Swimming for Dummies: Stop Asking us These 6 Questions

Photo Courtesy: Alexa Kutch

By Alexa Kutch, Swimming World College Intern. 

We’ve all been there. You strike up a conversation with someone and they ask what sport you play. Jokingly, you respond that you “play” swimming. Before you know it, you are bombarded with a number of well-intentioned questions and statements. It makes your head spin how much people don’t understand about the sport that is so near and dear to you. Swimming World looks to clarify (with a little sass) the most frequently asked questions non-swimmers have about the sport.

1. Is swimming even a real sport? It seems pretty easy.


Drexel women showing off their athleticism. Photo Courtesy: Drexel Athletics

This can be one of the most infuriating statements a swimmer can hear. Technically, swimming does fall under the qualifications of a sport. Without getting into the philosophical weeds, sport has been defined as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess.” Any swimmer knows that swimming embodies this definition and so much more. Non-swimmers truly do not understand how hard swimming is until they have experienced two to four hours a day of intense training nearly every day of the week.

2. Did you win the meet?


A podium win for Denison at NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Denison Athletics communications

While swimmers compete on a team, this does not mean the sole focus of competition is the team score. Swimming is also a very individualized sport. Therefore, athletes can experience an individual win even when the whole team does not. In addition, the importance of team placement varies in terms of college/high school versus club. A more appropriate question would be, “Did you win your race?” or simply, “How did you finish?” The swimmer can then answer and elaborate on what event, what meet, etc.

3. Are you going to the Olympics? Probably means you know Michael Phelps.


Olympic Rings. Photo Courtesy: Pexels, pixabay

Not every swimmer you will encounter is going to the Olympics. It’s just a fact. The average person does not understand just how hard it is to make the Olympics for the US. That’s not to say it’s not a dream for every swimmer. All things considered, the dream of someday competing at the Olympics is instilled in many swimmers and carries them far. But just because we are swimmers does not mean we have Michael Phelps’ contact information, nor do we know him on a personal level. Not every basketball player knows Lebron James.

4. Why do you wear those big coats? Are they some sort of fashion statement?


Swim rivals proudly sport their parkas. Photo Courtesy: Megan Clark

The big coats are called swim parkas. They are just one accessory that help keep our muscles warm. With just a swim suit on, pool decks can get quite chilly, especially when getting out of the water. These big coats are thrown on between races for ultimate performance. Some swimmers will even go as far as to wear gloves, hats, scarfs, etc. Most just stick to shoes and socks, pants, and a sweatshirt of some sort. Coaches cannot stress enough how important this is for swimmers and their success.

5. What length do you swim?

Mmichigan Pool

University of Michigan pool in 25-yards format. Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

First of all, we use the word “laps” rather than “lengths.” A single lap is when someone swims from one side to the other. Second of all, it’s pretty entertaining when non-swimmers ask, “What length you swim?” If you say you swam a 200 backstroke, some may think this means 200 laps. Therefore, you have to explain the entire event breakdown from a 25 and up. This gets even more complicated when you attempt to explain the difference between long course meters and short course yards. Hence, prepare for lengthy discussion on the topic.

6. Are you good? I bet I could beat you.


Katie Ledecky’s dominant lead in the 800m freestyle in Rio. Photo Courtesy: USA TODAY Sports-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it’s a pool party or PE class, a non-swimmer is brave enough to ask how good you are. It’s always a challenge to answer this question. Good is a relative term: Good enough to beat a non-swimmer or good enough to compete with Katie Ledecky? The two elicit vastly different answers. It might help to mention hardware you’ve won or past meet results. If they know little to nothing about swimming, that’s when you skip the talking and declare a race to see just how good you are. Even with a head start, usually the swimmer reigns victorious and the other person stays quiet. Time for some humble pie? Don’t mess with a swimmer.

Other common questions:


Photo Courtesy: Sideline Photos

Why do you wear that cap on your head? It keeps the hair in and decreases drag, which leads to faster times.

What’s the deal with shaving? Swimmers go months without shaving to build up drag that is later shaved before big competitions to swim extra fast. Sorry not sorry for the fur.

How long can you hold your breath? Enough to keep us underwater for at least 15 meters. Most swimmers can hold their breath for at least 25 yards or more.

How much do you eat? A lot.

What time do you wake up? Too early (usually around 5 a.m., depending on the day).

Do you pee in the pool? The real question is: Who doesn’t?

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


  1. Doug Schack

    Is swimming even a sport ?!?!?! It’s one of the pure sports – who can get there faster using only your body? Not some made up set of rules with arbitrary goals.

    • Stephanie Fischer

      Doug Schack my daughter was told swimming isn’t a sport and the kids have teased her. I suggested next time someone says this, that she invites them to the pool for her training.

      • avatar

        My son has a t-shirt that says swimming is a sport, everything else is just a game 🙂

  2. Neil Morgan

    The one about lengths is worst when it’s “How far can you swim?”. I just don’t know what to say, when my answer is that I have never tried to find out. I’d have to swim until I died of boredom, or starved to death, or just fell asleep/unconscious.

  3. Valeria Ingersoll

    Did you win? That one takes the cake ! 😂

  4. Mark Berglund

    Somebody please explain not shaving for drag … It does not make you extra fast, you are as fast as your PR, it makes you artificially slow so it appears to be a big gain in final meet …

    • Lauren Klemmer Foley

      Mark Berglund The extra drag is for training. The same reason why swimmers often wear multiple suits at once. When you train with extra drag it helps make you faster in the long run.

    • avatar

      Another big benefit of shaving down is psychological. It’s part of the ritual of pumping yourself up for a big end-of-season meet.

    • Sue Ketler

      Mark Berglund it’s also psychological… the feel of gliding through the water after shaving is very different that the feel of swimming with all that hair… it gives you a mental boost as well!

    • avatar

      It causes you to work harder and strengthen your muscles. We use to wear shirts in practices to cause “drag”. Its like when a fotball player or a runner wears weights on their ankles. It causes themto build those muscles and when the weight is off you are using the same strength with the lesser weight or drag as you would with it on. In all it causes you to push harder with it and end result you are pushing harder in a meet to gain a new pr.

  5. Catherine Terwilliger

    James Twig for you… they are called laps!! Not down and backs!

    • James Twig

      Catherine Terwilliger down and back eh?

  6. Mark Dempsey

    No 5 Roisin Doran laps not up and downs😂😂😂

    • avatar
      Coach Chackett

      LAP: a stage in a swim consisting of two lengths (or one length) of a pool.

      I would say the definition therefore two lengths. The dictionary I found even offered a different option for the definition

      There you go, never use the word lap people get confused by it

      50 FR is two lengths on the pool I think this is down and back.

      If you get Lapped, The other swimmer has completed two more lengths than you have !

      • avatar

        THANK YOU for your comment! Something that drives me crazy too!

  7. avatar

    That last question, the one about peeing in the pool, that cracked me up because it’s true.

  8. Sandra Erichsen Cole

    Lauren Erichsen, read this, you will be able to relate.

    • Chris Emerson

      Casey Emerson dID u WiN tHE meET