The Secret to Achieving that All-Important Cut


I was talking to a swimmer just this morning who shared with me a familiar, incredibly frustrating story. She was very close to her Olympics Trials cut for the last Olympics and hoping to make the team to represent her country. Everyone around her – her teammates, coach, parents and even this athlete herself – were convinced she'd qualify. This was because she was easily doing the time in practice.


However, with each meet that went by, she kept missing the cut by a second or so. And with her last chance to qualify, the very same thing happened, only this time she missed the cut by just .3 seconds! Two weeks later, when it no longer counted, she swam her Olympic Trials cut time.


If you're like most swimmers, then you can easily relate to this story. How often do you find yourself going faster when it doesn't count than when it does? The key question here is, “WHY, when you desperately want a certain time, does it remain maddeningly just out of your reach, but then, when you no longer need it, it comes loudly knocking on your front door?” Within the answer to this important question lies the secret to you consistently swimming fast when it counts the most!

The main reason swimmers so often fail to achieve a cut that they really want is because they tend to over-think it before their race and focus on it during the race. This is very different for the swimmer when they're in practice and not pressuring themselves with a certain time, but instead are concentrating on moving through the water, one stroke at a time.


Your pre-race thoughts and focus on getting that cut make you nervous inside. You are now making this race and your cut time too important. As a result, you begin to feel a sense of inner urgency, i.e. “I have to,” “I've got to!” “I should!” “Oh my God, what if I don't?” When this happens, your muscles tighten, and your breathing gets faster and shallower. These two critical physiological changes are absolutely devastating to your race performance. Why?

  • Tight muscles shorten your stroke, making it much less efficient and kill your endurance, insuring that you will be distracted by and struggle more with the pain & fatigue of oxygen debt.
  • Faster, shallower breathing contributes to your tiring prematurely during the race, (even when you are in excellent shape) and throws off your rhythm and breathing pattern, further tightening your muscles!

The secret to swimming fast when it counts the most is being able to remain loose and calm pre-race. You can NEVER remain loose and calm behind the blocks if you are focusing on and/or thinking about your cut. Instead, you need to distract yourself from the time by focusing on your pre-race ritual, talking with friends or listening to music.


Swimming fast can only happen when your race focus is on the FEEL of how you're moving through the water. This could mean that you are focusing on the feel of how much water you're pulling each stroke, staying long, your catch, your chest pressing into the water each stroke, your kick, your pace, etc.

  • When you focus on feel during your swim, you stay loose and increase the chances that you will go as fast as possible.
  • Thinking about your time/cut is NOT focusing on FEEL. It is instead, focusing on THINKING and when you focus on thinking while you swim, you will get nervous, tighten up physically and slow way down.

So if you REALLY want that cut, then put away your focus on time, and instead pay much more attention to the FEEL of your swim, one stroke at a time. Then you will be pleasantly surprised at the end of the race to find your cut greeting you at the wall.


Dr. Alan Goldberg CDs As a sports psychology consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with swimmers at every level. A presenter at the Olympic Training Center, swim coaches clinics and clubs around the country, Dr. G specializes in helping swimmers struggling with performance problems, get unstuck and swim fast when it counts the most. He works over Skype, providing one-on-one consultation with swimmers and other athletes around the world. Dr. G has written over 35 mental toughness training programs and books. In addition, he is a regular contributor to Splash Magazine.

For more FREE mental toughness tips and swim articles, go to Dr. Goldberg's website, and click on “choose your sport” and then “swimming.” You can also visit him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and sign up for his free, monthly mental toughness newsletter.

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Questions? I hope you'll feel free to contact Dr. Goldberg at or call directly 413.549.1085.