5 Things I Learned From Swimming That Carry Me Through Life
Swimming is a passion of mine for many reasons. There are very few things in life that can teach the lessons that sports can. People often hear me talk about swimming, which I’m sure gets annoying, as this was a sport that taught me so much about myself and how to thrive in a world that is often tough. In reflection I wanted to write just a few of those lessons that I personally find have helped me through life.
1. Time Management
Swimmers are a different breed of athlete. I think maybe only gymnasts have swimmers beat in the time commitment and schedule demands that swimmers face. Most elite high school and college swimmers practice 9-11x per week. Which means twice a day M-F and once on Saturdays and does this 48-50 weeks a year.
Growing up my high school schedule was as follows:
4:00am wake up
I say this to say that this schedule forced productivity. There simply was not enough time. This taught me to get ahead where I could, to cut out the unnecessary, and to focus on my 80/20.
BONUS: The other aspect of time management you learn from swimming is the actual quantitative value of a second. You are constantly watching a clock and eventually your brain becomes acutely keen to the perception of time. I still think my best talent is I can almost always know exactly the time of day give or take 2minutes on either side.
2. Pain tolerance
Maybe the most underappreciated aspect of swimming is how horribly painful it is. There are fewer things I would dread more than a Saturday morning practice. They were always 3-4 hours long. Friday nights when your friends were hanging out together, you’d be getting ready for bed with a truck load of anxiety knowing how miserable the next morning would be. It’s really not a misery or pain you can describe: constantly deprived of oxygen, every muscle is screaming, and mentally locking in for the next several hours of it. There are several practices I will never forget. Likely the most miserable practice was a 15,000 yard practice (~9 miles) and included a main set of:
50 x 200s (12 butterfly, 12 backstroke, 12 breaststroke, 12 freestyle, 2 IM)
*this took roughly 2 hours alone
BUT I remember walking out of that practice thinking “nothing will ever be as miserable as that. If I can do that, I can do anything.” And truly very few things have come close to that.
This prepared me for the everyday aches and pains of life. Not just physical either… mental, emotional, relational, familial. I think having a wide array of pain exposure that swimming provides allows for a healthy perspective and the ability to process and regulate the sufferings that life brings.
Swimming really does not allow for time off. It’s a weird sport that if you take more than about 36 hours off you feel weird and disconnected from the water. Every year we’d have 1-2 weeks off. I dreaded this because when I would get back to practice it would take 2-4 weeks to feel somewhat normal in the water again. You lose conditioning so fast. This forced consistency. I think this has helped me as an adult tremendously. With swimming you 're allowed to have bad days, but you had to figure out how to get something out of those days and make it somewhat positive. I like to think that I come to work every day and treat my patients at the same level of care regardless of how I am feeling. I think this has helped me ‘show up’ in my relationships. I think this has helped me be a good colleague. And I hope this helps me in fatherhood one day.
4. Self Care
Swimming takes a tremendous toll on your body and mind, from the schedule rigors, to physically being worn down 24/7, this taught me to take inventory with myself and allowed me to seek out people who could help me when needed. In college I saw a therapist every week, I would get massages every other week, I would see our nutritionist frequently, and take advantage of free tutors when needed. Recognizing my own limits has given me liberty through grace for myself. This helped me surround myself with a team of people who can help me when I cannot help myself. Swimming taught me to ‘admit defeat’ to and to take care when needed.
Lastly, swimming taught me “flow.” One of the key tenants to a happy life is entering a state of flow on a consistent basis. By definition this means being “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time.” Finding flow routinely is my way of processing the day, ridding myself of anxiety, and allowing my brain to turn off. Swimming was an outlet for me to do that every day. Flow can be anything from playing music to knitting. This is essential for our minds and souls. I can often get in the water and get lost for an hour and it is so refreshing.
And for that, I thank swimming. I am who I am because of this sport. I am forever grateful.
I think this is the beauty of sport – it’s so much more than just competition and being the best. It teaches us about life in so many ways, which is why I'm so thankful to be in a position to help other swimmers now in my career! Swim PT is different from feedback you receive from your coaches in that I have the ability to really dive deep (please forgive the pun) into any issues you're experiencing, especially pain-related, and help you discover why that issue exists, how to solve it, and how to keep it from happening.
Are you looking to be a more efficient and purposeful swimmer? Give us a call! I'd be more than happy to get you on my schedule! Beginner or pro, I know I can help you make a...splash. ;)
Thanks for reading!
Jake Reynolds, PT, DPT, OCS
Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy
Follow Jake on Instagram: @theswimmingphysio