I was given a stark reminder recently that for any competitive swimmer, at any level, setbacks are a reality. Injury, illness and other uncontrollable factors mean that all of a sudden the event that you’ve been preparing for – the goals that you’ve set yourself, perhaps the opportunity to gain international honours or a National title for the first time – can be gone in a flash.
I remember the crushing disappointment myself, of not ‘making it’ to the European Juniors. I use those words deliberately, because at the time, if I’m honest, I probably that that making that team was ‘making it’. Actually, not only is that not true, but ‘not making it’ at 17 also did not mean that that door was closed to later opportunities.
It’s hard to be rational about something that you’ve put so much time and effort into, but that’s what you have to try to do. Here are some tips to help you to keep perspective and deal with setbacks in your development as a competitive swimmer.
Take the long-term view
Dealing with setbacks often requires a longer-term perspective. Age group titles, records, selection – none of these are the end game. They are all steps along a path, a path that has no fixed end and no fixed route. There are, as they saying goes, many ways to skin a cat.
Having a long-term perspective may be about having long-term goals or dreams. Knowing that, despite the setback, you are still making progress towards that goal can soften the blow and lessen the anxiety and stress of dealing with something that you can’t control.
It’s not necessary, to have big goals, however. Having a long-term perspective can equally be about saying, “I don’t know where I’ll end up, but as long as I keep working on the right things and keep getting better. It doesn’t matter”.
Focus on the controllables
Very often the setback is down to something that you can’t control. You’ll gain nothing, and cause yourself stress, by trying to control the things that you can’t. You can’t turn back time. You can’t magic away an injury or an illness.
So what can you do? You can look for other outlets or competitive opportunities, on which to focus your energy. You can make sure that you follow the treatment or rehabilitation. You can make sure that the work that you’ve done so far isn’t wasted. You can control your response.
Treat setbacks as opportunities
This might seem counter-intuitive. How can missing out be an opportunity? Behind the disappointment lies motivation. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be gutted about losing out. Use the energy that is created by dissatisfaction to refocus on things that will help you to move forward, with even greater determination than before.
Similarly, setbacks are an opportunity to learn. If you take the time to reflect, you can learn about how you’ve handled yourself in response to the setback. Perhaps there’s something that you can do differently in future: Maybe you got ill because you weren’t eating as well as you could. Maybe you got injured because you could have been stronger or more flexible. Maybe you missed out on the team because you could have prepared better. Maybe…
One thing is for sure. At some point in your career as a competitive swimmer things will not go as you’d hoped they would. Hopefully now you’ll be better equipped to deal with it!