18 & Under World 100s
Illinois Swimming
Level 3
Excellence 200

Mental Toughness Toolbox

A lot of swimmers have a serious misconception about faster swimmers, whether those are their teammates or opponents. If you get in the bad habit of carrying around this misconception with you, then it will undermine your confidence, lead you to get easily psyched out pre-race and create repetitive performance problems for you. What is this  false, performance-disrupting belief that I speak of?

Viewing faster swimmers as a threat to you who will interfere with you going fast and prevent you from achieving your goals!

For example, several years ago I worked with a 16-year-old swimmer who changed teams in the middle of her season because her family had to relocate to another state for her dad's new job. Within a week of Susan being on this new team, it became very clear that she was by far, the fastest swimmer in the senior group. Five of her new teammates, who had felt displaced by Susan's speed, didn't hide their resentment of her. In fact, even their mothers joined in to make Susan feel quite unwelcomed on the team. Susan's new teammates even had the audacity to confront her a few weeks later and resentfully tell her, “You're the reason we'll probably not get our zone cuts!”

Their faulty belief about Susan was quite obvious. If another swimmer is faster than you, then they are a primary obstacle and threat to you reaching your own goals. It's as if another swimmer's success will directly take away from your own success. Not only is this belief false, but the exact opposite is actually true. The faster your teammates and opponents are than you, the better opportunity YOU have to grow and develop as a swimmer. Simply put, with the proper attitude, faster swimmers will always make you a much better swimmer.

However, this can never happen if you spend too much mental energy thinking about and focusing on other swimmers in practice or at meets. In fact, this is the main reason that a swimmer will get psyched and intimidated before races. They don't “stay in their own lane” so-to-speak. Instead, they allow their focus of concentration to drift to the other swimmer and thoughts about how good this individual might be. As a result, they get far too nervous and physically tight to swim to their potential.

Try to keep in mind that faster swimmers, when viewed in the right way, will help you reach your goals in the pool. As your “training partner,” they will inspire and motivate you to keep working hard. They will lift your level of performance. They will model what it takes to be successful. They will show you what's possible! So rather than comparing yourself with these better athletes and killing your self-confidence in the process, carefully study them. Look at how they train. Examine how they take interact with the coaches. Allow yourself to learn from them. View them positively as someone who can help you get better and faster.

And if you race against these individuals and lose, or if they easily make the intervals while you struggle and fail to, try to refrain from emotionally beating yourself up. Try to stay positive and curious. Ask yourself, “What are they doing that I'm not? What did I do that held me back? What do I need to do differently? Is there anything that I can learn from these swimmers for next time?”

Remember, faster swimmers will always help, NOT hurt your development as an athlete. They are your most important training partners. They will help you reach your dreams. They should NEVER be viewed as a threat or an obstacle towards your goals.