Q&A: World Champion Swimmer Ryan Murphy On Dreaming Big & Going After Your Goals

Long before Ryan Murphy was making waves and setting records as a World Champion Swimmer and Olympic athlete, he was just a little fish with a big dream.

Ryan’s love of the water started when his mom enrolled him in 'mommy-and-me' swim lessons when he was just 10 months old. Realizing how much Ryan enjoyed swimming, his parents signed him up for a summer swim league when he was four, where his love of the sport began.

That following summer, young Ryan gathered around the TV with his family to watch professional swimmers from around the world compete in Sydney. He’ll never forget what it felt like to watch the women’s relay team overcome all odds to take first place that year, because in that moment his dream of becoming a world champion swimmer was born!

Sixteen years later, Ryan’s dream came true when he reached his goal and made it to Rio, where he swept all three backstroke events and helped the 4x100m medley relay team with a lead-off backstroke leg that set a world record.

Today, his passion for swimming goes deeper than setting records and winning medals. As an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation and Goldfish Swim School, Ryan uses his love of the sport to save lives and build champions - in the pool, and in life.

Realizing the profound impact swimming has had on his life, Ryan wants everyone to be able to enjoy the pool of possibilities that come from learning how to swim—like making new friends, discovering hidden talents and learning life-long skills that could not only lead to adventures beyond your wildest dreams, but that could also save your life one day!

This week, Ryan took a break from training for Tokyo to sit down and talk with us about how he got to where he is today, and to offer advice to every kid who has a big dream of their own they hope to achieve one day!

ON DREAMING BIG AND GOING AFTER YOUR GOALS

Q: Where do you think your dream of becoming a World Champion Swimmer and Olympic athlete came from? How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

Ryan: I’ve always been super competitive. I wanted to be the best at everything I tried, and naturally, I wanted that for myself as I got older. I remember watching the games in 2000 as a 5-year-old. I think that’s when the dream really formed.

Q: If an aspiring young swimmer asked you how you got to where you are today, what would you say?

Ryan: I took things day by day and season by season. When I was young, my coach had me set long-term goals (5+ years away), season goals (a few months away) and practice goals (things I could do every day). The long-term goals and season goals were used as motivators infrequently throughout the year. The practice goals are what we really focused on. We wanted to maximize each day, have focus and purpose each day, and by the end of the season, a lot of improvements were made.

Q: What words of encouragement would you offer to kids when it comes to dreaming big and going after their goals?

Ryan: As cliché as it sounds, shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. This can be applied to any of your life goals – whether it’s a personal goal or something related to sports, schools or other hobbies.

Q: What words of advice would you have for kids who may not have a specific goal they want to achieve in mind just yet? What can they start doing to discover their passions and talents?

Ryan: If you don’t have a specific goal in mind that you want to achieve, don’t worry. A great place to start is to ask yourself what is valuable and important to you. Goal setting is an opportunity to write your story, so think BIG and try everything! You never know what your newest passion and talent could be unless you give it your best effort.

Q: Setting (and achieving) goals can seem overwhelming! Where should kids start? Tell us your top 3 tips for setting (and achieving) goals!

Ryan: First, commit to and prioritize your goals. Make your goals a part of your daily mindset and routine. Second, set deadlines to achieve your goals. One of my favorite sayings is “Goals without deadlines are dreams.” And third, make your goals public. Tell your family and friends about what you would like to achieve.

Q: What are you focused on as you prepare for this summer's big sporting event in Tokyo? Any new goals you're hoping to crush?

Ryan: Right now, I’m focused on the small details in order to maximize my performance. My ultimate goal is to bring home a win for the USA.

ON PERSEVERANCE, DETERMINATION & DEVELOPING AN ATHLETE MINDSET

Q: Was there any point in your life when you became discouraged and doubted whether your dream of becoming a World Champion Swimmer would come true? If so, what kept you going?

Ryan: Every time I aged up and began swimming with a new group, I became discouraged because the learning curve in this sport is steep. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and didn’t belong. What kept me motivated was taking things day by day, getting competitive with the group and improving each practice. Ultimately, that helped me reach goals I set for myself and become more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Q: What advice would you give kids who may feel like giving up?

Ryan: Facing challenges and experiencing doubt is completely normal, but I have learned that perseverance is an important skill. When the going gets tough, find those motivations that inspire you. Set smaller goals in order to reach larger goals, then take a look back to see how far you’ve come! I promise your hard work has not gone unnoticed.

Q: All goals (big and small) take time to achieve—and there will be obstacles along the way! Instead of looking at setbacks as failures, how would you encourage kids to reframe the way they look at these challenges?

Ryan: There are going to be challenges and setbacks throughout life. You must take these bumps in the road, whether it's at school or during practice, day by day and not let them overwhelm you. Try looking at each challenge as an opportunity to improve your skill set little by little. The outcome may look different each time, but stick with it, stay positive, and ultimately, you will succeed.

Q: What does having an athlete mindset mean to you?

Ryan: Having an athlete’s mindset means being able to self-motivate on any given day—even if it’s an especially hard practice, you must have the mental capacity to push through.

Q: How has having an athlete mindset benefitted you in other areas of your life, outside of swimming?

Ryan: As an athlete, I've always been very driven and self-motivated, which has helped me both in and outside the pool. Athletes are extremely adaptable to changing situations and disciplined in their training and focus. Both traits were extremely helpful throughout school and in pursuing other hobbies.

ON GETTING INTO COMPETITIVE SPORTS

Q: Getting into a competitive sport is a great opportunity, but it's also a big commitment. What are some things parents and kids should consider before making the leap into competitive sports?

Ryan: Sports are a terrific way for kids to have fun while staying active. They also teach very important life skills like working on a team, overcoming obstacles and controlling emotions. On the other hand, competitive sports are a big time commitment. Before deciding whether to make the leap, parents should talk to their children about what competitive sports are, the differences in the commitment and the changes that will come with joining a competitive league. Competitive sports introduce the stresses of winning, losing, and being measured and scored on performance. Kids should also consider if their heart is really into the sport and if they want to join for the right reasons. My competitive spirit and attitude drove me into competitive sports at a young age, but it’s not for everyone! But remember, just because you’re not playing the sport competitively doesn’t mean you can’t play it at all!

Q: Whether it's getting ready for a big competition, performing in front of a big crowd or mustering up the courage to try something new - butterflies in the stomach are a normal feeling we can all relate to! What advice would you have for kids when it comes to overcoming "pre-game jitters"?

Ryan: Being nervous or getting those “pre-performance jitters” is extremely normal and can even help motivate you to perform better. I still get nervous before big meets, but I've learned to channel that nervous energy into my overall performance. I stick to the same pre-meet snack before every event and pump myself up with music. I also use that time right before the race to mentally think through my strategy and how I'm going to execute it to win. I would encourage you to try this, too – whether it’s before a big soccer game or a math test!

Q: Looking at your journey to getting where you are now, is there any advice you'd give your younger self?

Ryan: I really like the journey I took as a young athlete. I always walked the line between taking the sport seriously and having fun with it. Over the years, I feel like I have really struck a balance of hard work and fun. I also think my parents did a really nice job with helping me frame my perceived disappointments. As I mentioned, I am ultra-competitive, and I would be disappointed with anything less than perfection. My parents helped me to celebrate what were actually great performances and still want more success for future seasons.

YOU HAVE BIG DREAMS FOR YOUR LITTLE FISH, AND SO DO WE!

Goals. Milestones. Aspirations. Dreams. Whatever you call them, we know your little fish are swimming in a pool of wonder and possibility. They have plans to make BIG waves in life! And it’s up to us to help them keep believing and achieving, by giving them the tools and courage to take that first step, to work hard and to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s acing that spelling quiz, taking first in the science fair, becoming class president or even perfecting their sea otter back float, we believe in making a BIG deal about ALL of life’s accomplishments, so kids keep feeling confident, motivated and inspired. After all, they’re our next generation of scientists, educators, champion athletes and changemakers. So, to all our Goldfish parents: keep raising dreamers, believers and achievers. And to children everywhere, we say: Dream Big, Little Fish.

With more than 100 locations across North America, we use The Science of SwimPlay® to help kids gain the courage to dive into new experiences and develop the confidence to go after their goals, all while learning how to be safer in and around the water. And, if you have an aspiring young swimmer with big dreams of becoming a world champion swimmer like Ryan, Swim Force is a great way to help them dip a toe into competitive swimming! Stop by your local Goldfish Swim School today to see what the Golden Experience is all about!

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