When Do You Know It’s Time to Quit?

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Commentary by Jason Tillotson, Swimming World College Intern. 

Swimming is a complicated sport. It is so pure, so natural and innate yet, at the same time, it can be tremendously complex. Swimming is nothing more than the games we all played as children on the playground. It is nothing more than “hey, I’ll race you to the slide and back” and whoever won, would be top-dog, head honcho, the real deal. However, like a clock, on the outside it may seem as simple as any other mundane exercise routine but on the inside, there are many moving parts, each affecting the other. Nothing stands alone, in a clock or in swimming.

Everything has a reaction, everything is intertwined. The tiniest of mistakes, however meaningless they seem, add up to the hundredths and tenths swimmers try and eliminate each time they dive in. All the hours, staring at a stiff black line, diving into to a skin-piercingly cold pool all in attempts to shave hundredths of a second off a personal record or to beat a sworn nemesis from the opposition’s side of the deck.

Being a competitive swimmer for 14 years, a nationally ranked swimmer for eight of those years, and a coach for six years, I have learned a tremendous amount about the sport. I’ve learned that this sport can be the kindest and most forgiving to our bodies. With water being nine-times more resistant than air, the restrictiveness and tension on our joints isn’t quite as harmful as running, jumping or any other athletic movement. So no matter how much the last length of a 400-meter IM or 200-meter butterfly hurts in the moment, as swimmers, our bodies will thank us for choosing a sport where, no matter how much damage we try and inflict on ourselves, we are still gently caressed by the fluid.


Photo Courtesy: Robin Sparf

Simultaneously, the toll swimming has on our mental health is nothing like any other sport. An immense amount of pressure is put on a swimmer each time they step up on the block, months, years of training are at stake from the moment the beep sounds, to the moment they touch the wall. Years of training, for a few minutes of race-time glory. This environment would likely drive any other athlete, or person, away. No other sport requires as much diligence, time and effort as swimming does. No other sport asks as much of you as swimming does.

This is why people decide to hang up the suit once and for all, because a sport like swimming demands undivided attention and unconditional love. The sport of swimming has no remorse or hesitation, it will lure you in, teach you incredible things, better your life, beat you down, destroy you and build you back up again. Only, there comes a point where one no longer needs that cycle. It is at this point where you will have achieved maximum growth from the sport

No one can tell an athlete when exactly to stop and many go on for far too long. It can seem as if swimmers are prevented from leaving the athlete side of the sport when they wish due to the stigma we, as a community, have created. We scold swimmers who decide not to swim after reaching a milestone like swimming in college or swimming professionally. This isn’t seen in other sports, perhaps because most other sports are games, unlike swimming. When world-renowned tennis player Bjorn Borg quit tennis at the height of his career, after winning six French Open titles, people were devastated until someone else (like Rafael Nadal) came along and replaced him. We were devastated when Michael Phelps retired the first and the second time, but for some reason we won’t ever replace Phelps. Perhaps because he is the greatest of all time but perhaps, as a community, we have established it’s okay to make swimmers feel like they need to stay in the sport because we want to watch them, rather than have them do what’s best for them.

When the pain of being involved with something, whether it be a sport, a club, an academic interest or even a relationship is no longer a positive addition to your well-being, it’s time to stop. This is why people discontinue their roles as athletes in the sport of swimming. Often times, people don’t quit because they weren’t physically able to continue. People don’t quit because they hate swimming. They quit because it’s time.

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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Peter Scott
6 years ago

I’m 56 years old and with 2 pool competitions, an open water race and an international triathlon to compete in before the end of the year I don’t have time to quit!??

Annabelle Ancheta
6 years ago

First thing The ages the marriage life and most of all The successful Gold Medalists ! The phenomenon winners people had a common sense to give to another chance to others ! ✌️✌️

Heather Malzahn Roff
6 years ago

Murron I thought this was good

Pete Fitzpatrick
6 years ago


Jonathan Ballard
6 years ago

When your grades are not good enough to stay in college!

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