Life Lessons Taken From the Pool to the Classroom

Photo Courtesy: Alexa Kutch

By Alexa Kutch, Swimming World College Intern. 

As the last swim season approaches for college seniors, they begin thinking about the next chapter of their lives. For most collegiate athletes, this means graduating and entering the work force. While it may be difficult to say farewell to a sport that has made such an impact on our lives, swimming will always be a part of who we are.

So what’s next after walking across the stage with your diploma? More school? Finding a job? Traveling? Although the future can seem uncertain, one thing is sure: the life lessons we learned from swimming will carry over to whatever comes next. They will make us a valuable asset to any job or team. Here are several life lessons I learned from swimming that l as a future educator will pass along to my students.

Time Management

2016 olympic swimming qualifying times

Photo Courtesy: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one thing many students are guilty of, it’s procrastination. They are given a deadline yet continue to push assignments off until the last possible minute. However, with a demanding sport like swimming, there is no room for laziness. Between practices and meets, college swimmers barely have time to feed themselves. In the later years of their swimming career, college swimmers learn just how valuable time management is. This means keeping track of assignments, contacting teachers about making up exams, and always planning ahead.

My future students will learn how to keep track of due dates and stay on task with projects. They will be held accountable and must show evidence of their progress throughout the semester to ensure that they’re on the right track. Just like a swimmer wouldn’t take a few weeks off of training then step up to the blocks at the championships, a student wouldn’t be successful in class by pushing off the work until crunch time.

“I need help!”


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Many times, we are afraid to ask for help when we need it most. Maybe we’re afraid that asking is a sign of weakness, or maybe we feel like we’re inconveniencing others. While helpful resources are right in front of our faces with coaches, sports psychologists or doctors, we trick ourselves into thinking that we will just magically improve on our own. Eventually, we have an epiphany that it is the job of these professionals to help us with whatever is causing us trouble. Therefore, we shouldn’t feel shy or embarrassed to ask them for assistance.

In the same way that our coaches were there for us, I respond to my students’ needs that go beyond the classroom walls. My job as their teacher is to guide them and answer any questions they have along the way. It is crucial for a kid’s development for a teacher to create a safe environment in which they can work, grow and share life. In the same way that the swim team environment pushed us to become better than we ever could imagine, bringing this environment to the workplace can transform the culture for the better.

Practice makes Perfect

Math Class

Math class at the pool. Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

This sounds cliche, but most life lessons come across that way. The value of practice and repetition can apply to all aspects of an athletic and professional career. We are told that attending as many practices and meets as possible will push us to that next level, which requires an increase in dedication and commitment. Especially with a sport like swimming, failure to attend practices will lead to losing fitness and proper technique.

The same goes with learning in the classroom. Skills like reading and math don’t always come naturally, and taking the whole summer off can really set students back in their development. It takes practice to be able to master these crucial skills and feel confident in your abilities. Physical repetition and practice builds the body’s neural patterning to be efficient and strong. Mental and cognitive tasks are no different.

Learning from Mistakes


Photo Courtesy: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Both in the sport of swimming and life in general, mistakes are inevitable. I’m sure we can all think back to a time in the sport when we really messed up. Whether a disqualification, bad start, missed turn or forgetting to tighten goggles, our race was less than ideal. We can also make mistakes outside of the pool that could jeopardize our future with the sport in one way or another.

The great thing about mistakes is that you learn from them. You must accept what has happened, because no one can change the past. Instead of allowing that mistake to define you and shut you down, you move on knowing that you’ll do everything in your power to avoid repeating it.

I will voice to my students that as humans, we all make mistakes. It is important for educators and leaders to own their own mistakes publicly so that students can witness how to fail with courage and how to get back up with humility. A focus on process-based growth mindset rather than results-based growth mindset is integral to be able to become better after perceived failure. It’s learning from mistakes that makes all the difference.



Photo Courtesy: Jessie Raw

As the saying goes, “There is no I in team.” While teamwork is a life lesson learned from nearly any sport, there is something special about a swim family. Yes, swimming is technically an individualized sport. But when you are standing behind the blocks listening to your whole team cheering you on, you know you’re not alone. It’s an unmatched feeling that gives an extra burst of energy to perform at your best. We even have the chance to experience teamwork through relays.

Learning how to work with others is one of the most valuable social skills and applies to any workplace environment. As an educator, I will assign my students those dreaded group projects and other tasks that require working with others. Communication skills, empathy and patience are just a few crucial skills that are byproducts of group assignments. If you can’t work with others and support their growth, you’ll be hard pressed to live a meaningful and successful life.

Never Give Up

400 IM Katinka Hosszu of Hungary celebrates after winning in the women's 400m Individual Medley (IM) Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.

Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Last but not least is the mindset that my students will carry outside of my classroom: never give up on your goals. Countless times throughout a season, swimmers become overwhelmed with responsibilities and want to throw in the towel (pun intended). Whether they aren’t dropping time or experiencing an injury, it seems like the best option is to quit.

This happens in the classroom as well. If a student expresses this same defeatist attitude, would I support it? Absolutely not. Just like our swim coach would help get us back on our feet during times of disappointment, I will do everything in my power to help my students refocus and develop a passion for school and learning. Just as athletes set seasonal goals, students must set both short and long term goals to guarantee that they will succeed in their academic endeavors.

The life lessons we learn from swimming are gifts that keep giving beyond the four walls of the pool. We carry them in our hearts and minds to share with those around us. No matter the profession, swimmers carry simple yet profound lessons that build positive professional cultures that truly make an impact on the community.

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

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  1. Dee Nelson

    Swimming world has some of the best articles for all to read. I hope they would reach out to clubs and schools that have swim teams. These types of writings will help so many to understand
    where they might need some help. Have 2 grand children one in college who gave up and one in highschool who is pushing on. Love the sport!

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