Why Swimmers Are Equipped to Excel At Almost Every Sport


Why Swimmers Are Equipped to Excel At Almost Every Sport

“This is why I swim.”

It’s the phrase used by countless swimmers, including myself, as an excuse as to why we perpetually fail to make ourselves look like anything other than wacky, waving, inflatable tube people when we participate in any sport that doesn’t take place in a body of water. It’s a sad, but inescapable truth. If basketball as a game was designed to take place in a swimming pool, I would be a first overall draft pick out of Great Wolf Lodge. Unfortunately, it takes place on solid land, and as a result, I look more like Michael Scott in THAT episode of The Office. On the other hand, the rigorous training along with countless “fun” dryland sessions doing everything but dryland comes to prove that when we put our mind to it, swimmers really are well equipped to excel at almost every sport.


While you probably won’t find anyone near the size of the absolute unit that is DK Metcalf, not all of us look like Gumby either. No lineman or receivers here (maybe with the exception of maybe Nathan Adrian or Matt Grevers), but I’d like to think that swimmers have traits that would translate well to being a kick returner, or maybe even a quarterback.  Caeleb Dressel is 6-3. Height-wise, that’s a little off from that of legendary kick return specialist Devin Hester, but he could probably gain some nice ground returning punts and kickoffs in some sort of celebrity flag football game.

In my opinion, the position that swimmers are far and away most equipped to excel at is quarterback. According to analytics site Team Rankings, the Green Bay Packers led the way with an average of 33 minutes spent in possession of the ball per game for the 2020 season. On the flip side, the Houston Texans spent roughly 27 minutes. While mile swimmers typically don’t spend a race dealing with people trying to dive-bomb them to get them off of their rhythm (good idea for future swim races?), I don’t think it would be entirely unreasonable to assume that the amount of arm usage during a workout or longer race could amount to or even surpass the amount of time a quarterback spends throwing the ball – especially when you account for running plays.


As I mentioned in the beginning, swimmers were pretty clearly made to dominate the paint on our days off. Need proof? Just look at Tim Duncan. Before Hurricane Hugo destroyed the only pool and a fear of sharks all but ruined his love of the sport, he was a standout freestyler with Olympic aspirations. Am I saying that deep inside all of us is a Hall of Fame NBA player? No, but we’re built with several characteristics that enable success not only in the pool but also on the court. First off, a lot of us are pretty tall. We may not be blocking shots like Tacko Fall, but sharpshooter Stephen Curry is only 6’3, so there’s hope for us. Research has found that limb length and size play a rather large role in event potential, so you would think that translates to the court as well. For everything from dunking to blocking shots to not being the one getting blocked, all require a combination of height, leg power and limb length.


This one is a little harder, but there’s potential. There’s absolutely nothing better than when people try and claim swimming isn’t a sport. I once witnessed a man try to claim that on Twitter, only for National Team member Grant Shoults to post a video of him absolutely obliterating a baseball in response. The offending account no longer exists, and I can only assume that it got taken out by the ball like this teddy bear.

michael phelps, arizona diamondbacks, first pitch

Photo Courtesy: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

So we have the strength down, that’s apparent. What about the other traits? The fast-twitch muscles produced by swimmers are perfect for baseball. Whether running the bases, fielding a ball, or even getting that bat-to-ball contact with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball, you have to have freaky fast reflexes to execute them efficiently. Just as swimmers with the greatest number of Fast Twitch(FT-A) fibers are said to have the greatest potential due to the wide variety of events they can swim, you could apply the same principles to baseball.

In baseball, the five-tool player is said to excel in the areas of speed, power, hitting for average, fielding, and arm strength – all areas in which FT-A fibers could be of use.  Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts is a prominent example of a five-tool player. In 2018, the year he won his first MVP, he led in the areas of batting average and runs scored, along with posting 32 home runs and 30-of-36 bases stolen successfully.  Managing to actually hit the ball is pretty hard even for some MLB-caliber players, but being naturally fast can get you places and fielding and arm strength can both be improved on with practice.

Goal-Oriented Sports (Soccer, Hockey, etc)

Being the hockey fan that I am, it felt somewhat sacrilegious to group these together. On the other hand, before becoming a hockey fan, I considered it to be a more violent version of soccer so I guess it comes around.

Katie Ledecky

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Stamina is a HUGE part of both sports – most soccer players run around six to eight miles per game, while the typical hockey player skates around five miles per game. Considering the amount of mileage we get each week in training, along with meets, we’re on a pretty good path.

Things such as technique, footwork and stickwork, ball/puck control, and knowledge of what’s going on are more difficult, but considering the amount of time we spend on things such as technique and pace work, I feel like it could somewhat be picked up on. Soccer itself is a pretty easy game to pick up on, and considering the number of people that play it on some sort of team during their early childhood, it may well just come down to muscle memory.

In the end, we can see that for all the jokes we like to make about, “oh, I wasn’t made to do land sports,” when we do make the jump from the water to dry land, we usually manage to land on both feet. Sure, it’s not exactly graceful (anyone who has watched me run can attest to that), but we do have the ability to make it look somewhat competent. We may be fish out of water on land, but humans did evolve from fish if you think about it. So why not take the plunge?

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


  1. avatar
    Vincent Trinquesse

    You could have mentioned triathlon

    • avatar
      Rob Bauchwitz

      It is not just other sports. A few years ago I watched a program about becoming a Navy Seal. They noted that former football players had a much harder time making it through their training and selection program than former swimmers. When I saw what was required and how physically demanding it was, I remarked to some other parents that the Seal program looked like another day at the office for the swimmers I knew. And then there’s the bias that employers have for former NCAA swimmers. That might be more for having developed high discipline and perseverance to handle a competitive swimming program and college education at the same time. But still, if you can make it as a competitive swimmer, you might be better able to make it anywhere.