6 Toxic Thoughts Every Swimmer Should Drop

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. You can join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

Over the course of the day we tell ourselves a massive number of things. From reminders, to words of encouragement, to the not-so-so encouraging. It’s no different during our workouts, where we can ride the roller coaster of thoughts through a session in the pool. One moment we are confidant in our abilities, motivated at how we are doing, the next we are doubting ourselves, thinking that all the effort is for naught.

A lot of our negative thoughts fly under the radar, barely noticeable, and yet still making a sizable impact. I can’t do that workout. I don’t deserve success. There’s no way I can go that fast. The odd thing is, you would never let someone else talk to you this way, so why should you allow this type of negativity to sprout from within?

Here are 6 common toxic thoughts that every swimmer should drop:

1. “I want to avoid struggle and risk.”

Often we view struggle as an indication that something is going wrong. That with resistance brings proof that we are not meant to swim fast. If we were meant to be accomplishing great things in the pool than it would be easy, right? Nope.

Nothing worth attaining comes without some measure of sacrifice, hard work, and yes, struggle. Don’t misinterpret struggle or discomfort as a stop sign. Find the challenge within the struggle and grind on.

Remember that there will always be hiccups and setbacks. While not everything is in your control, how you react and grind forward is.

2. “I’ll swim like a boss when I feel up to it.”

There will always be a reason not give your best in the pool. In order to avoid taking up action at that very moment, you’ll seek out every reason imaginable for why now simply isn’t the best time. The lane is too crowded. Had a stressful day. Didn’t get a good enough warm-up.

There will never be a perfect time to give your best, never be a perfect set of conditions where you can unleash your full potential. The only “perfect” moment is the one you have at this very moment.

(Bypass this mental argument by focusing on making working out a habit. Instead of having to psych yourself up every day to get down to swim practice it becomes habitual, automatic.)

3. “I wish I was as tall as Swimmer A, or had the training facilities of Swimmer B.”

It’s hard not to look at our competitors and rivals and not be envious of their better training facilities or better genetics and feel a little envious. If only we were that tall, or had access to their pool, then we would truly excel.

While we cannot always control how tall we become or where we live, we can choose to make the most of what we have. If you’re struggling to get past this mental hurdle, remember that someone will always be looking at you wishing they had your genetic gifts, and your training opportunities.

Focus intently on making the absolute most of everything you have been given, and refuse to fall into the mental trap of wishing for the opportunities that have been given to others.

4. “I couldn’t do it before, so I won’t be able to do it now.”

When we need reminders of how awesome we can be we peer back into our workout log for examples of times where we just killed it in practice. Those moments serve as excellent bookmarks in our book of awesome, and reminds us that we are capable of devastating swimming.

Similarly, when we get into a mental rut we tend to think back to the times where we tried but came up short. We search through our performance history to solidify the doubts we have about leveling up our swimming, unfairly focusing on past mistakes.

Developing a selective memory here is important; learn the lessons of those past failures, and apply them moving forwards.

5. “What will so-and-so think?”

How many times have you stopped short of doing a little more at a recent swim practice, or fully chasing your goals because you were worried about what someone else would think?

The reality is you will always be your harshest critic. While you think other people sit around all day thinking about you and judging your actions, it’s almost completely likely that they won’t give whatever you are doing a second thought.

Do what will bring you closer to your goals. If people are dead set on judging you, that is their problem, and not yours. Don’t allow the opinions of others to influence your performance in the pool.

6. “I’ve missed my opportunity. It’s too late.”

No matter where you are at in your swimming, and what you hope to accomplish, you can always make a change to strive for excellence. Simply because you are frustrated that you haven’t progressed fast enough doesn’t mean you should squander what opportunity you still have in front of you.

Instead of worrying that you didn’t start yesterday, focus on starting today. Remember this: A year from now you will have wished that you had started today.


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.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

This advice really goes far beyond the pool

7 years ago

Like everyone else here says I thought I would have these thoughts stuck in my head so I was afraid of opening this page, but turns out I don’t need to be! I already had these thoughts in my head so thanks for writing this article, you helped me find a way to get past those thoughts 🙂

8 years ago

I have a swim meet in three days, so now these thoughts are going to be stuck inside my head. Awesome.

Some of these thoughts are hard to get rid of, though. I have two younger sisters who are also swimmers. The youngest one and I are both decent, but not what you’d call great. My middle sister is doing really well right now ( ten years old and already qualified for Zones!) and my mom tends to only give good comments about her swimming and always has to find something to criticize about mine. The youngest sister hasn’t been swimming as long, so she doesn’t get a lot of criticism either. Whenever the topic is on swimming, it’s always… Read more »

Reply to  Turtlebrain
6 years ago

Turtlebrain, this breaks my heart as I am sure your mom doesn’t even realize it. Could you talk to your mom about how her comments/criticism and lack of equal attention make you feel? If you have a good relationship with your coach, could you ask your coach to have a meeting with you and your mom so that you have an advocate to support your point of view and hopefully help to frame the conversation in helping you achieve your goals? It is tough for a parent to manage the successes and disappointments of all the children in the family. Perhaps you may want to consider that her criticisms come from seeing your great potential that maybe is not being… Read more »

8 years ago

On the other hand ,doubts & a degree of anxiety are common inbuilt traits. Maybe it is being realistic . I don’t suscribe to the view that they should be expunged & replaced by a faux ( even pharma) super self confidence spruik.

Swim because you like it or because doing so provides an income / scholarship/ fraternity or good pecs .

8 years ago

Thanks for very very inspirational and motivational suggestions to avoid toxic thoughts. I strongly agree with all the points you discussed.

Coach Hatz
8 years ago

This is exactly what I tell my swimmers. Albiet younger swimmers, the above really hits home and really glad to have come accross this. Definate share. Thanks Olivier and Swim Swam

8 years ago

ahh great, now I have these killer thoughts in my mind..:D

Reply to  aswimmer
8 years ago

ha! Me too…

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 …

Read More »