Ian Thorpe once said this: “When I go out and race, I’m not trying to beat opponents. I’m trying to beat what I have done, to beat myself, basically. People find that hard to believe because we’ve had such a bias to always strive to win things.”
Adam Peaty once said this: “I enjoy racing because I want to do it. No one’s forcing me. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re going to come second?”
As a swimmer or diver, every time you go to compete, you want to hit an amazing time. You want to throw up a fantastic score. You want to win. You want to achieve things. You want to succeed. You want to be a champion.
However, when it comes time to perform, one of the best things you can do to help yourself perform to the maximum of your ability is to not care about the results. In fact, I have a phrase I love to use when I work with my athletes: The less you think about winning, the easier it is to win.
Many swimmers and divers will choke themselves out of being able to perform to their maximum before they even step up onto the block or the board because of the unnecessary pressure, nervousness, and tension that they feel and put upon themselves as a side-effect of focusing too much on the outcome. That pressure, nervousness, and tension that they feel from focusing too much on the outcome causes them to perform at a level far below what they’re truly capable of.
The fact of the matter is that you could walk into any meet not thinking at all about what results you get and still walk out with a personal best time or score and a 1st place medal. On the flip side of that, you could walk into any meet completely obsessed with what results you want to get and still leave that meet with the worst times or scores you’ve ever had and a last place finish. The reason is because the sport of swimming and diving doesn’t care about what results you want. Great results don’t go to the person or team who wants them the most. Great results go to the person or team who performs the best. It’s as simple as that. And, the best way to perform your best and tap into your full ability is to not think about the results and remove the pressure, nervousness, and tension that will limit you from drawing out your peak performance levels by worrying too much about the outcome.
Results are nothing more than a consequence of performance. If you perform to the maximum of your ability as a swimmer or diver, than the results will naturally take care of themselves and they’ll be as good as they can possibly be. That’s why you don’t need to focus on or think about the results. If you just take the best approach possible that allows you to perform at or near your maximum ability, then the results will just happen.
What’s the best approach?
Instead of thinking about results when you go to perform, you instead want to focus solely on your performance. You don’t think about times, scores, or points. Instead, you think only about the process that creates those things. You do this by focusing on what I like to call the “Five Performance Priorities.” When you go to swim or dive, instead of focusing on achieving specific results, you want to instead focus on hitting each of these five fundamentals of maximum performance. They are as follows:
When you go to swim or dive, you don’t think about your potential results, but instead think about the process that’s going to create those results. If you’re swimmer, that means focusing solely on executing your start, your kicks, your stroke, your turns, your strategy, and your plan for each event you’re going to be swimming. If you’re a diver, that means focusing solely on your approach, your hurdles, your turns, your twists, your flips, and your entry into the water. By caring more about the process than the outcome, you not only remove feelings of pressure, nervousness, and tension, but you allow yourself to maximize your ability to execute the various things that create a great performance since you’re focusing more on them than you are the result.
You always stay in the present moment. Whatever’s going on in your personal life outside of swimming or diving, you don’t think about it when you’re at the pool. When you’re competing, that meet is the only thing in your existence and everything else is forgotten about for the time being. When it comes time for your first event, you focus completely on that. You’re not thinking about the second or third or fourth event, only the one that’s immediately in front of you. Once you finish that, you take the information you need from it to learn from it, and then once you do that, you hit your mental reset button, immediately put it behind you, and focus completely on the next event in front of you. That previous event no longer exists in your mind. If you had a bad race or dive, it’s completely forgotten about and it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on future events you perform in. You take things one swim and one dive at a time at all times.
Every single time you go to perform, you demand that you apply 100% commitment and work ethic to your performance. Your performance levels are never dictated by external circumstances. You always demand your best, regardless of how good or bad the opposition is, regardless of how much or how little is at stake, and regardless of how prestigious or non-prestigious the meet is. You don’t raise or lower your performance levels based on what’s going on around you. You take pride in the quality of what you produce and you never allow external factors to cause you to raise or lower your level of performance. You always demand your best, each and every time.
You have to love the sport. You have to enjoy what you do. You have to have fun. If you don’t allow yourself to love your sport, enjoy what you do, and have fun, you can never swim or dive to the maximum of what you’re capable of. It’s easy to lose sight of this because the “business” side of the sport and the need to achieve success can very easily consume you and cause you to sacrifice having fun. That’s a massive trap, and one you want to avoid. It’s more than possible, in fact necessary, to strike a balance between having fun and being competitive. You have that fire and that desire to compete and do well. However, you balance that out by allowing yourself to have fun and enjoy the sport you love.
At all times during your performance, you’re in complete control over what you think and how you feel. You control your self-talk at all times, always making sure to talk to yourself in a strong, confident, empowering way. You never allow the voice inside your head to think any weak, fearful, disempowering thoughts. From the moment you walk through the doors until you leave through them at the end of the meet, you’re in complete control and have total awareness of the thoughts inside your head and how you emotionally react to everything you experience throughout the day. If you make a mistake or have a bad race or dive, it has no effect on you and you’re able to immediately shake it off so that it doesn’t carry over into your next event.
If you can put a check mark next to each of these five things when performing, then your performance level will be high and your results will naturally reflect that. At the end of the day, you can’t control what the outcome of an event or meet is going to be. All you can control is the process that creates the outcome you want. Focus on that process and let the results come to you as opposed to you trying to make the results happen. There’s no better way to win.
About Will Jonathan