I recently got in touch with an old friend of mine. We used to swim on the same team but he moved and I have since changed teams. I was talking with him and he brought up the idea that he was going to quit swimming. My first thought was he was kidding. This guy??? No way. He’s fast, he’s been doing it for almost 10 years now, he’s in one of the best groups in the country, he has one of the top coaches. Like hell, he is quitting. But my friend was not kidding.
My friend, M, has been swimming on NCAP since he was 6. He is an amazing swimmer and has always been the top of our age group. When he was 13, he moved, and ended up still swimming on NCAP, but for Georgetown Prep. The Georgetown Prep that Katie Ledecky swam at. He has swum in a lane with her. On multiple occasions. And he has also been good at school. He’s done cancer research and earned As all of his life. He hardly ever procrastinated his homework. But here he was, struggling and questioning everything he has been doing for almost a decade of his life.
But, as I talked to him, I realized why he wanted to quit. He had been pulled into the usual trap of procrastination most teenagers succumb to. He would come home and procrastinate his homework until late at night, and then stay up to 3 in the morning doing the work. If he had a huge project, he left it for the last minute. If you’re a swimmer, you know that this can be disastrous very quickly because one or no hours of sleep leaves you in a terrible position for practice. He didn’t even go for an entire month because he was so tired. And he could not recover once he started digging himself this hole.
But his homework was not M’s only issue. Georgetown Prep, as you would assume, is very competitive and serious. There’s not a lot of joking around. Everyone is there to become the next Olympian. And they are always trying to put each other down. There is no encouragement, in fact, it’s the opposite. The environment is toxic. Instead of trying to help everyone to get better, everyone is competing to be better than those in their group and that means making sure their teammates do not improve to them. So they do their best to put each other down and make fun of each other.
I asked my friend why doesn’t he just switch teams or sites. If you are not familiar with this area, there are a LOT of different teams. It’s easy for a person in this area to swim for more than one team while living here. Many have switched teams at least once. He said he did not see a point in continuing something that he would not continue past college anyway because he wants to go into research, not become an Olympian. He actually wanted to quit for a while but felt bad about having his parents invest so much time and money for so many years just for him to quit before any sort of pay off that might happen could happen.
The fact is he’s not the only one who goes through this. Another two girls on my team decided to basically quit earlier this year. Swimming is a demanding sport. There is no actual offseason for year-round swimmers and it’s not a 2 practices a week kind of a deal, it’s a practice at least 6 times a week kind of thing. And taking some time off is unheard off without a legitimate injury or intention to quit because it only takes a week out of the water to feel like a wet noodle and to have to train more than the time you took off to get to where you were. And in that time everyone else is knocking you down lower on the later. And it’s a costly sport too. The kneeskins, the practice suits, the meet fees, the hotel fees for travel meets, the transportation, the equipment fees, and the team fees. They pile up very quickly. An average club swimmer easily has almost $100 dollars worth of equipment in their bag (fins, paddles, kickboard, pull buoy, snorkel, etc.). And high school is ruthless. The homework load increases exponentially, there a social event (football games) you feel you need to go to, and yet the amount of practices and meets also increases.
Quitting seems weak, but at the same time, so does a mental break down. Neither are, but people still perceive it as such. And what is the point in all the time and money you spend swimming if you do not even enjoy it anymore? If you have seriously been thinking about quitting swimming for a while, then honestly, just do it. If your rationale is you still enjoy being with your friends, see them some other time that doesn’t require you to spend so much money in a sport. Ultimately those who judge you were never friends with you in the first place and need to mind their own business. Everyone has to do what they want to do.