The Importance of Older Teammates

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

By Norah Hunt, Swimming World College Intern. 

It is the end of the main set, and your heart is beating louder than you thought it ever possibly could. You cannot catch your breath. You have spent the whole practice attempting to stay on pace with your teammate in the next lane over.

They are older and much, much faster, but some days you can keep up with them. Today is one of those days. However, you are getting tired and breaking down, while they seem to have a never ending supply of speed.

You get to the wall, gasp for breath, and try to find some small ounce of energy left that you can use on this last repetition. It doesn’t seem to be there, but then you hear a “You can do this!” from the next lane over, from the teammate you have been battling against the whole time. You somehow find the will you needed to go on, and you finish the set with the same determination you started it with.

Apr 15, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps swims laps during a practice session at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

This is a common story, but the importance of teammates in a sport as isolated as ours can really never be overstated. Older teammates often provide a challenge to their younger companions, someone to race day in and day out. It is often best to not be the fastest swimmer in the pool, but having a person to continuously strive to swim like is what makes swimmers better. Nothing is gained by training with unmotivated, unambitious athletes.  

The importance of older teammates absolutely transcends how fast they can swim down a black line. Excellent teams are built around their leaders who so often determine the direction the season will take and how to respond to the adversity that will inevitably arise. They have been through many seasons and know how to handle nerves, how to recover properly and how to compose themselves on deck.

To the younger swimmers, their older peers are often seen as a source of inspiration and encouragement, a comforting face behind the blocks at a big meet or at home before a monster main set. Some lead cheers, some organize dinners, and some simply inspire every one day in and day out with the sheer determination that they use to plow through even the hardest of workouts.


Photo Courtesy: Michael-David Morales

This sport is not simply about the accomplishments or the accolades or how fast person X can swim distance Y. It is about discipline, and helping others achieve their goals and grow into better teammates and people. It is demanding and exhausting, and having a support system is fundamental to survival and success. These older teammates are the foundation. They are the rocks of any successful program.

A younger swimmer will spend years and years watching and admiring these older athletes, only to wake up one day and realize that they have become one themselves. In this sport, everyone is given the opportunity to grow and to help others, a more important and meaningful act than any best time achieved.

It is graduation season, and many high school and college seniors are moving on to the next chapters in their lives, saying goodbye to the teams they are so integrated and involved with. The ceremonies and banquets will proudly showcase their accomplishments, how many points they scored or how many time standards they achieved.

Those are admirable feats, and certainly should not be downplayed, but there is so much more that goes into being a great teammate. These older role models are kind, focused, and sincere leaders, and they do much more for the younger swimmers than they will probably ever know. Thank them as many times as you can.

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 LOVE this article! As a past youth swimmer and as a current coach and master swimmer… I really can’t agree more with the points this writer makes. Thank you!

    • Aine Scholand

      AWWWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHH You’re so sweet