Mental Skills Training Introduction:

As swimmers you put in the grueling hours in the pool day in and day out always striving to get in that extra edge. With that in mind, we wanted to help add to your competitive edge by including a page on Mental Skills Training. Why are mental skills important? If you want to accomplish your goals then you have to think of success as a process, a habit of mind, a strategy for life. You must train the way you approach races mentally. The next few weeks on this skills corner is designed to help you achieve your goals. Each week we will be presenting topics like self-awareness, self-confidence, goal setting and more.  For further question you may email:                                                                                       

Topic 1: Self - Awareness                                     

Self Awareness is the way in which you regard yourself both as a person and as a competitive swimmer. It can affect how you think, what you feel and what you do. Being self- aware will help you recognize your own uniqueness, and help you realize that you are a very special athlete, individual and develop a true identity. Becoming self- aware as a swimmer is important because it will help you recognize your capabilities as a competitive swimmer so that you can become the swimmer you've always wanted to be.

Ways To Improve Your Self- Awareness:

  • Selectively listening to and hearing constructive feedback from coaches
  • Observing yourself occasionally through the eyes of the coach
  • Putting in 100% effort everyday
  • Confronting yourself honestly and regulary in terms of your abilities, your committment and your progress. 

Self- Awareness Article:

The Coolest Thing That Happens When Swimmers Work on Their Mental Training



Topic 2: Goal Setting:

What is a Goal? A goal is something you aspire to do or wish to achieve. A goal must be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely).

What is goalsetting and why is Goalsetting important?  Goalsetting is a valuable tool that helps you stay focused, determined and can guide you to be the successful swimmer you want to be. It can help you stay motivated in addition to holding yourself accountable. To enhance goalsetting effectiveness it is important for you to consrtantly monitor and evaluate your progress and to refine your goals as necessary.

Are there different types of goals? Yes. There are many different types of goals that you can set to help you become a better swimmer. Below are just a few:

  1. Long Term Goals- (Dream Big)- These goals require that you look deep inside yourself and ask the question "what do I think is possible as a competitive swimmer if I commit 100% effort into every practice and every detail of my swimming?"
  2. Short Term Goals (Daily Goals)- These goals will answer the question "What do I have to do today as a swimmer to meet y long term goals?" These sub goals.  will help to keep your long term goals in perspective. The can be important training goals and practical plans that help ahtletes move toward their long range goals. 
  3. Training Goals- Set daily conditioning goals that integrage both the mental and the physical aspects of training. These goals will help keep yourself firmly on track. Goals reflect your beliefs and predispose you to behaving in accord with your beliefs.
  4. Attitude Goals- These goals involve developing the right mental habit to training and competition and are inclusive of following up with the appropriate action. They involve the mental skills.
  5. Skill Goals- These goals involve technical aspects of your perfomance such as your technique and mechanics as they relate to the strokes, starts and turns etc. Examples of skill goals include things like body alognemtn, stroke timeing, path of pull, start, turns, etc. 

Short Term Goals:

When it comes to events and meets we swim we like to use Short and Long Term Goals to help us evaluate our progress. We broke down Short Term Goal setting into 3 levels so that you may understand how it applies to your swimmer at the level of competitive swimming they are in.

The 3 Levels of Goal Setting:

Level 1(Swimmers ages 9-10)

  • Basic: An introduction to goal setting. Swimmers at this level may be learning about goals and why they are important
  • Events: Swimmers at this level should be able to set a goal that is not neccesarily time oriented (ex. I want to get better at breastroke).

Level 2: (Swimmers ages 10-12)

  • Basic: Swimmers at this level should be able to set a more "qualifying time" focused goal. 
  • Events/Meets: Swimmers at this level should have an idea of what swim meets they want to qualify for or what they want to get an "A" time in.
  • Challenge: The goal may be "safe" in terms of challenges and expectations.

Level 3: ( Swimmers ages 12 and up):

  • Basic: Knowing current times and setting goal times based on projected improvement
  • Meets: Having a goal for qualifying for meets you may not have qualified for
  • Events: Having a goal for all events, and a higher level goal for best events
  • Challenge: Swimmers at this level should make goals a little "scary". Challenge themselves to succeed. 


Goalsetting articles:

5 Step Plan For Making Better Swimmers

Goal Setting For Confident Swimmers

1 Thing in Goal Setting That Separates the Best From the Rest

Goal Sheets:

Identifying Barriers That You Need In Order To Reach Your Goals

Goal Sheet for Competitive Swimmers



Topic 3: Relaxation

Being relaxed is very important when it comes to swimming. The mind, especially when it is over-anxious can affect your body before your race and you don’t even realize it. You may start to experience things like increased heart rate, muscle tension, loss of focus and to over think your race.

Types of Anxiety:

Cognitive anxitey: when you are experiencing feelings of apprehension, concern, guilt, self-doubt, or fear in the face of training and competition demands. 

Somative anxitey: experiencing feelings of unesieness, muscle tightness and quesiness. 

Competitive anxiety: cannt be avoided but must be managed to your advantage. You can lear to cope by being aware of and recognizing your own personal stress levels and by:

  • focusing on specific problems once you are aware of them
  • building up emotional resilience and using mental skills like positive self-talk 

The good thing is, there are ways to prevent these things from happening.

  • Focus on doing your best and not the things that you cannot control. Instead focus on:
    • What you can control
    • What you need to do
    • What you can do
    • What you are good at doing
  • Techniques:
    • Controlled breathing exercises
    • Progressive relaxation techniques
    • Locate tension in your body and stretch those muscles
    • Engage in positive self talk

Relaxation Articles



Topic 4: Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility: Responsibility is important when it comes to growth in life. Your improvement in times are important, but, your growth in your personal responsibilty is as well. Personal Responsibility means you're able to hold yourself accountable and being in charge of yourself. 

The 3 Levels of Personal Responsibility:

Level 1: (Swimmers just starting out. Swimmers 8 and under). At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Basic: It is important for swimmers at this level to be attentive and aware of what is going on at practice and make sure that they are listening to their coach.
  • Be on Time: Being on time at this level is important as it carries on throughout your swimmer's career.  
  • Have your Equipment: It is important for swimmers at this level to have their cap/goggles and water bottle when arriving to practice. 

Level 2: ( Swimmers who have been swimming for a few years. Swimmers ages 9-13). At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Basic - Swimmers at this level are still expected to be attentive and aware of what is happening at practice, such as listening to their coach and paying attention to their workout, however, they are also encouraged to take initiative.
  • In the Pool. Swimmers at this level are expected to take initiative. A way for a swimmer to take initiative at this level would be asking for help on a stroke, what they may do to get better in an event or when can they can make up a missed practice.
  • Outside the Pool: Swimmers at this level should be able to carry/ be responsible for their own equipment. Swimmers at this level should have their caps and goggles ready for practice and be to practice on time. 
  • Solutions to Problems: At this level swimmers should begin to have the ability to solve problems on their own. They should be able to recognize a problem before it arises, such a missing a practice and know how to make it up. 

Level 3 ( Advanced swimmers. Swimmers up to age 18): At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Basic - the swimmer should be attentive, aware, take initiative, self- sufficient and be proactive. At this level swimmers should be able to do things on their own such as being responsible for and packing their own bag and setting their own alarm.
  • Outside the Pool- swimmers should be able to read the group page, accept/decline within deadline for team events and know where they need to be and be there on time.  
  • In the Pool-  swimmers should be able to have knowledge of their own strokes, know their pace, understand intervals and when to leave the wall on-time. In addition swimmers should be able to find places to swim if they will be away.
  • During and after Competition- at this level it is important for swimmers to be able to learn and grow from discouraging swims. Instead, talk to your coach and try and come up with a solution to the problem.
  • As a teammate, you should be aware that your actions affect more than just you.   


Personal Responsibility Articles:

Helpful Documents: See how you're doing with your Personal Responsibility using the checklist below!




 Topic 5: Group Responsibility   

Group Responsibility: When ones actions/thoughts/words affect more than just themselves.


Level 1(Swimmers just starting out.). At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Basic: Know their lanes.
  • Equipment: Gathering equipment for the lane (kickboards)
  • Behavior: Locker room Edicate - We aren't the only renters at various pools.
  • Circle Swimming: Swimming on the right side of the lane. Going 5 seconds apart.

Level 2: ( Swimmers who have been swimming for a few years.). At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Lane Choice: Swimmer chooses lane based on their knowledge of their own speed.
  • Lane Organization:. Swimmers know how to organize themselves in the lane based on speed of other swimmers.
  • Dryland Equipment/Team Equipment: Swimmers take responsibility to lay out/put away equipment; working together to ensure equipment is protected and used properly.

Level 3 ( Advanced swimmers.): At this level swimmers should be able to:

  • Positive Peer Pressure: Swimmers speak up to other members of the group.
  • Interval: Swimmers choose their intervals on certain swimming sets. 

Oxford Scholarship Online

Groups in which a substantial number of the members are collectively committed to the group (to its ethos and to each other concerning ethos promotion), are normatively responsible—in a control-based sense of responsibility—for their actions and for what their members, also violators and dissidents, do. 

Penn State Online Tutorials

As a team, students are responsible for:

  • Solving problems.
  • Consulting other groups, if necessary, to clear up confusion.
  • Helping group members and members of other groups (if asked).
  • Working together to achieve tasks and goals.


Link to Articles



Topic 6: Self- Talk        

Self- Talk is your internal dialogue. It is the talk or thoughts directed at yourself throughout the day. Understanding self-talk is important because the messages we say to ourselves (whether they are positive or negative) tend to be believed after a certain amount of time. Self- Talk can be both positive or negative. Self-talk is very critical when it comes to performance as many times athletes compete the way they think and feel. 

Positive self-talk: will help you improve your self-esteem. You will need to use your self- talk to help motivate yourself through workouts and competition. Positive self-talk will also be useful during school when it comes to tests and other challenging moments. 

Negative Self- Talk-  any thoughts or inner dialogue that you may have with yourself that may hinder your belief in yourself. Your negative self-talk will only increase your self-doubt. Self-doubt is something we all want to avoid. If we doubt what we can accomplish, it will be hard to achieve our goals.

Helpful Tips for the Athlete:

  1. Be totally aware of your self-talk. 
  2. Be aware of kind of thinking if helpful and harmful
  3. Think and re-think, re and re-read positive self statements until they become a part of you.
  4. You cannot hope to be perfect, or get best times in everything you do. Avoid beating yourself up when things go wrong.
  5. Instead of focusing on best times, focus on 100%  effort each time. 
  6. Make sure that your self- talk is positive and upbeat.


Helpful Documents:

Self Talk Worksheet   

Self-Talk Articles:

Positive Self-Talk: How Talking To Yourself is a Good Thing

3 Proven Ways Self-Talk Can Help You Swim Faster

How To Use Self-Talk For Better Swim Practices



Topic 7: Mental Imagery/ Visualization:

Mental Imagery- is a skill athletes use to accomplish their goals. It can be used to achieve goals through mental preparation for success. Imagery can also be used to help adjust pre-competitive and competitive mood and energy levels (for example, if you are too nervous, you can help yourself relax through the process of mental imagery.) Mental Imagery can be found in most levels of where your competitive swimmer is at in their career. 

There are 3 different types of Mental Imagery:

Positive- Imagery that sets yourself up for success. One that requires a swimmer to learn new skills and strategies.

Negative – Imagery that leads to an undesirable performance. Goes hand-in-hand with Self-Talk

Motivational: Imagery that is exciting you to your performance possibilities and keeping you focused on the task. This type of imagery enhances your self-confidence and controls your competitive anxiety levels.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Always begin with a brief relaxation exercise (controlled breathing)
  2. Sit comfortably
  3. Start with visualizing a simple skill (a turn) or setting (100 freestyle) or situation (false start) and gradually add as many senses to the picture as necessary.
  4. Develop your imagery techniques by linking them to the gradual accomplishment of your goals.
  5. Use submodalities to give more reality to your imagery – size, color, brightness, loudness, clarity, true dimensions, etc.
  6. Believe that your imagery is effective- expect it to work for you as it does for other athletes.

Imagery training involves several steps:

1. Awareness of Imagery Patterns and Skills- Not everyone can imagine in complete detail or with complete control. It may take alot of practice. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind and in a relaxed area when you begin. 

2. Learning and Practicing Imagery Exercises- For Imagery to be as powerful as it can be, it must be practiced. It is not something that can come naturally. You should test your strength and weaknesses and areas that you need to improve on. There are exercise documents below that can help you along the way. 

3. Design your own Individualized Imagery Program-  Once you are hooked on an imagery, create your own pictures, scenarios and feelings that fit into that imagery. 

  • Evoke feelings
  • Use a single image
  • Use creative imagery in routines, strategies and interventions
  • Include you in the image
  • Be literal
  • Use personal images that have meaning to you to physically act our your image. Create a meaningful motivational collage. 

Mental Imagery/Visualization in Your Competitive Swimmer:

Level 1: Knowing what the race will be like/feel like/look like. This is a very advanced level. At this level swimmers should begin to imagine ways in which they can accomplish their goals. A good place to start is to ask yourself  "can I describe my ideal race?"  Afterwards practice your mental imagery and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was I able to see myself swimming at the ideal tempo?
  • Was I able to see myself having a fast start/turn/breakout?
  • Was I able to see myself executing my race strategy correctly?
  • What do you expect of yourself during your race?

This may take several tries, however mental Imagery takes a lot practice to master. Try not to get discouraged, mental imagery can be a powerful tool if it is something you are really interested in using. 

Helpful Exercises:

Mental Imagery Exercise #1 

Mental Imagery Exercise #2  

Mental Imagery Exercise #3  

Helpful Articles:

How To Use Visualization to Swim Like a Boss

How To Use Visualization to Improve Your Swimming