Choose Your Struggle

Choose Your Struggle

Success in the pool always looks easy. But it’s usually met first by those who have chosen what they are willing to endure. Here’s why you need to choose your struggle.

Whenever I talk to swimmers about the things they want to achieve I always get the rosiest of the rosey pictures.

  • “I am going to go to the Olympics!”
  • “I am going to go a best time!”
  • “I’m going to qualify for nationals!”
  • “I’m going to eat that bowl of popcorn and then lick the bowl!”

Or my least favorite…

  • “I want to be a really great swimmer!”

Big smiles, big hopes, and big dreams.

Some of those are almost clear enough to qualify as goals, but others are so general and so ubiquitous that they basically lose any meaning.

(These kinds of goals, unsurprisingly, are also usually met with low levels of commitment. It’s really hard to commit to a perpetually subjective and vague goal like “I want to be successful!”)

But then I like to ask something very few swimmers actually think about…

What will you choose to struggle through to be successful?

Usually I get crickets…

Or a raised eyebrow…

And some heavy, chlorinated silence.

The notion that we can achieve anything worthwhile without serious struggle, without consistently butting heads with failure and doubt is naïve at best.

Instead of looking at all the great and awesome and fuzzy things that will happen along the way to crushing your goals, start out by getting real about the dark moments.

About the suffering that you choose. The setbacks. The hard decisions where you have to give up the thing you want in the moment for the thing you want down the line.

Being realistic about it will better help you deal with it when it happens.

And it will happen.

It always does.

There are a couple things I am thoroughly convinced of…

  1. That I will always experience serious shame and a slightly irritable stomach after crushing a large pizza in one sitting…
  2. And that a moderate to high degree of struggle is part of the deal when we crave excellence.

Here are a few examples…

  • If you want to get in better overall conditioning, but you aren’t making enough practices, you are going to have to choose to accept the struggle of showing up to more practices.
  • If you want to improve your kicking speed, you will need to come to appreciate the hard work required to do so. Whether that means doing more kick sets, doing vertical kicking on your own, and/or committing to a dryland program to increase leg strength and flexibility.

This kind of thinking can seem counter-intuitive.

Especially in today’s culture, where failure and “trying”  are something to be sneered at.

Which is ridiculous.

Success in the pool (and on deck) doesn’t work that way.

At some point you are going to have to discover for yourself what you are willing to struggle through.

I find it to be a fairly accurate predictor of how consistent you will be and how likely you are to be successful in the long term.

After all…

It’s not enough to want the glory and the success and the high-fives that come with applying a whopping on your best times…

You have to want the struggle and the suffering that comes along with it.

See More Like This:

7 Things Swimming Will Teach You About Life. Swimming gives us more than just broad shoulders and an awkward swimsuit tan. It also serves as a platform for a heap of powerful life lessons.

How to Stay Motivated All Season Long. One of the sneaky realities of “motivation” is learning that you don’t actually need it. Here is what to do instead.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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