Journeying to a Regret-Free Swim Career: “If I Could Do One Thing Differently…”

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Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

By Taylor Covington, Swimming World College Intern.

Perhaps it is cliché; some may even say it’s melodramatic. In the swimming world, however, it is wholly and unequivocally true: sports mirror life.

The majority of swimmers grow up in the sport. They enter with the same wholesome look of terror and confusion, the small fin on their Nemo caps trembling as they prepare for their first practice. This terror morphs into a more mature sort, evoked by the dry-erase board facing the senior group lanes. High-pitched, nervous giggles shift to comfortable teasing between lifelong teammates. They learn to dive off the block and step back up after a belly-buster. They drag themselves back to practice the day after missing the state cut. They celebrate winning the heat ribbon and signing the letter of intent. They learn how to come just shy of both.

Most importantly, they make mistakes.

Swimming World asked Boston College Women’s Swimming to look back at their formative swimming careers thus far and pinpoint exactly what they would do differently. The women reflected on the mistakes they made in their personal journeys, the ways in which they corrected them, and offered advice to young Swimming World readers:

I Wish I Had…

1. Focused on What I Could Control

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Photo Courtesy: Brianna Nesbitt

Many swimmers, beginner and elite, can become hyper-fixated on the competitive aspect of swimming, putting excessive emphasis on placement and their opponents. This, in turn, can lead to unnecessary anxiety over the uncontrollable aspects of your race. Maria Russo, class of ’19, says:

I wish I had taken to heart the Theodore Roosevelt quote: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ There’s such a trap in comparing yourself to other swimmers and not celebrating your own successes. I’ve wasted so much time worrying about how fast other swimmers are instead of focusing on myself. The only regret I have is being too hard on myself for not being as good as a teammate or opponent, instead of enjoying my own journey in the sport and seeing how far I’ve come.

Ali Kea, class of ’21, echoes these sentiments:

When I was younger, I only measured my success in the pool by the place I got. I wish it didn’t take me so long to realize that all you can do is try your best; you can’t change how others perform. Now, when I get in the pool, I don’t let others’ performances affect how I view myself. I’m only racing the clock.

2. Been More Confident

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Photo Courtesy: University of Texas Athletics

Swimming is a dicey sport, resting precariously on subtle variables that can make or break a race. Split crunching, over-analysis, and obsessions over goal times for that “one meet” can be draining and even disheartening for young swimmers. Swimmers run the risk of viewing every setback as a major failure, which can ultimately lead to a spiral in confidence. Hope Dragelin, class of ’19, comments on the importance of confidence:

One thing I regret in my swimming career is not being confident in myself. I wish I had listened to my coaches when they told me to believe in myself. I wasted so much energy worrying about meeting the standards I set. I even quit for a summer, and I wonder how that impacted my swimming in later years. Meeting your goal times, making that certain cut, or proving your training was “worth it” is not everything. One big race or big meet weekend does not define you as a swimmer or as a person. Stay confident in who you are, and the rest of your career will fall into place.

Sydney Dacey, class of ’19, advises others to work on their mindset:

If I could talk to my former club-swimming self, I would want to remind them to just be confident in their training, and not get so caught up in the stress of going a certain time. There were countless swims where negative thoughts took over during the race, and this often ended in frustration when I looked up at the board. At a meet, just focus on feeling powerful and getting to the wall first.

3. Been More Cognizant of Technique

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Photo Courtesy: BC Athletics

 Coach knows best. Period.

“I regret not listening to my high school coach about my backstroke entry. Now, every time I swim, I still enter with my thumb,” says Katherine Karle, class of ‘19.

4. Remembered to Focus More on Having Fun

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Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

After all, sports do exist for the sole purpose of enjoying them. Caroline Even reminds swimmers to step back from the intensity once and a while, and realize what a truly fun sport you’re a part of:

Enjoy meets and time spent with friends. I was always so worried and nervous at meets, and that overshadowed how much I loved the sport. Now, with only a few meets left, I’m really trying to savor every moment and focus on the memories, as well as the fast times, to make the most of my swim career. It is truly such a fun sport, and that can get overlooked sometimes!

Put quite simply, Victoria Lin says, “I would tell myself to get excited to race!”

It’s All About Perspective

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Photo Courtesy: Jack Hiniker

Swimming is special in that it’s a truly intense and immersive sport. It’s important, however, to view it through a mature and healthy lens. Be intense and be a competitor, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. The times and cuts that dominate your world today will someday become blurry and indistinct. Kelsey Holmes reminds us that we may be surprised at the small, vivid moments from the sport that we’ll always remember:

I wish my younger swim-self had a different perspective on the sport. You prepare for an entire season for one meet, but some of the best memories are made with your teammates in the months leading up to that meet. Instead of getting caught up over the “what-ifs” that could’ve made you go that hundredth of a second faster, embrace the fact that you’re doing something you love with friends that will last a lifetime.

Finally, Maria Abrams, class of ’19, reflects back on the distinction between the statistics and the times and the way she vows to approach the remainder of her swimming career:

[I would tell myself]: Don’t get so lost in the numbers that you miss the times. The clock will always be less important than the time you spend with the people who push you to be the athlete you are. The stopwatch will give you more pain than any test set and dry-land combined. Get your head out of the numbers, and enjoy the rest of your career in the best sport in the world.

Transform through your sport. Communicate with each other in this dynamic, connected swim community. Make your own mistakes, learn, grow, and allow swimming to be the formative, brutal, beautiful sport that shapes you far beyond the moment you hang up the goggles.

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

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Maggie Cooley

    Awesome read; definitely something I will be sharing with my club swimmers. Love the use of anecdotes from college swimmers! You are a phenomenal writer.

  2. avatar
    Tony Sparks

    On point in every aspect. Good advice for life also. Smell the roses along the way, swimmers!

  3. avatar
    Tony Sparks

    Words to live by. Heed the advice swimmers, smell the roses along the way!

  4. avatar
    Kenny

    My niece Taylor is an amazing young woman! Great article Tay!

  5. avatar
    Kim Estep Lampley

    What a great article! my swimming career at Lakeside,then NC State has been a blessing to me now that I am 60 i look back on all those workouts,tired shoulders and bloodshot eyes ! i wouldnt trade those years for anything ! I cherish the friends I made ,places I went and thank God for parents that didnt push too much