5 Reasons That Swimmers Fail

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

Think about the big thing you want to accomplish with your swimming. It’s what you dream about at night, fantasize about when you should be paying attention in class, the tug you feel early in the morning when you are struggling to get out of bed for morning workout.

It goes without saying that for a great majority of us, we screw up a lot. Some of us with more frequency than others, but none of us are perfect, and certainly none of us act perfectly. (Something illustrated recently by a certain Mr. Phelps.)

Here are 5 of the more common ways that swimmers impede progress towards the swimming goals they ache for:

RELATED: 5 Swimming Posters to Motivate You

1. You stubbornly refuse to learn the lessons necessary to progress.

With every step that we take — whether it is a step forward or a step backward — there are lessons to be learned, feedback to be gleaned. Regardless of if we totally nailed it or totally bombed, if we aren’t learning along the way the experience is wasted.

The lessons learned can come in a variety of forms: You realize that yes, you can’t get away with half-nights of sleep for the week leading up to the big meet. Or that how you treat your body outside of the pool makes a difference. Or that your coach’s instruction — that went largely ignored — could have made the difference in placing 1st instead of 5th.

Thinking that you have all of the answers might make you feel nice, but you know what feels even better? Being great.

2. You’re afraid of standing above the crowd.

Doing something special with our swimming is threatening to the complacent among us. It opens a window into what is possible, and for some of our peers they’d prefer that window be shut so that they can brush aside their own failed aspirations.

As a result people will tell you that it cannot be done, that it will never be done, and that you cannot do it. Don’t buy into this small-minded group think.

If you are serious about doing something special with your swimming it’s crucial that you understand that to do so is abnormal. It’s weird. It goes against what is typical, what is average, what is common.

3. You’re giving up way too early.

It’s frustrating when things don’t come together the way you expect them to. You train your butt off in the pool, and yet when it comes to race time the results come up short of your expectations. As a result you beat yourself up mentally, the race having reaffirmed all of the fears and doubts you had of yourself. Not talented enough. Not deserving. Not good enough. And so on.

At this point it is normal to feel like giving up. To let those doubts sink in and take firm root.

We tend to take our failures too personally. We take a perceived lack of progress as a sign that the goal is impossible, and give up on things way too soon. In those moments remember that anything worth having doesn’t come easy.

Strife is a normal part of the process, so take a deep breath, and bounce back twice as focused and determined.

4. You’re not willing to do what it takes.

Our brains are inherently lazy. It’s why we have to motivate ourselves to go train, it’s why we need to instill habits that override our brain’s instinct to do the least amount of work possible. Your brain is like this, so is mine, and so is everybody else’s.

To do what you have never done before, you will have to do more than you are currently doing. This means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you see what has to be done, and are still unwilling to do it, that’s fine. Interstellar swimming isn’t for everyone. But if it is something you do want, get into the mindset that you are going to have to do it better and more gangster than the next swimmer.

5. You’re not capitalizing on your successes.

You banged out a solid cycle of training. Nailed the taper. Stood up on the blocks and cranked out the swim of your life. But then when training resumed the following week you felt yourself adrift, aimless, and with the afterglow of a successful meet fading fast you discover that you aren’t that interested in putting the work in anymore.

After a little while the momentum you generated heading into that big meet has evaporated and you find yourself struggling to simply get back to where you were.

So what happened here?

A common reason this let-down happens is that you invested yourself completely in the outcome of the meet. You laid it all on the line for that one performance, letting the outcome of that particular race define you and your swimming.

Instead of focusing on being a championship swimmer at meet time, focus on being a championship swimmer every day in practice.

Once you take care of the process, the day-to-day grind of showing up and laying a whooping on your workouts, than the results seem to take care of themselves.

About YourSwimBook

YourSwimBook is a log book and goal setting guide designed specifically for competitive swimmers. It includes a ten month log book, comprehensive goal setting section, monthly evaluations to be filled out with your coach, and more. Learn 8 more reasons why this tool kicks butt.

NEW: We now have motivational swimming posters. Five of ’em, actually.

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King Kong
6 years ago

6. Your rate teammate

Bogdan Vladu
8 years ago

Not having a vision, a goal, guidance or mentorship. Swimming because you’re good, made the team but not a priority. A lesson to coaches….
Develop competitors not just swimmers.
Telling all young swimmers they are good and made of winning material is the difference between great and good. Mind, confidence and attitude does make a difference.

Reply to  Bogdan Vladu
8 years ago

Telling all young swimmers they are good and made of winning material can be detrimental. Not everyone is capable of being Michael Phelps / making a national team / getting a Juniors cut. Telling them otherwise may be the ultimate cause of eventual “failure.”

9 years ago

Mel, I disagree with these failure patterns. I feel like these “failures” are simply steps in the process to success. The only true failure is giving up when you run into any of these internal conversations, but swimming nurtures the athlete as she/he grows THROUGH these stages and a good coach will push, pull, drag (or whatever it takes) the athlete through this. Failure is a necessary step toward success.

9 years ago

Perhaps over training?

9 years ago

#4 is really all of them.

NOT doing what it takes. It’s a simple concept but hard pill for many. While athletic talents differ person to person, some can over-acheive (as I saw) by simply going to practice everyday, giving it your ALL, eating SMART with lots of protein, and :::: DONT DRINK::: seriously, swimmers booze, and love to booze, but sometimes it’s that 2 steps back thing that happens.

If you ask ex-swimmers what was the biggest thing that held them back, it will all boil down to #4. This includes getting sleep, stretching, eating right, dryland training, etc… And understanding what it really takes. I saw MOST of my teammates in college just “getting by” and not… Read more »

9 years ago

No. 1 reason. You are just not fast enough.

Reply to  PAC12BACKER
9 years ago

Okay, but that’s why we’re here – to have fun and get faster.

Reply to  mikeh
6 years ago

Ask any gold medalist how much fun they had training. As a society, we have gotten away from the notion that resilience and struggle are sometimes the only prizes to earn from the sacrifices of practice. None of the swimmers on my team look at the sport as “fun.” We are all trying to out perform each other, nothing more, nothing less. Fun has nothing to do with it.

Reply to  PAC12BACKER
6 years ago

Well stated.

9 years ago

one thing I have learned in Masters swimming is to relax more prior to the race. I do not think I ever learned that in my younger years. do not get me wrong …I still get psyched up and have goals and dreams and want to win every race. In Masters at the meets where everything is about fun and enjoying the experience …it helps me relax and in turn I swim faster and more under control than I did as a age grouper and collegiate swimmer.

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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