10 Swim Coaches Share Their Wisdom on Mental Toughness


Mental toughness for me is when your Mind Overcomes your Body. Your Body may try to revolt because its tired and tries to shut down, but the Mind IS and should be in control. I tell my swimmers all the time that the Mind is in charge of your Body and you tell your Body what to do…NOT the other way around!

— Janelle Atkinson-Wignall, NCAA Division I


At RWU we stress the value of ROUTINE & keeping the mind in the PRESENT. Great athletes are all creatures of habit, and I feel if we can keep our student-athletes focused on improving their routines and the process of greatness, we’ll have more athletes ‘Getting In The Zone’ at championships. So to me, mental toughness is more about being composed, focused on your routine, & keeping the mind in the present, no matter what the situational environment may be.

— Matt Emmert, NCAA Division III


One of my favorite quotes is on a banner in our pool area that one of our former swimmers used to say, “No Excuses.” Ian O’Neill was a member of our team and lived with Cystic Fibrosis, a terrible lung disease that would hospitalize him for weeks at a time. Upon his release, Ian would immediately return to practice and meets and if he wasn’t happy with his performance, the coaches would point out that he just had been in the hospital and is weak and out of shape. He would say, “No excuse.” Plain and simple. He expected more of himself and therefore we did as well. He was one of the toughest kids I have ever coached.

— Keira Cruz, Club, 15-18


To me mental toughness is different for every swimmer/athlete. To one swimmer, going through a series of challenging sets may put them in their comfort zone while competing in a big meet will require them to advance to a different stage of mental toughness. Another swimmer practicing in the same group may be the opposite. This is what makes it so challenging and rewarding helping the athletes to realize where they need to improve and become more mentally tough to achieve their goals.

— Matt Elko, Club, 15-18


Mental toughness is required to be a successful swimmer. Swimming is a sport where you train hard, but still may go five or six months without swimming a personal best time. It can push mental boundaries, causing some to be easily frustrated and take days off. The swimmer that has the ability to rise above the frustration and recognize the end goal, and then train through the mental and physical exhaustion is the one with long-term success.

— Sean McCrudden, Club, 13-18


“The only easy day was yesterday.” This philosophy the US Navy seals live by always stuck out to me as a way to approach your training and practice staying mentally tough during the hardest workouts. Every day there is a new challenge to meet in the pool. Everyday you need to make sure you’re working harder than the last, so yesterday seems easy compared to today. Knowing you got through yesterday’s tough practice should motivate you to work harder during today’s practice no matter how hard the workout may be. This mindset allows you to never hold back as you attack the most brutal sets with no fear. Once this philosophy has been applied to your work ethic and mental toughness in the pool, it makes handling difficult situations much easier to manage outside of the pool throughout your life.

— Ian Keyser, High School


Each day, swimming breaks a swimmers’ mindset. Racing against the clock, winning/losing a race, practice, or trying to make a cut for a big meet….that type of mental toughness is hard to have. I tell my 13-14 year old swimmers after a race, “how did that feel” instead of how they think they did, because when in doubt, they will say “good,” if the time is good, or” bad,” if the time is bad. Swimmers are caught up in RIGHT NOW and don’t think about a month from now. During the season, swimmers’ bodies are beat up. They are worked to their breaking point. Having a strong head to work through that pain is necessary. Mental toughness is one aspect of the sport which makes or breaks each and every swim and the whole season.

— Kim Lawson, Club, 13-14


When young kids first begin swimming, the majority of them are unaware of the mental toughness that goes along with the sport. Part of being a coach is to help children develop the toughness and strength that swimming requires. Every once and awhile I’ll see a boy who stops during a race halfway because his goggles fell off, or a young girl crying before her race because she’s nervous to swim the 25 fly. Encouraging these kids to never give up and to do their best is just a little bit of advice that goes a long way. Learning to have confidence in yourself and your swimming is how to overcome any mental obstacles that can keep you from achieving your goal.

Kayla Purcell, Recreational, 5-12


I tell my little guys that I have three rules:
Respect your teammates and coaches.
Always do your best.
And most importantly, have fun!

— Mike Turkot, Club, 9-10


Success isn’t a matter of talent or strength. Regardless of your physical ability, on the starting block it all boils down to tucking your chin in and shutting out every single distraction: the swimmer in the next lane, the screams of your teammates, the thunderous beating of your heart. When all you can feel is the pull of your body against the water you become limitless… The rest will follow.

— Claire Wilson, Recreational, 8 & under

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5 Comments on "10 Swim Coaches Share Their Wisdom on Mental Toughness"

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These are amazing. Thanks for compiling them together.

Gina Rhinestone

#6 is a bit much . Little kids are not SEALS ( I am assured it is an acronym & must always be capitalised) . SEALS are trained to kill with skill,& subtlety & formerly held a code of discretion & the necessity to forget yesterday .

Plus there are no females in SEALS so how could their philosophy be applicable to a swim squad ?

Gina Rhinestone

To the downtickers – it is an ultra elite force for which there are many entry & continuing psychological testings . It is abuse to apply those ( or what this coach perceives to be ) mental strategies to a high school swim squad .

Neither you nor I know what happens in SEALS or the Russian equivalent Spetnatz ( not an acro) .it is war not sport .

“You can’t fail unless you quit trying.”

About Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo

  Bryana Cielo Shortly after Bryana Cielo’s birth, she developed her love of water at her family beach house–and hasn’t stopped since. At the conclusion of her swim lessons at age 7, it was recommended that she try out for the local summer swim team. After her first season, she won the …

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