Training goals are your secret weapon for building self-confidence (by Olivier Leroy)

Head Coach
Jun 21, 2019

Self-confidence.

We lionize it big-time in the sport, and for good reason.

Swimmers who roll hard and deep with self-confidence are better equipped to face adversity and failure.

They have a healthier outlook when it comes to the sport. 

Self-confident swimmers also better deal with pre-race nerves, viewing them as excitement-tingles instead of as debilitating nerves. 

And perhaps most noticeably of all, self-confidence produces fast swimming. 

But even though we know how powerful and, uh, confident we feel when are bubbling with self-confidence, there’s a lot of mystery shrouding this crucial aspect of our mindset and our performance in the water.

Self-confidence comes from experience

Confidence doesn’t come from one awesome race (we are smart enough to discount the occasional great performance as flukey), and it doesn’t come from deluding ourselves that we can perform at a high-level when we’ve barely made it to practice.

Confidence comes from the sum of our training history and racing experiences. 

What we do each day in practice contributes to the confidence we have on race day.

Forget the swimmer who yaps it up about how hard they work. Ignore the people telling you how great you are or how talented you are. Stop playing down the hard work you are doing in the pool.

(These scenarios promote inflated, false, or under-confidence.)

If you want genuine, realistic confidence that will power elite-status swimming, start by consistently setting yourself training goals.

Training goals are your daily drip-drip for confidence

How often do you set goals for the week ahead?

Today’s practice?

At all?

Training goals are basically a bottomless basket of French fries, if French fries can be substituted for confidence. Each week and each practice you have a chance to pick up a little confidence booster.

Instead, most swimmers will hope for a confidence boosting practice. They will hope that things go well, that they do awesome on the main set, and they hope that they will feel like working at a confidence-inducing level.

Which leaves your confidence about as reliable as a paper racing suit after two months of daily wear. 

Getting started with training goals

If you are the kinda swimmer who has avoided setting themselves training goals, here are some pointers for maximizing this simple little tool.

Plan them out in advance

Seems like an obvious place to start—but plan your goals! Forget leaving them to chance, that's for amateurs, right? 

Each Sunday night sit down and write out 3-5 things you want to do at practice that week. Write them on a piece of paper and keep them front and center.

Some examples:

  • Make it to every practice this week
  • Do the whole main set breathing every 3 strokes
  • Pick a harder interval three times this week
  • Pick one practice and attack the turn for the whole workout

Recognize the achievement. 

Don’t let your victories go unrecognized. 

One of the most heart-breaking things to watch is a swimmer who works super hard in practice but plays down the work they did. This same swimmer is holding out for the big race to feel confident about what they are doing in the water, but by then, it’s too late. 

Give yourself permission to feel good about the victories you are stacking in practice.

Set mindset, effort and skill-based training goals

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to hitting max speed in the water, from how rested you are to how much you slept this week. 

There will be days where you smash your race pace targets, and others where you fall dreadfully short. 

But you can work your mindset, effort and technique no matter how fast (or slow) you are going. 

Funny enough, by focusing your chlorinated paddles off on effort, technique and mindset, fast swimming will happen organically. 

Put together a dream list of training goals.

I’ve always kept a list of “impossible” sets and intervals that I will occasionally try at the pool. Kicking a series of 100s long course on 1:30. Or swimming 50s freestyle on :30. Sets and intervals that represent a clear step to the next level. Give yourself some targets to chase after in practice.

Evaluate how often you are hitting your training goals.

Once you have banged out a few weeks setting and chasing down some training goals, take a look at how often you are being successful. 

If you are hitting 5/5 goals every week, consider making them a little harder. If you are repeatedly putting up goose eggs, going 0/5, scale back the training goals to give yourself some wins. 

Otherwise, the constant defeats will promote an erosion in self-confidence. 

Confidence is a skill…have the patience to stick with developing it. 

One of the misunderstood things about self-confidence is that it’s something you have or you don’t.

Something that came to you naturally, or didn’t.

And while some swimmers certainly make it look easier than others, self-confidence is a skill that can be developed with time and consistency.

That’s the big thing to remember in all of this…

Consistency.

Setting and crushing a couple training goals won’t automagically turn you into a super confident swimmer overnight.

But it will start the process.

Keep at it, build yourself an arsenal of credible moments in training where you crushed it, and one day, weeks or months from now, on a day that you don’t expect it, you will look back in wonder at how far your confidence has come. 

Give these suggestions a shot over the next couple weeks and let me know how it goes. 

See ya in the water,

Olivier

P.S. I know how fragile self-confidence can feel. 

Even for swimmers who are at the pinnacle of the sport, our shield of confidence can suddenly feel brittle and fragile after a disappointing swim or practice.

One of the big perks of developing your mental training skills is that it provides you with a series of tools and weapons that you can use to prepare yourself for moments of peak adversity.

Whether it’s coming up short on the day of the big race, getting injured, or trying to get unstuck from a gnarly plateau, mental training skills help you get a clearer idea of what is going on with your swimming, gives you a healthier relationship with the sport, and can even help make those hard workouts a little more fun.

When it comes to mental skills training, I don’t think there is any better tool out there than my workbook written specifically for swimmers. 

Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide for a High-Performance Mindset, was written with the input of 200+ head coaches, Olympians, world record holders and NCAA champions. 

One of those coaches, Ray Benecki, who helped Kate Ziegler to a world record in the 1500m freestyle and two Olympic Games, called it, “The best book concerning mental training I’ve ever seen.”

If you’ve got a couple minutes, I’d love to tell you more about it.