Excuses, Excuses, Excuses: For People Who Don’t Want It Badly Enough


By Tera Bradham, Former Swimming World Intern

As soon as the 11-year-old touched the wall, I told her that her arms were crossing over too far on her backstroke.

She retorted, “I’ve actually seen a doctor who said my shoulder ligaments are too loose, so I may never be able to fix that.”

I bent down to the gutter to reach her eye level.

“Can I show you something?”

She nodded. I rolled up my sleeve, revealing the scar that runs down the entirety of the front side of my shoulder. Her eyes became saucers, and I saw the rabbit start racing through her mind. I could tell she was thinking I was about to tell her to quit swimming so she didn’t end up like me. I looked her squarely in the eye.

“I had a rotting, necrotic bicep. Now I swim for Texas A&M. Never let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. It may be harder for you to do some things, but it is not impossible. Now work on it.”


Photo Courtesy: Tera Bradham

Maybe my response was a little intense for a casual comment by a young girl who came to swim camp expecting to have fun and to get a few stroke tips, but I think I made my point.

After five weeks of working camp, not only was I astounded by the creativity of the human imagination, I was also dumbfounded as to the necessity for it.

Over the past few weeks, I have shaken my head far too many times at the excuses kids concocted for their non-existent work ethic, their lazy stroke habits, or their insufficient motivation.

Here are my top five favorite excuses from our swim camps:

1.  The ‘Genetics’ Excuse: “One of my legs is actually an inch longer than the other one, so I can’t kick my legs together at the same time on breaststroke.”

2.  The ‘Bad Breakfast’ Excuse: “I can’t make the fast interval today, because I ate a bad biscuit this morning, and now my stomach hurts.”

3.  The ‘Boo-Boo’ Excuse: “I couldn’t kick off the wall, because I stubbed my toe.”

4.  The ‘Pooped Out’ Excuse: (After an excruciating seven-yard sprint) “I had to breathe off the wall because I was just too tired.”

5.  The ‘Michael Phillips’ excuse:

Coach: “Alright guys, I want to see you use your arms on these starts!”

Camper: “I don’t need any help on my starts. They’re awesome.”

Coach: “So no one has a better start than you do?”

Camper: “Only Michael Phillips.”

Many of us have had an injury, have gotten tired in a set, or have eaten something before practice that just didn’t sit right in our stomachs.

I certainly am not suggesting people swim through legitimate injuries or concerns, but there is a problem when we make the everyday occurrences of the sport an excuse for our own lack of willpower.

The more excuses you make, the easier it is to continue to make them. Excuses become habits, and habits determine outcomes. Excuses breed failure. That’s all there is to it. Excuses are for people who don’t want it badly enough.

Do not give in to the temptation to make an excuse. People who win in this sport do the little things correctly every day. Do not lie to yourself by saying it was “just one breath off the wall,” or “just one pull into the wall” on a kick set.

Excuses come not only in the form of commission, but also in the form of omission. It is not just the kicks you miraculously manage to perform while straddling a pull buoy, but the dolphin kicks you choose not to use off the walls.

It’s that last little bit of power you have left in you that you choose not to dig deeply enough to attain. It’s every action you should do that you don’t.

There’s a secret to the world of athletics that the best know inherently: your body will make excuses unless your mind overpowers it. Some excuses are the natural weaknesses to which your body subconsciously yearns to succumb.

You don’t learn to eradicate the excuses by chance; you must train your mind to overcome sensations, logic, and physical desires every day. Body does what mind prefers. If your mind prefers winning, then you must train your body to prefer winning.

People vastly underestimate the power of the mind. Most people adjust their dreams down to what they think they can realistically accomplish before they explore the possibilities of where their dream might take them. Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.

Choose to believe in yourself enough not to make excuses. Your teammates don’t want to hear them, your competitors won’t believe them, and you won’t benefit from them. Every stroke matters. Every lap matters. Every detail matters.

Because those who win are those who don’t make excuses. As the old adage goes, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

Suck it up Pumpkin, and get to work.

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8 years ago

Great article but.. Michael Phillips? ?

8 years ago

The camper knew SO much about the sport, but also struggled with the greatest swimmer of all time’s name, Jenny Eks. 🙂 Intentional incorrect spelling.

8 years ago

Michael Phillips should LOVE this anecdote! I laughed so hard! GREAT article. Everything you write illustrates amazing talent.

8 years ago

Oh okay now I got it haha 😀