Five Qualities That Define A Competitive Swimmer


Five Qualities That Define A Competitive Swimmer

Commentary by Jim Lutz (From the Archive)

FOR years I have had conversations with people who claim to “know someone” in high school or during their childhood years that “could have gone to the Olympics … but didn’t want to.” How ridiculous to assume they could have been part of the most elite swimmers in the world simply because they could jump into or do a flip at the neighbors’ pool? What truly qualifies someone as a competitive swimmer with elite potential?

Doing something for the sake of overcoming. To me, swimmers have always been the epitome of doing something beyond anything they have ever done before, simply for the sake of doing it and taking joy in knowing they have overcome a previously unattainable feat. A swimmer will often display guilt if they have not given their utmost effort to push themselves beyond a threshold with full knowledge that no one besides their teammates will ever grasp the magnitude of what had just been accomplished. A swimmer will complete this task on a daily basis with a vengeance and determination to overcome the clock.

Acknowledging a simple gesture. A swimmer will show gratitude for what other may perceive as an insignificant gesture. Quite often the coach standing on deck is not a full-time coach and their income from coaching is far from a six-figure income. These coaches are acknowledged by the swimmer for possessing a love and depth of something that goes beyond a paycheck. The coach is a teacher at heart and what is being taught is a life lesson and not about just going faster.

Diversity is what defines you. Although the general public will try to define a swimmer based on a stopwatch or placing in a race, a swimmer will seldom come out a similar mold of another swimmer. Each discipline has unique characteristics and tendencies. Diversity is the one thing all swimmers have in common and some have taken the “art of diversity” to a higher level. This needs to be celebrated as long as it does not distract or bring excessive attention to one as swimmers will divert the attention to the team.

Team above “I.” Swimming, by many accounts, is an individual sport. However, swimmers will be the first to say, “I swim on a team.” Swimmers will put their own agenda on a back burner if they feel their efforts can better serve the team. They train and compete for a cause much greater than one person and highlight the team accomplishments with a louder voice than their actions highlighting their personal achievements. Watching Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and Cullen Jones cheer as Jason Lezak ran down the French team in Beijing could only be describe as passion and intensity generated by a team as a collection of four efforts.

Little makes big. Those who have felt the pain and truly understand the distance of one hundredth of a second will not take the element of time for granted. Each of us can think of an event when the blink of an eye made the difference between success and failure and instantly feel emotions change 180 degrees. A teammate will offer a desire to help that cannot be measured. They know in their heart that by helping others achieve, they will have a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in whatever they will complete in the future. The gesture may be as simple as offering a comment about streamlining or body position, but to the swimmer receiving the input, it may make all the difference in the world that someone noticed them, flaws and all.

I now can call myself a coach because I paid the price as a swimmer. Some of the greatest coaches I have ever known never swam competitively. However, they have paid a price over the years disguised as time, family sacrifice, limited pay or any other thing they gave for the sake of learning to excel to help others. I was never great, but I did commit myself to an opportunity given to me by coaches who cared. They taught me how to love swimming and those who call themselves swimmers and for that I am forever grateful.

See you on the podium,
Coach Jim

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