Pursley Pep Talks: Sacrifice

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the 16th installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.


In our modern, self-indulgent Western culture, the title word of this chapter is sometimes regarded as an unpleasant and undesirable element of our lives. In fact, it seems that one of the goals of many people in our world today is to avoid sacrifice or minimize it as much as possible.

This is unfortunate because success in school, sport, business and in almost every other aspect of our lives is dependent upon sacrifice. Sacrifice is essential to positive and productive relationships in family life, social life and professional life. It is largely through sacrifice that all accomplishments of significance have been achieved—both those that are recorded in the history books and the many that go unnoticed in our everyday lives. It should come as no surprise, then, that sacrifice is also essential to the success of the world-class athlete.

The necessity of sacrifice is readily apparent in the daily regimen of each swimmer. Generally speaking, the greater the level of sacrifice, the greater the level of success. A positive effect on performance and fulfillment can be achieved through a unified team environment. It is only through sacrifice that this environment can be established. This is often required in the form of sacrificing our personal preferences in order to comply with or conform to team protocol. When team protocol and policy require behavior or commitment that is not consistent with our normal routine, this can be especially difficult.

The good news is that sacrifice is not a one-way street. Whenever we sacrifice for a worthy cause or goal, the benefits almost always exceed the cost. This kind of sacrifice will enhance the performance of the team and of every individual on the team. It will also make the competitive experience significantly more rewarding and fulfilling.

Even more importantly, whenever we sacrifice for a worthy cause, it serves to strengthen our character and diminish our self-centered tendencies. This, in turn, will enhance performance in every aspect of our lives.

Once we understand and internalize this way of thinking—rather than perceive sacrifice to be an undesirable aspect of our lives—we will embrace it as an opportunity and means to achieve success and fulfillment.

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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