Why Are Swimmers So Nice?

murphy-plummer-handshake-american-backstroke-legacy-podium-100bk-rio - swimmers
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Why Are Swimmers So Nice?

By Tucker Rivera, Swimming World College Intern. 

While swimmers go about their lives with an intense competitive nature, sportsmanship seems less fickle in our sport than it does among other sports that are more popular. In swimming there are no brawls, tantrums are scarce, and tempers rarely exceed past goggles thrown at the wall. Rather, moments after a thrilling victory, we might console those who we’ve defeated. Seconds after losing to our most bitter of rivals, we shake their hands over the line. Impressive races are adulated without fail; swimmers approach one another as equals and often become acquainted outside of the pool. Common courtesy is all the more common in our sport.

Why, then, are swimmers so darn nice to each other?

Training Commiseration

It’s hard for swimmers to earn spite from their opponents. . .  In all honesty, swimmers only hate three things: “standing,” adding time, and that one parent who takes flash-photos at the start.

In general though, swimmers respect one another; regardless of caliber, we train at an insanely high intensity. From the age of 13, many elite swimmers are training (or transporting to practice) upwards of 14 hours a week! As swimmers, we understand the pain, the grind and the discipline that it takes to succeed in our sport. When we see other athletes competing at the same level, we make the necessary assumption that they’re just as dedicated to their craft.

The 400 IM is nothing compared to the 400 IM ladder. The mile? Nothing compared to 4x800s for time. The 50? Nothing compared to 16x75s lactate on a cold, Saturday morning. Swimmers are good at putting situations into context. In the long run, the work overrules the results, and while good results are always preferable, we generally understand that success is more often relative than it is comparative.

Swimming: Nearly an Individual Sport

Jul 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Henrique Rodrigues of Brazil poses with his gold medal after winning the men's swimming 200m individual medley final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel/USA Today Sports Images

It’s no secret: without high school or college, swimming would be an almost entirely individual sport. Barring sectional championships or midseason invites, winning as a team tends to matter less to athletes than their success as an individual. However disappointing that truth may be, it implicates that athletes are able to detach their predispositions about a person from the club that they may swim for. Assumptions about other swimmers – until college (you’ll see) – are rarely made about a competitor because of the team that they swim for.

The person next to you is just another athlete. The person next to you is the person you talk to before your races and the first person you see when you finish them.

Down Time

If you’ve ever been to a USA Swimming club meet, you’d know that they seem to last for an eternity. Swimmers spend a monthly eternity with the same group of people from the time they’re 10 to the time they’re 22. For a majority of that time, they swim the same events against the same people. Why hate someone you’ve grown up having fun with? Swimming is a brotherhood – a family.

It’s hard to separate that sentiment from the sport as we age. Almost all swimming communities are constructed as such. This feeling of amicability and affection for our peers carries over from generation to generation, community to community. It’s simple: the more time you spend with people with like interests, the more relationships you’re able to build. Family not necessarily by choice but by nature.

Selflessness versus Self-Interest

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming is transparent and objective. Who can swim faster? Which team has faster people? It’s simple enough.

Thus, one of the only ways for the sport to continually progress is for competition to become steeper. Every Michael Phelps must have his Ryan Lochte, every Natalie Coughlin her Kirsty Coventry. Because of the necessity of competition, our sport is more willing to share ideas with one another. The best way for the individual to improve, is for the whole to improve.

Almost every team across the country swims some variation of the “Texas” set, etc. Coaches will share drills with one another at meets, swimmers will video tape one another’s races or let someone “roll-out” with their “stick.” We’re nice, we share, and we can count on one another.

The better our neighbor swims, the more inclined we are to swim faster. Nothing inspires fast racing like swimming next to a teammate or rival or Olympian who you really just don’t want to lose to. All of your strategies have already become habit, so all that matters is going faster. Win or lose, you’ll shake hands, get out of the pool and start thinking about your next race.

Eat, Swim, Love

It may sound self-explanatory, but the only way for the sport to improve is for everyone to improve. Highest levels of other sports are growing boring because of the predictability and prolonged prominence. On the other hand, swimming seems to be in a constant state of progression and evolution. It’s not as fine-tuned as other sports. We’re still learning about our sport, despite spending so much time attempting to perfect our craft. Because of this desire to learn, we’ve bred a culture that is founded upon the ideals of utility and collective advantage.

Whether it’s commiseration, bleacher talks or education, we create families in this sport that are difficult to find elsewhere. We love each other because we love the same sport, share the same passions, and maintain the same discipline.

They don’t call it the “funnest sport” without reason.

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

21 comments

    • Jh Gillam

      Rubbish! ABSOLUTE RUBBISH! Table Tennis players are nicest to each other as EVERYONE KNOWS. It is just that people never pay attention to the best sport (Table Tennis)

  1. Jim Pogue

    It’s the water. How can anyone be angry when they spend so much time in such a relaxing environment

  2. Marie Moffitt

    When my son was about 13 and at “that” age, we were at a meet when I noticed him with several boys the same age from various teams. They were obviously watching and commenting on a swimmer with a physical disability who was competing in an event at that time. I crept over to eavesdrop, thinking I would need to have a serious talk later with my son about respect for people with disabilities. When I got within earshot I realized that they were earnestly discussing modifications they thought the swimmer’s coach should make to his stroke to help him swim faster. At that moment I realized that competitive swimming is the best sport ever!

    • avatar
      Larissa

      Beautiful! Swimmers are truly the nicest ❤️

  3. Pam Smith

    USA swimming zones meet my son (on left) from WV zones team hugging a boy he just raced (and just met!) from a Texas team. Many people think photos like this are rare- they aren’t! 13-14 age group USA swimming Southern Zones Meet in Midland Texas 2018.

  4. Jim Bowser

    Because it is non contact friendly competition. I believe it is handed down from serious forward thinking coaches like my early coaches. Although swimmers and divers are also intensely incredibly competitive, we learn the personal best is a primary focus. It is a can you top this attitude. And, each person is respected for their talent, progress and results. Competition. We are so hard on ourselves we can’t be mean to others for killing themselves and daring to be personally great. This week I saw a high school female hop out of the water. She smiled, winced and said oooooh that swim hurt as she approached her coach. But, it hurt ooooh so good as she made the finals. We are nice because we learn it can’t hurt us in a bad way. And, the more you give, the more you get back.

  5. Susan L. Lansbury

    You HAVE to be nice to your teammates at 4:30 a.m., there’s no one else crazy enough!

  6. Jonas Stroblmair

    Philipp Rockenschaub Raffael Schnell jo genau oida won i scho siach wis es zwa zum training kimds kent i hamfoab

  7. Sean Abbey

    Momma says it’s because unlike those ornery alligators with all those teeth and no toothbrush swimmers have toothbrushes.

  8. Joe Bureau

    Because they are great hard working goal oriented kids!

  9. avatar
    Celest

    This is so true!! Wonderful to have it printed out for us, just a general feel good article. Thank you!!

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