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5 Traits of Mental Toughness

Internal fortitude. The will to win. The desire to master and persevere. These words usually get tossed around when coaches discuss elite swimmers. Those at the top of the podium all come from different backgrounds in terms of genetics and ability, but the one thing they all have in common is the will to do what is required. The will to overcome feelings of lethargy, doubt or tiredness to complete the task and set at hand. This is what it is to be mentally tough. Here are 5 habits of mentally tough swimmers:

1. They welcome the hard stuff. They won’t shy away from a tough set, nor will they sigh and complain when that challenging workout gets scrawled up on the board. The reason why is simple – they know that those are precisely the sets which separate those that max out their ability with the swimmer that depends on genetics or talent to squeak by.

2. They learn the right lessons from their mistakes. George Santayana’s quote of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” can be applied to many a swimmer. Every athlete that straps on a Speedo and chased an outrageous goal has stumbled along their respective path. Whether it was setting unrealistic goals, ignoring areas of their training, or simply living the lifestyle of a part-time, casual athlete, we’ve all had moments where we fall dramatically short from our goals. While some will take their setbacks and failures as proof that they are unworthy, the mentally tough swimmer learns what went wrong, adapts, and plods on, undaunted.

3. They don’t get lost in what others are doing. Dumping mental energy into what your competition is doing is pointless. Not only will not effect any change, but comparing immeasurables will only serve to discourage and demoralize. Mentally tough swimmers focus on the things you can control. Not genetics, luck, or how other swimmers in your peer group are doing. Drive all of your energy and focus into the things you can control, and you’ll find you’ll be able to avoid the needless comparisons and demoralizing nature of measuring yourself up against others.

4. They keep their cool. Being able to keep your emotions in check in moments of struggle is a huge asset. This objectivity allows you to see setbacks and delays with the proper amount of perspective. Keeping a cool head typically comes from being able to place things into a longer view, and as a result they don’t ride a wild roller coaster of emotion that sees them out-of-their-mind pleased when things go well, and terminally in the dumps when they don’t. They understand that both success and failure are fleeting, and should be treated as such.

5. They don’t wait. The mentally tough swimmer knows that there is no time like the present. They know what they want, what they have to do to get it, and that they cannot wait another moment to begin pursuing it. As a result they don’t wait for conditions to be perfectly arranged, they don’t wait on others to dictate their pursuit of success, and they don’t make plans for “someday.”