Focus on the Things You Can Control in the Pool

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.

It’s an awful moment, and one that almost every swimmer will experience at some point.

Moments earlier, you were standing on the blocks, staring down your lane, eyes ablaze with confidence and focus. The starter’s gun went off, and you explode into the water and bang out four thunderous dolphin kicks. You take your first few strokes, and then you realize what is going on.

The swimmer beside you – the one whose qualifying time you easily demolished during prelims – already has a half body length lead, and despite your full effort is pulling away from you.

Yeah. That moment.


It’s an inherent quality that we want to be able to control all of the outcomes in the pool. We want to think that because we crossed all the T’s and dotted all of our I’s that we can completely control the outcome of the race.

Unfortunately, as the above example shows, this isn’t always the case.

We cannot control everything, and this isn’t just limited to the competition. A random illness. A freak injury. There are a myriad of things out of our control that can and will happen within our swimming.

Does this mean we should abandon our goals? That training our best and giving our all at race time is pointless?

Of course not.

But it does mean we need to consider focusing all of our energy on the things which we can directly influence.


Those moments where you feel bewildered at the pool, when a competitor’s results leave you stupefied and discouraged, or when things keep piling on one after another, go back to the follwing three things:

1. Work Ethic.

No matter how fast the swimmer in the lane next to you is going, you will always be able to control how much effort you exert. I know how much it stinks to have a swimmer next to you suddenly dart out ahead and above what you thought they were capable of.

But does that mean you throw in the towel? Oh, hell no.

Here are a few simple ways to develop a tough-minded work ethic so that when things don’t go according to plan you can stay calm and focused—

  • Refuse to procrastinate.
  • Keep your word; if you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • Make doing a good job habitual. Aristotle had it right when he said that excellence was a habit. When you make excellence routine, something you just do, then it extends to every part of your life, and every part of your swimming.

2. Attitude.

The way that we think and feel about things feeds into how we act. If you are second guessing a set, and telling yourself that it’s going to be too hard, and that you don’t feel like it, than your body will follow suite. If, on the other hand, you tell yourself that it’s a challenge, an opportunity to see what you can do, your body will again follow the lead of your thoughts.

Here are some simple ways to develop a better attitude–

  • Encourage your teammates during practice and competition.
  • Be coachable.
  • Willing to find the silver linings in setbacks and failures.
  • Root for your teammates to succeed.
  • Not complaining or looking for someone to blame when things stink.
  • Not getting caught up in other people’s negativity.

3. Focus.

When things are getting hectic, between school, social commitments, and obviously swimming, it can be easy to start feeling overwhelmed. Generally this happens when we try to deliver our attention into multiple directions at once, and when this fails to generate any meaningful results, we grow exasperated and sense as though we are in over our heads.

To get things back in focus and back on track, dial down your tasks and set to one thing at a time. Plan and manage your tasks so that you are giving your utmost attention to each one at a time. Doing so will give you that sense of control and power over your life and put you back in the driver’s seat.

Here are some easy ways to generate more focus in your swimming and life:

  • Measure and track your progress.
  • Set daily/weekly/monthly goals to keep yourself on task.
  • Break your big goals into small, bite-sized pieces.
  • Drive all of your attention into one thing at a time.

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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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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