The Importance of Identity: Does Swimming Define Us?

Joao De Lucca

The Importance of Identity: Does Swimming Define Us?

By Hunter Kroll, Swimming World Intern

It is easy, as a young swimmer, to form your identity around swimming. It provides us with a place where we can hang out with our friends, have some fun, and get away from everything else for a little while. Swimming can quickly become an integral part of our lives, and for some of us, it becomes the only thing we care about.

As we get older, swimming starts to get more difficult. While time commitments increase significantly, time drops become much harder to come by. We are asked to forgo our other responsibilities to be at the pool. But it is hard to say that this is inherently a bad thing. It teaches us important lessons about the value of hard work and commitment. And these are important lessons, because we tend to find happiness in pushing limits and improving rather than comfort. It is the reason that we can become bored when we take even a few days out of the pool. Listen to any successful athlete, and they will tell you that the key to their success was hard work.

Swimming can be a rewarding experience in this way. But the reality of the situation is that the rewards do not always come. For example, this spring and summer, many swimmers missed out on meets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led many, including myself, to question the point of swimming at all. After all, the 20+ hour per-week time commitment seems to outweigh the chance of dropping time at some point. Many of us have sacrificed other pursuits and missed out on other opportunities in order to swim. Some also sacrifice their emotional and mental well-being just to make practices. And for what? Very few will be able to continue swimming past college, and the rest of us move on. Thinking about it from this perspective leads some swimmers to an identity crisis: there does not seem to be a compelling argument as to why they should continue swimming.

But most swimmers know intuitively that this cannot be right. Even in the face of the evidence, there is an intangible, elusive quality that draws us to the pool. The memories we have made at the pool tend to bring us back, and push us through the hard practices. Many swimmers know that there is a delicate balance of love and hate for the sport. Our job, in order to maintain a healthy relationship with the sport, is to never let the hate overcome the love. But how can we do this?

We often hear about the risk of burning out and overworking in young swimmers. These risks are absolutely real, and they come from identifying as swimmers first, and people second. If we define ourselves as just swimmers, then what does it mean when we fail at a championship meet? What does it mean when we miss an interval in practice? When we define ourselves as swimmers first, we forget about the process and the broader scope of why we swim. The fact is that we are not how fast we swim, and in order to maintain our love for the sport, we have to recognize this. Swimming should be the thing that takes us away from the rest of the world, not the burden that we carry everywhere.

By acknowledging the problematic reality of defining ourselves by our swimming, we can maintain a healthy relationship with the sport of swimming. We have to recognize that it is okay to have outlets away from the pool, and that it is okay to take time off when we need it. We should not feel guilty about these things. Knowing when to take a break and how to let off steam are part of maturation. The coaches most interested in developing you as a person will understand the need for balance in life, and you should feel comfortable discussing this with them. Although swimming can be a good experience, we run the risk of losing our own personal identity and value when we give ourselves over to the sport. We must remain balanced in order to maintain the healthy relationship between ourselves and swimming. And when we find our love for the sport, we will have the experience that we want.

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

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Excellent point – and the bonus is that finding swim/life balance at a young age teaches you the importance of work/life balance

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x