How Swimming Can Help You Overcome A Bad Breakup

Photo Courtesy: Katie Seaton

How Swimming Can Help You Overcome A Bad Breakup

By Andrew Jovanovic, Swimming World Intern

Heartbreaks and breakups are a common part of growing up. Learning how to move on from tough times is what defines us. A breakup can be as simple as an “I’ll see you around” or as McCoy put it in Star Trek, “She took the whole darn planet in the divorce.” Regardless of the magnitude of a breakup’s fallout, coaches, teammates, and the sport of swimming gives us swimmers the foundation and support we need to move on.

To begin, I will say honestly that I am finally, almost completely, over my past relationship. Long story short, my breakup began a rollercoaster of emotions that affected me physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and athletically. However, throughout that year-long ordeal, my coaches, close friends and teammates, and the sport allowed me to harness the courage and maturity to move on.

The power that a bad breakup can hold over people is tremendous but the baggage that accompanies it is usually cast aside or buried. The tendency to distract ourselves with lifting, dryland, practice, and meets is both good and sometimes bad. As swimmers, we have an incredible ability to plan, work for, and achieve goals — this is what the sport bestows upon us as the foundation of our dogma. It is what makes swimming honest, tangible, and accountable.

Teammates Know You


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Some of the first people to notice the negative effects of a bad break-up are your teammates. In the end, no one wants you to feel down in the dumps and your team is the first line of notice and defense. They will, on almost every occasion, do anything to help you.

I distinctly recall coming into practice on the fourth of July last year distraught over a fight I had with my ex before I got to the pool. I know I looked worse than I thought because everyone stayed away from me for warmup, allowing me to have my own space to cool off.

After warmup, my teammates approached me and told me that everything would be okay, that they understood how I felt, but that we had work to do. And they were right. They were there for me in more than one way: they understood, they cared, but they held me accountable. Within a single action, my teammates realigned my focus and allowed me to let swimming take the wheel.

To their credit, for better or for worse, they did this more often than I will readily admit. I applaud them for putting up with me for so long, and in the end, I thank every one of them. More often than not, even when you put on the “I’m fine” mask, other people see. It is worth your while and is a humbling experience to ask for and accept help.

A Coach’s Support

Men's and Women's swimming and diving vs Kentucky and Tennessee. 11/01/13_Mike Dickbernd

Photo Courtesy: Mike Dickbernd

At first, you don’t know how your coach is going to react when you tell them about a bad breakup. You may have thought this is a non-issue and something you “just have to get over” when you come to the pool. This was not the case with my coach.

Telling my mentor that a girl had turned over my life was honestly embarrassing. Acting the way I did, of course, was completely irrational. Would coach really care that I was this upset when it makes no sense to him?

The thing I found out is coaches understand. Believe it or not, they are human. They eat, sleep, and actually have facets of life not related to swimming (although I am sure they will connect everything, one way or another, to swimming…I digress).

From the day I told my coach until the last time I talked about how bad I felt due to some fight over some shenanigans with my ex, he has always been there for me. Coaches have your well-being and best intentions in mind. If you’re struggling in school or in the pool, they will do what they can to work with you instead of against you. That is what they are there for: not just to make you a better athlete, but a better person.

Don’t take this to mean in any way that they will fuel any self-loathing and immature responses to feelings brought on by a Wicked Witch of the West or by a John Tucker. On the contrary, expect them to realign your path and be supportive by helping you with what you should be doing to move forward instead of taking two steps backwards.

After the initial breakup, I (immaturely) saw my ex when she had come home to visit. My coach had found out that I saw her and was not very thrilled. I naively said, “Oh coach, I’ll be fine!” He glanced back at his workout and I pushed off to finish the set.

A week later, I was in his office, distraught over whatever my ex had said or done. To his credit, he never gloated. He just sat there, listened to me, and helped me realize what I should do moving forward to reach my goals in my life, swimming, and school. As you can imagine, this did happen many more times. Every time it happened, it was met with the same compassion.

Eyes On Your Mission

The sport gave me the most important tools to get over a breakup. Swimming is one of the most honest sports out there. You can’t really trash talk or verbally meander around, because at the end of the day, the clock solidifies our fate. We are bound by our contract with the sport, our commitment to achieve our goals and our goals hold us accountable. Take a look at the clock. Tell it your feelings, just make sure no one is watching.

Then remember your goals, remember why you wake up every morning to get into a cold pool before the sun rises. Remember that at the end of the day, those who have your back and care about you still will do so. The sun rises every morning in the east. Every day is a new day.

Even if the break up you experience turns your life upside down as it did mine, you have a mission whether you realize it or not to accomplish. That mission is set by you, carried out by you, and completed by you. But having two other sources of support makes an incredible difference.

So, once you come to realize what I’ve just said, where does the aftermath of the fallout of a bad breakup come up? Ask the pace clock.

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


  1. avatar

    I wish I could say this was true, but it didn’t work for me. Too much time staring at the black line meant my mind kept drifting back to the relationship. I ended up needing something more distracting like hanging out with my friends to play softball and go to the movies.

  2. avatar

    I only wish this had worked for me. My teammates are people that do not care for me because I am not at an elite standard as they are and never have had true relationships. My coaches also don’t notice my mood and are all focused on the kids who pull amazing times and records. Then there’s keeping my eyes on the goal. I try and try every morning, only to see no improvement whatsoever which brings me even further down. I wish I had a team that was like family that everyone talks about. Thank God for friends

  3. avatar

    Amen my brother!

  4. Arnon Bacelar

    Swimming is the only sport that provides the silence that no one else can deliver.

    I love swimming!

  5. Liane Lamb

    Help you deal with a breakup by hooking up with someone else?? That’s what I get from the pic so far!

  6. Liane Lamb

    I’m really trying to understand how.. but the link to the story is broken…I’m imagining swimming helps you over a bad breakup by the solitude offered by churning up and down the pool by yourself, not by perving on the guy in the next lane…or maybe i’m right with both of them..Shanksy??

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