Pool Principles: How Swimming Taught Me To Succeed


Kate Milne

Certain things about swimming stand out in my memory the most — the fire of nerves before a race, laughing until my stomach hurts with teammates at practice and the overwhelming pride I feel after I beat a personal best. Other, more trivial things like the smell of sunscreen and the feeling of the hot summer sun on my shoulders will always remind me of my childhood at the pool. 

I can still remember my first swim practice. I was seven years old and sat on cold poolside bleachers at Castilleja School, clinging to my mom’s hand. I was shivering and not entirely sure what I was getting myself into, but soon realized that swimming was something I was passionate about and wanted to continue.

Since that first practice, I have been a part of Alto Swim Club for almost 10 years and the Palo Alto High School varsity team since my freshman year, putting in countless hours and making some of my best friends. During this time, the mental and physical skills I have gained have been invaluable and have helped me grow into the person I am today — someone who values hard work, commitment and, most importantly, balance.

At first, my progress in the sport was steady. As I developed water motor skills I also acquired less tangible keys to my identity as a swimmer and individual. Having to say “no” to playdates because I had swim practice upset me in elementary school, but retrospectively, I was learning firsthand that commitment means loyalty and sacrifice. Today, I continue to prioritize the team, and it has taught me how to truly commit to something time-consuming as well as physically and mentally draining. I know that this skill will benefit me immensely later in my life, whether that be in college, my career or life in general.  


“The mental and physical skills I’ve gained … helped me grow into the person I am today.”


But like most athletes, I began to feel burned out and frustrated with my performance after practicing up to nine times a week for months. I decided to take a break from the sport after my sophomore year. Having a summer free from everyday practices, I got a job, volunteered, slept in and had an unprecedented amount of flexibility in my schedule. To be able to travel and make last-minute plans without the guilt of missing practice made me so happy. It was a summer of self-realization and growth that introduced me to activities I continue to value and pursue.

I still wasn’t swimming at the beginning of my junior year, but, interested in branching out to a new sport, I took the plunge and tried out for the Paly water polo team. While learning an entirely new sport, my long-curated swimming skills and comfort in the water were a huge help. After a lifetime of sticking to one thing, I am proud that I tried something new and learned firsthand that the reward of meeting a group of incredible new people and learning new skills are worth the risk of potential failure.

Still, after a season of water polo, I missed my best friends from my club swim team and needed to get back into shape for the high school spring season, when I would be a captain. 

Thanks to the break I took, I returned with a new respect for the sport and a fresh attitude about practicing and racing. The thing about my team I missed the most was my coaches and teammates. Being away made me realize how much I appreciated them for challenging me and pushing me to be the person I am today — someone who takes risks, works hard and seeks the right balance of swim and other activities in my life. 

Swimming taught me a lot, but it was not until I took a step back and added other things to my life that I realized just how much my team and swimming itself  means to me. I do not know where swimming will take me in the future, but I do know that my history with the sport has taught me how to try my hardest, see the bigger picture and strive to find a balance in life that works best for me and makes me the happiest.   v