How Swimmers Can Develop a “Victor” Mindset (and Ditch the Victim Mindset)

Doing big things in the water is hard enough…

But what makes it infinitely harder is when we bring a victim mindset to the pool.

Instead of taking ownership of our swimming, whether it’s swim practices or how we perform on race day, we blame others, grow resentful of the success of others, and obsess over the results at the expense of the process.

In this article, we will look at the key differences between the “victor” and “victim” mindsets for swimmers and discuss some tools for turn up your victor mindset to eleven.

Let’s dive right in.

The Role of the Victor Mindset

One of those tried-and-true cliches that get bandied about the pool deck is a variation of:

What happens to you isn’t always your fault, but it’s always going to be your responsibility to deal with it.

Yes, I know…

It’s always going to be easy to blame the pool temperature, the number of swimmers in the lane, the lousy sleep you got last night, or any other exterior factor that is patently unfair…

The victim mindset—resentful, outwardly blaming—is an easy scapegoat when things don’t go our way. And it has its uses in helping us cope with something objectively unfair.

But ultimately, the way you swim and the way you respond is your responsibility.

  • The starter’s gun went off before you were in the starting position? Not really your fault, but still your responsibility to get off the blocks and swim like your hair is on fire.
  • The lifeguard didn’t show up to open the pool up for early morning practice? Not your fault, but getting that workout in is still your responsibility.
  • Tired because you stayed up late, unable to sleep because the neighbors were making a racket? Not your fault, but getting up and getting down to business in the pool is still your responsibility.

And while for many a foray into a victim’s mindset is a way to cope with a big loss or failure, left unchecked it can quickly become a cancer on your mindset.

After all, the victim mindset has no limiting principle.

Once you start to view everything through the resentment of a victim’s mindset, it can be hard to peel yourself out of it, much less get the most from yourself in the water.

Instead, focus on adopting a victor mindset, giving you total responsibility for your swimming.

Victor vs. Victim Mindsets

Before we get into some proven tools for turning up the victor mindset, let’s take a look at the specific ways that both of these mindsets present themselves in the pool.

Research1 with a group of 40 elite athletes found that those who exhibited the victim mindset:

  • Were obsessed with looking like a winner; they sought to be viewed as superior over others and to be treated special
  • Focused primarily on humiliating opponents in competition
  • Were focused almost exclusively on the outcome (versus the process)
  • Exhibited perfectionist tendencies (all-or-nothing thinking, etc.)
  • Were focused on the “stage”; i.e., was this game going to be broadcast on tv?
  • Tendency to blame the coach, teammates, the competition, the fans, etc, for losing/underperforming
  • Displayed resentment towards successful athletes
  • Behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner often

On the other hand, the “anti-victim” athletes had a set of psychological characteristics that flipped the victim mindset on its head.

Our “victors” had a mindset that:

  • Focused on the process
  • Encouraged cyclical goals; set a goal, work to achieve it, assess it, and then repeat
  • Took a “journeyman” approach to training
  • Aware of how the sport is a vessel for developing a quality human being
  • Didn’t quit if they fell short
  • Multi-motivational; they want to beat the opponent, but they are as interested in getting the most from themselves
  • Respects the sport; takes wins and losses with class, respecting opponents and the sport
  • Understands that adversity and challenges are part of the process
  • Takes ownership of setbacks and failures

How to be an “Anti-Victim”

If you read those two lists and found yourself wincing a little, finding the “victim” points resonating…

Take a breath.

The victor vs. victim mindsets are not set in stone.

I know there have been moments in my life—in the pool and outside of it—where I rocked the victim mindset like it owed me money.

But being aware of the difference between the two, and understanding the different paths the mindsets can take you, are often enough to set you in the right direction with the right mindset.

And let’s be honest, there will be times when slipping into a victim mindset is understandable:

Back-to-back (undeserved) DQs at the Big Meet. A stretch of truly stinky swim practices. Or the whole world seemingly coming together, one setback at a time, to crater your season.

But it’s crucial to understand that there are things you can do to navigate your way towards a more positive and productive mindset (that will also—fun fact—help you swim faster).

The Bottom Line

When you feel yourself starting to roil in the waters of a victim complex, chart a path back by:

  • Focus on the process.
  • Seek challenges.
  • Avoid resentment and making excuses.
  • Be grateful for the journey, both the wins and the L’s.
  • Take total ownership of your swimming.

Not only will you achieve more in the water, but you will do so in a manner that will create a better and more productive human being out of the water, too.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook 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.


Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 months ago

great article. i needed something like this to get me back on the right track

Chadius Daddus
3 months ago

Responsibility 🤝🤝 is for winners

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 »