12 Ways for Swimmers to Build Unstoppable Confidence

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for swimmers, coaches and parents by clicking here.

We see the top achievers in our sport walk around with a cap-full of confidence and we tend to believe—quite mistakenly—that they were born with it. That they have always had unbelievable optimism, courage and poise.

Not so.

Confidence isn’t something you are born with. And it isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a natural byproduct of the environment you create around yourself and the actions that you take.

Here are 12 tips for swimmers to develop unstoppable levels of confidence and unleash some thunder on their swim workouts:

1. Stay on top of your sleep.

Training at full capacity, in addition to the homework, social commitments and Netflix is tough. Real tough. You can use that as a crutch for decreased performance, but the “not enough time” isn’t an excuse.

Decreased sleep has a host of performance benefits in the water, but you notice it most in your mood, stress levels and rate of perceived effort.

2. Master the voice in your head.

The way we talk to ourselves has very real consequences. Remember, our actions always start out as “harmless” little thoughts.

If you are really struggling with staying positive in training, and you are blasting yourself every chance you see (“I missed the hard interval in the main set, obviously I’m a crappy swimmer”) your actions and behaviors will follow suite.

When swimmers master their self-talk, they master their actions–and resulting levels of confidence.

3. Gain perspective with gratitude.

Yeah, I know, it can be tough to be optimistic when we are injured. Or sick. Or training is going poorly.

But a little bit of perspective, by injecting some regular gratitude (Katie Ledecky uses her logbook as home-base for regular gratitude-taking), you can help lend perspective to the situation.

Sometimes we need to remember how good we have it in order to find the energy and momentum to overcome the trials in our life.

4. Chart a path forward.

The worst place you can be mentally is staying stuck within your problem or tough situation. Thinking endlessly about how not awesome things are going doesn’t help you get out of it any faster.

Instead, chart a way out and forward through the sticky periods in your life and training.

This does a couple quick things: it gives you control of the situation, which will give you a quick hit of that confidence stuff, while also taking your mind off of the problem and on the solution instead.

5. Mind your body language.

Next time you are at practice look around at your teammates and see which ones have bad body language and those who don’t. The surest symptom of low confidence is that familiar and universal set of rolled over shoulders, scowl, crossed arms, and rolling eyes.

Similar to self-talk, using bad body language like this not only drives our coaches mental, but it has a very real effect on our performance.

Stand up straight, put your chin up, and face the world like the little chlorinated boss that you are.

6. Challenge yourself on the regular.

Confidence and optimism is pretty easy to fake. But the real, organic, farm-to-table confidence comes from action. It comes from doing, from overcoming limits, and challenging yourself regularly.

This means setting training goals regularly.

Nothing gives you that white-hot feeling of “Oh man, I am going to deeeestroy my best times this weekend” then progressively escalating things in training.

7. Pick your clique wisely.

It’s cute to think that the company we keep doesn’t have a measurable impact on us and our swimming. But that’s not the case.

If our closets friends on the team are all of the lane-pullin’, early am practice skippin’, not-listening-to-the-coach-when-he-explains-sets variety no matter how committed we are to our goals those behaviors will rub off on us.

Choose to spend your time who will actually promote your goals, and you will never have to be embarrassed about doing the extra work to accomplish your goals again.

8. Be accountable to yourself.

It’s frustrating having a really bad meet or a bad practice and not owning that performance. It’s understandable, in a sense—it’s always going to be easier to blame others for the way our swim went down.

The warm-up pool was too busy. The water was too cold. The bus wasn’t on time.

Ultimately, though, if you want to develop the confidence and mindset of the elite of the elite you need to take yourself to task for your swimming. This means tracking and evaluating your training and competitions.

9. Develop your “why.”

I regularly hear from swimmers via the newsletter that they are feeling bored in training. Workouts are dragging on and they are finding it difficult to stay focused for the duration of the practice.

I am going to tell you what I told them—find your “why.”

Having an overall goal for your swimming is crucial, and you need to remind yourself of it constantly. Michael Phelps kept his list of goals beside his bed so that he knew why he was getting out of bed in the early mornings.

You can do the same thing by writing out a list of goals, and revisiting them before each workout, each morning, and each night before bed as you reflect on your day.

10. Avoid the confidence-crushing dips in training.

I cannot count how many swimmers I watched over the years spoil unbelievable amounts of potential by being inconsistent in training. They would show up, throw down a couple epic swim practices, before disappearing off the face of the earth for a few days, a week, or even a couple weeks.

This kind of inconsistency in training is a complete and total confidence killer.

It’s impossible to build any momentum or fill up our reservoir of confidence when we are constantly in a state of “getting back into it.”

Make consistency an overriding priority.

11. Learn from your setbacks.

One of the worst parts about being wildly inconsistent, as I described in the previous point, is that these athletes never seemed to learn from their missteps. They would renew their effort, bang out a few more days of training, and then the cycle would simply repeat itself, over and over again.

When we misstep, be willing to be honest and vulnerable with yourself enough to come to terms with why it happened in the first place.

Denial is a powerful thing, so if you are having a difficult time getting to the root of your setbacks (or misconceptions) sit down with your coach and parents and be willing to subject yourself to some constructive criticism.

12. Don’t underestimate the power of small wins.

When we think of confidence and success in the pool we tend to view it in terms of broad strokes. As though those gold medal performances were accomplished with one big, dramatic turn of events in training.

But what actually happened was just a long, successive series of small wins that added up to one fantastic swim or swimmer.

Small wins, applied regularly, also have a powerful effect on your confidence: if you are showing up every day and accomplishing something small and noteworthy this infuses a steady stream of confidence that keeps you chasing the dream.

The Takeaway

Give one, two or more of the tips above a try over the next few days of training. Incorporate a little bit attitude, some resilience, and some accountability to your swimming.

There is a massively confident swimmer within you; all it takes is for you to proactively bring that mentally unstoppable athlete out.

About YourSwimBook

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About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, swim coach, and best-selling author. His writing has been featured on USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming, NBC Sports Universal, the Olympic Channel, and much more. He has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 …

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