ha!
In addition, I recently had someone I knew from high school comment on a Facebook post that it was so much fun to watch me swim back in the day. He reminisced about how I never missed a beat. Although swimming competitions don’t give out awards for stroke technique and form, it was still satisfying to have someone share that they enjoyed that aspect of my swimming.
The other thing about celebrating victories aside from winning is that it helps guard against comparison. When I focused on the excitement of swimming a personal best in a race, it prevented me from comparing my times to other swimmers and getting frustrated I wasn’t as fast.
This mindset that I adopted during my swimming days has served me well in life also. Blogging is one aspect of my life today where this is particularly true. The blogging industry is very competitive today. The top fashion and lifestyle bloggers have 200 times as many Instagram followers as me. Plus they’ve been blogging for years. However, it’s even more tempting to compare myself to other small bloggers, and wonder why I don’t have as many Instagram followers, or why I’m not growing as quickly. I’ve discovered that blogging brings the most joy when I focus on creating the best content that I can create, without worrying how my Instagram follower count or blog views stack against others.
Furthermore, it’s also been really satisfying to celebrate the victories along the way. My blog may not be getting as as many monthly page views as someone else’s, but it’s satisfying to celebrate my blog getting more monthly page views than it did six months ago. Also, I may be nowhere near the top affiliate sales performer for rewardStyle, but goodness it was exciting to even get accepted into rewardStyle last fall!
As Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney says, “the joy is in the journey.”
3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
So a 500 yard freestyle race isn’t nearly as time-consuming or physically demanding as running a marathon. However, being a distance swimmer taught me a lot about endurance and maintaining a steady pace. There were some people on my high school swim team with less competitive training who had the athleticism and strength to hang with me for a quick 50 yard freestyle sprint. However, if the race lasted for 500 yards, I would eventually pull ahead and separate myself from the pack. I wasn’t able to explode with a rapid stroke turnover for a short distance, but I could maintain a smooth and steady stroke turnover for 20 lengths of the pool.
Whenever I get discouraged about not making it from point A to point B in certain areas of life as quickly as others do or as quickly as I want to, I think back on my swimming days. Just like God made some swimmers better at sprints and others better at distance, His timing for everyone is different. And just like being a sprinter isn’t inherently better than being a distance swimmer, reaching certain milestones in life earlier than your peers isn’t inherently better than reaching those points later in life.
4. Perseverance is rewarding.
My time as a competitive swimmer also taught me the importance of perseverance. Swimming is hard work, and there were definitely a few times that I wanted to quit. However, I’m so glad I didn’t, because it was so rewarding to reap the benefits of sticking it out.
For example, my junior year swim season was absolutely miserable, physically and mentally. I was at rock bottom and at my lowest weight in my eating disorder battle. As a result, my swimming performance greatly suffered. I was about 20 seconds slower in the 500 freestyle, and failed to qualify for Regionals. In addition, I hadn’t received treatment for my depression and OCD yet, because I was in denial that I had these conditions and so intentionally withheld info from my therapist at the time.
Somehow I made it through the entire swim season, even though it would have been really easy to quit. Also, it would have been really easy to decide after my disaster of a junior swim season that I was completely done with the sport, and not swim my senior year. However, I’m so glad that I did NOT make this choice. In the months between junior year and senior year swim seasons, I worked extremely hard to rise above my mental health issues. I gained weight I desperately needed to gain, and with it increased muscle mass. I also started on anti-depressants (which I still take today!) and remained in counseling for the remainder of my junior year.
So by the time senior swim season began, I was in a completely different and much better place physically and emotionally. I ended up having a great senior swim season. My times in the 200 and 500 freestyle were almost as fast as they were my freshman year, which was remarkable because my training volume had greatly decreased. And I qualified for Regionals again my senior year. Although I missed States by just one spot once again, it was hard for me to be too upset, because I had overcome so many obstacles in the past year to finish my high school swimming career on a great note.
Life is just flat-out hard sometimes, so the lessons swimming taught me about perseverance are incredibly valuable.
A couple more pictures from my swimming days!
I hope that y’all enjoyed reading a little bit more about my days as a competitive swimmer, and the life lessons I learned from swimming. Even though I touched the wall in my last swimming race over 16 years ago (that’s literally half a lifetime ago!) the life lessons I learned from swimming have served me well as an adult, especially as a blogger. Most children and adolescents who participate in sports will not go on to be a collegiate, national level, or world-class caliber athlete. However, sports are such an amazing learning ground for valuable life lessons, which is why I will always be an advocate for youth and high school sports, especially swimming!
Did you compete in a sport growing up? If so, what sport, and what life lessons did your experience teach you?