An Age Old Debate in Swimming: Team or Individual Sport?


An Age Old Debate in Swimming: Team or Individual Sport?

Think of the most riveting, competitive atmosphere you have experienced. Crowds of people, spectators, and individuals rallying behind their respective teams or favorite participants anticipating a high-stakes performance. Maybe this was at a high school basketball game or under the bright Friday night lights of a football game. But, bring your image back into the realm of swimming. Do you imagine the same atmosphere and picturesque scene or see a different image? A common debate brought up not just among members of the swimming community but for the sport in general is whether or not swimming is a team sport or an individual sport. As with any other hot topic debate, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle or is unclear and solely based on experience and opinion. Here are some things to consider when discussing this important topic:


When it comes down to it, swimming is not the same for everyone. Some athletes have intentions of joining the sport for the team atmosphere, while others swim for personal achievement. The fluidity our sport offers is a gift when it comes to flexibility and ownership of our performances. You don’t have to be the most competitive person in swimming if you don’t want to be. It’s essential to have a balance of personalities and teammates who feel this way because these are the same people that fill the empty spots on the side of the pool, ready to cheer, jump, and holler for their peers and teammates. Say you fall on the opposite side of this spectrum, maybe you value personal growth, and what better way than in a sport such as swimming. Every time you touch the wall, you can visualize and track your progress. In all honesty, there aren’t too many people that fall at the far ends of this, and most tend to see themselves in both situations throughout their careers.

Time & Place

Whether you see swimming as a team sport or individual sport may depend on the circumstance you’re in. When you try to achieve a certain time standard or drop a certain amount of time, you focus on yourself and allow for more individual thought. But, on the flip side, imagine a high school swim meet where the winning team is determined by the final relay results of the night. Everyone is on their feet and willing to shout until their voices crack. All of this is okay because it’s important to be selfish at certain times in the sport, and other times it’s vital you be a member of something bigger than yourself. Each of these experiences is captivating in its own way, and it’s important to reminisce and learn from each of them.


We all begin swimming at various ages, which plays an enormous role in how we see the sport. Not only that but how we get into the sport makes a difference as well. Typically, in a club setting, it’s more about the individual. But, in other circumstances, such as high school or summer league, it’s more team-oriented. Whether or not you have experienced both of these settings, there remains a difference in experience. Neither is bad, nor should you get tangled up in the extremities of either one, but it’s an important lesson to broaden your perspective and experiment with each of these different realms of swimming.

Personal Values

As you develop and grow throughout the sport, maybe your values and morals shift in a matter that works for you. This could be either in the direction of being a part of a team or sticking to the sport for yourself. Again, this idea of a team or individual sport is on a spectrum, and there is no tried and true case for either argument. There are moments when you deserve the spotlight and should relish YOUR accomplishments. Yet, making posters, waving your hands in the air, and shouting to your lungs capacity is just as effective and important for there to be a balance. Plus, no two teammates see the sport the same way, making for a great learning moment from your peers, all of which can only make you a stronger and more well-rounded athlete.

So which is it?

The answer: Neither! Maybe one day, there will be a consensus on this issue. But the truth is is that swimming provides an array of opportunities and experiences that embody both the individual and the team. Without either aspect, the sport would be boring, mundane, and lack variety. Luckily for swimmers, parents, coaches, and everyone else involved, swimming provides each of us with a unique perspective. This allows each of us to develop and grow as human beings in our own unique ways. As with other debates like nature vs. nurture or the chicken and the egg, there is no need for a true answer because what matters is what drives you and leads you to your ultimate success in the sport. 

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.