Swimming Doesn’t Define You – These 8 Characteristics Do!


Wayne Goldsmith takes a look at some of the characteristics which define swimmers, such as hard work and being a great teammate.

Who you are is not based on your swimming accomplishments. The qualities and capabilities you learn in training to be a swimmer help contribute to the person you are and who you will become.

One of the inevitabilities of swimming competitively is coming to terms with winning and losing.

It’s common for people to evaluate their swimming success—and even make judgments of themselves as human beings—by the number of medals they’ve won or the PRs they’ve swum or the representative teams in which they’ve been selected.

Swimmers can get lost in the terminology of time and the rhetoric of records and feel like they’re defined by the level of swimming performance they’ve achieved: that they’re “ranked”—not just as athletes, but as people—by how far up the swimming ladder they’ve climbed.

How many times, for example, have you heard a statement like, “They’re a national-level swimmer,” and immediately assumed that the athlete in question must possess some sort of talent or ability or mysterious quality that other swimmers don’t have?

Believe it or not, being a national-level swimmer or a successful swimmer at any level doesn’t make you a good person. Medals, PRs and podium glory do not make you a wonderful human being.

In fact, just the opposite is true: Being a good person and a wonderful human being is what will make you a successful swimmer.

Your level of swimming success does not define you as a person. You are not a “national” swimmer in isolation! You’re an amazing human being, capable of doing some many remarkable things in your life. You’re a student, a friend, a family member and a hundred other things…who ALSO may happen to swim fast enough to compete at various levels, including the national championships.

But remember: You are so much more than your swimming performances!

Whether you believe your swimming career is a success or a failure, if you win or you lose, if you’ve experienced the highest levels of achievement or suffered the lowest moments of disappointment…you are more than you think you are—so much, much more.

You’re a hard worker.

Let’s face it: Swimming is a tough sport. Early mornings, late afternoon sessions, long, challenging meets—it’s not easy. But you do it, you choose to do it, and you do it over and over again.

Most people run away from hard work and tough situations, yet you willingly and courageously challenge yourself day after day after day. At 5 a.m. when 99% of the world is looking for ways to get more rest, you jump out of bed and look forward to working hard in the pursuit of the realization of your swimming dreams.

You’re a tough, resilient human being.

Swimming is also a sport where you have to learn to deal with setbacks and disappointments. You know you will lose many more races than you win.

Yet, in spite of this, you’ve learned to overcome those setbacks and defy those disappointments and keep working relentlessly toward your goals. You get knocked down, but you get back up…and fight and fight and fight again.

You’re great at working on a team.

Every day you demonstrate that you can work as part of a team. You know that nothing brings out your best more than inspiring, encouraging and motivating other people—who, in turn, inspire, encourage and motivate you!

You’ve learned that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that there’s nothing as enjoyable or as satisfying as working together with other motivated people as part of a committed, passionate team.

You’re OK with showing people—in public—what you’re made of:

When so many people prefer not to be measured or assessed or evaluated, you actively seek opportunities to say to the world: “Here I am—this is what I am made of.”

You stand on the blocks in front of hundreds—sometimes thousands—of strangers, and proudly declare: “I am here, I’ll do my best, and you can see my achievements for yourself.”

While the majority of people avoid public scrutiny, you are happy to pursue moments in which your best is on display for all to see.

You’re a goal setter and goal achiever.

Every business sets goals and strives to achieve them. Every government, every organization, every successful person realizes their potential by setting difficult, challenging and demanding goals, and then working hard to see those goals become reality.

Every day, in the pool, in the gym and even away from training and competition, you live in a world of setting and achieving goals that puts you on the same page as some of the world’s most successful people.

You establish a target—something you know is just beyond your reach—then you give all you’ve got to stretch that reach a little farther.

You’re able to concentrate and focus.

The world is full of distractions. From the moment you wake up each morning, there’s social media, TV, gaming, friends, schoolwork, family—and, of course, there’s swimming training and competition.

In this distraction-filled world, you’re able to focus and concentrate on learning new skills, on pacing accurately, on mastering race strategies….

In a world of “noise,” you have the ability to remain focused on the things that matter. You can block out the things that could limit your ability to realize your potential, and you’re able to remain centered on the important opportunities to learn, to grow and to improve.

You’re a brilliant time manager.

The world is built around deadlines—getting things done when they need to get done.

Flights have to leave on time. Buses and trains depend on schedules. And you thrive in an environment where the clock is king! From the moment your alarm sounds in the morning for workout…to getting to training on time…to hitting the water right at 5:30 a.m., you’re a master of time management.

You’ve learned that the belief of “near-enough is good-enough” IS NOT OK when it comes to being on time. And you routinely juggle school, training, meals, rest, recovery, competition and down time just to be all you can be…with a precision that would make an Army general jealous.

You’re a disciplined person.

Discipline has a bad rap. Most people think it’s got something to do with doing something wrong. But discipline is the very cornerstone of success in every field of endeavour. It means living a lifestyle that keeps you directly connected with the achievement of your goals.

As a competitive swimmer, you live a disciplined life in which it’s your commitment and dedication to the achievement of your goals that keeps you focused on doing what needs to be done at the right time in the right way.

You’ve learned, “If it is to be, it is up to me!”


1. Swimming fast doesn’t make you a remarkable person: Being a remarkable person is what will help you to swim fast.

2. A national-level swimmer is not “better”—i.e., a better person than a state-level swimmer or a club-level swimmer. They’re just faster or more experienced…or they’ve trained more!

3. Try to think beyond times and PRs and representative teams and qualifying standards. If you swim regularly and you consistently give your best in everything you do, you’ve developed many qualities and capabilities that are more valuable than you realize…and more precious than the gold in any medal! YOU ARE MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.

Wayne Goldsmith has worked with swimmers, coaches, swimming clubs, swimming parents, sports scientists and swimming organizations all over the world for more than 30 years. He has contributed to Swimming World Magazine for more than two decades. He is one of the world’s leading experts in elite-level swimming and high-performance sport. Be sure to check out Goldsmith’s websites at www.wgaquatics.com and www.wgcoaching.com.

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1 year ago

Great article and very true.

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