If there’s one thing I’d like young swimmers to grasp, or understand, it’s how brief their athletic life is going to be.
I’m sure many people would argue that as we get older, we get better…that athletic pursuit doesn’t have to end when college (or high school) ends. There are thousands of Masters swimmers, triathletes, runners, open-water swimmers, and weekend warriors who continue their quest for fitness, or to even improve. However, reason states that you’ll never have as much time to focus solely on athletics as when you’re young.
The trouble with this dynamic is that young people typically want to be doing other things. They’re impatient to grow up, and they like to do things that aren’t always productive to the athletic life. I’m not condemning kids, or accusing, but I understand the pressures of youth having once been there myself. The pressure to attend parties that will be filled with choices, or simply staying out too late to have a great workout the next day. I don’t have to get in to drinking, drugs, and other lifestyle choices (that’s for the parents to discuss); however, it’s the choices made by the athlete that have to be questioned here. Each athlete needs to look internally and make a decision.
As they get older, a certain percentage of people will find a new level of commitment to sport. Compare how Masters swimmers get in the pool with how age-group swimmers get in. Who’s on time? Who jumps in first? Who is more worried about how many people are in their lane, and if they’re going to be able to finish a set, or a swim. Too many young swimmers see practice as a burdensome part of their day, while Masters athletes see this is the downtime they deserve FROM the pressures of their day.
In my mind, too many kids have it all turned around. What I wish for young athletes to grasp is the idea of COMMIT. Commit to the life OF an athlete for just a few years, and understand that you’re going to have a lifetime of opportunity to do the things that you feel like you’re missing when you’re done. If you’re worried about missing time with your friends who stay out late, going to the coolest parties, maybe you’re not hanging with the right people. When you get older, you’ll be able to stay up as late as you want, heck, you can drink, smoke, eat anything you want, and those things I just mentioned, while probably not the healthiest lifestyle choice, are all totally legal. For the majority of swimmers I work with outside of Masters swimmers, these activities (except eating junk), are NOT legal.
If you commit, you’re going to end up performing at a higher level than you expected. You’re going to go faster than you thought, and you’ll end up understanding, at the end of each season, that it’s all worth it. Watch the people who win the big meets, who are the happiest at the championship time of the season. The look of success is due to one simple word, commitment.
What is commitment? Commitment for an athlete is a daily activity that starts and ends at the same place each day… in bed. It means getting to bed at a proper time to allow your body to recover from the work that you’ve just finished. Commitment for an athlete starts at night, at that reasonable time. It continues early the next morning, when the alarm clock goes off with ample time for you to get up, brush your teeth, get some food, and get to practice before it starts, not when it’s scheduled to start. It’s getting in on time, and doing your best to accomplish the assigned practice that your coach has spent time designing for YOU to be a more successful athlete. After practice, it’s generally off to school, where you need to focus on what the teacher is saying, paying attention to the details so you can save time doing your homework and not having to re-read passages in your books to get the full meaning.
Commitment is choosing the right foods to eat at lunch to continue to fuel your body for afternoon dryland and swim practice. Commitment is leaving school and heading to a quiet place to do your homework, or directly back to practice, whatever your schedule allows or demands. Commitment is about filling your day with productive activities so you can lessen the stress of your day by simply keeping up with things. It’s about having another effort-filled practice, followed by the trip home for more food, and reading. It’s about relaxing for a while, maybe catching a bit of TV, or surfing the web, to clear your mind prior to lying down to start your commitment all over again.
That’s the life of the majority of elite high-school-age athletes. How do the pro swimmers live?
Step one is written above. Finish step one of an athlete-committed life, and you may have a chance to find out. Honestly though, chances are not in your favor to find out how professional swimmers live. It’s simple math, only an infinitesimal fraction of swimmers ever earn enough money to turn pro, so chances are you’re going to be finished with THIS chapter in your athletic life when you’ve finished college.
That means… if you’re not committed… you’ll simply NEVER… never… never… ever know how good you could have been. You’ll never have as much time to train, or as little responsibility in your life.
Commit now, and live the rest of your life with a contentment few people will every understand.