5 Life Lessons You Will Get From Swimming

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

Did you know that swimming can provide you with the tools you need for achieving success later in life?

I am not talking about time management and sportsmanship, although those two things are super important. Nor am I talking about having the ability to deck change faster than Clark Kent turns into Superman, or figuring out how to iron out the goggle and cap marks on your face before yearbook photos.

The following life lessons aren’t things you can put on your resume, and they aren’t taught in a classroom. They are dished out in the school of hard knocks, and if you pay enough attention over the course of your swimming career, you can unleash these lessons to achieve success in whatever endeavor you choose.

Here are 5 valuable life lessons to draw from the countless hours we spend paddling around in big, chlorinated buckets of water:

Making big improvements requires patience.

Patience has never been something I have been all that good with. Once I decide that I want something, if there is not significant and immediate progress visible quickly I tend to get rather frustrated. I want my awesome swimming goals and I want them five minutes ago.

From the emails I get on a weekly basis, and in watching fellow swimmers over the years I suspect that I am far from alone in this respect.

Often what will result is that you will create a list of unrealistic expectations that match up to the lofty stuff you want to accomplish. Things like having perfect workouts every time out. Or seeing improvement every single session. Or pushing yourself too soon, too fast, landing yourself on the DL.

Long term progress requires patience in the short term.

You gotta be able to paddle before you can swim.

Having those big lofty goals is necessary to achieve success in the pool. You need to have that compass that provides you with direction and purpose over the course of a long season in the pool.

Sometimes those big goals can be our worst enemy, however.

With the excitement of achieving big things on our minds, our veins pumping with excitement and drive, we hurtle headfirst towards our goals with reckless abandon. Overcome with enthusiasm we assume that we can skip the beginning steps, that because we deserve it, because we are more talented, or because we simply don’ t have the time for the necessary work.

Taking baby steps can be infuriatingly too slow for some people, but successful swimmers know that this slow grind provides a cumulative effect that makes a massive dent in the mid and long term.

Success in the pool – and life – is achieved step by step, mistake by mistake, small win by small win.

You’re not going to win every time.

One of the quickest ways to see how people deal with the peaks and valleys in life is to watch them have a bad race.

Do they quietly pout back to the stands, foregoing warm-down and giving up on the rest of the meet? Do they spaz out, punch the touchpad and storm off inconsolably? Or do they walk back to the coach, head down, but resolved to bounce back?

Over the course of your swimming career, there will be times where you graze the top of the podium, just like there will be times that you place DFL.

You are going to have bad races. There are going to be times where life just doesn’t seem fair, where you should have won but didn’t, those performances that weren’t reflective of the work and commitment you had invested in the water.

The question then becomes, equally in the pool as it applies to life outside of the lane lines—how will you bounce back? What will you do to make that particular setback the best thing to ever happen to you?

Results come because you are good a lot, not because you are perfect sometimes.

I will admit that I have caught myself wearing the perfectionist outlook numerous times over the years.

I mistakenly told myself that every workout had to be a 10/10, took the bad swims personally, and valued myself far too much on what I accomplished in the pool.

The reality is this: Not every swimming workout will go perfectly. Not every race will go according to plan. Mistakes, DQ’s and suit rips will happen. And your self-esteem should not entirely rest on what you do with your swimming.

When we learn to chase greatness instead of perfection in the pool and in life we discover that we are more resilient to failure by creating more realistic goals. By chasing 8’s and 9’s in practice we make far more progress as opposed to expecting every workout be an elusive (and impossible) 10. Chase goals that are challenging, yet realistic, the accomplishment of which pushes us ever further.

It’s all mental.

Swimming, and sport, provides an exceptional proving ground for testing your mental limits.

I cannot count how many times I watched coach write a set up on the board (“oh wow…and he is going to put brackets around that thing too?” and felt myself inwardly cower, mind racing, with thoughts of how badly I was going to die over the course of the set.

But then what happened? I got in. Started the set, and talked myself through it. “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” A little bit later: “Okay, halfway done.” And finally, “I am going to punch this last rep in the face!”

The reality is you never know how shockingly tough you are until you are in the soup, crushing that set even though mere minutes prior you were mentally quivering in your swimsuit. This carries really well into the other challenges you will face in the course of your life. Things like epic writing assignments at university. Taking on large projects in work. Starting a family.

We always think we aren’t capable, that swimming or life finally has our number, but believe it or not, you will always be as strong as you need to be.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

COACHES & CLUBS: Yuppers–we do team orders of “Conquer the Pool” which includes a team discount as well as complimentary branding (your club logo on the cover of the book) at no additional charge.

Want more details? Click here for a free estimate on a team order of CTP.

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6 years ago

Swimming is definitely mental toughness training. From the days of dreading a swim-a-thon to the old 2000 for time breaststrokes, test sets, etc… I have the mental toughness to help me get through mowing the lawn during the middle of an August day in Texas!

6 years ago

“Results come because you are good a lot, not because you’re perfect sometimes.”

That’s good stuff.

2 years ago

I think it also teaches you that life is not fair- which is a crucial aspect to understand. There always going to be people faster than you and there is nothing you can do to change that. People are just more gifted than others genetically wise, and going through the sport of swimming teaches you that the world is not fair and there will always be people with more advantages than you. Thats not to say give up, but it is an important realization to understand that just because you work hard does not mean you will be successful. It is certainly a method to become successful, but it does not guarantee it. Do not get too caught up being… Read more »

Reply to  leonardmatt
2 years ago

Its how you see things through the ages. The folks that went to Senior Nationals when I was a teenager few of them are swimming today. I looked up the masters results and don’t see there names.. You can be a slow poke as a kid but faster as a middle age or senior citizen swimmer. Life changes with age. Remember at 60-64 few swimmers do races anymore if you looked at the data based of masters.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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