It was 5-time Olympic Gold Medalist Ian Thorpe who once said this: “For myself, losing is not coming second. It’s getting out of the water knowing you could have done better. For myself, I have won every race I’ve been in.”
As an athlete, one of the absolute most important things that will define your career is how you respond to the results you experience. It is literally the difference between creating upward momentum and experiencing success or getting caught in a downward spiral and experiencing failure. The best athletes, in any sport, are those that are best capable of properly handling whatever results they experience, whether good or bad. And, that’s an important distinction to make. It’s not just bad results you need to be able to cope with. You also need to be able to cope with the great results you get in the pool, because not properly handling those can have just as deadly effects as not handling the bad results.
Today, in part #1 of this two-part article series on coping with results, we’re going to be talking about how to properly cope with and react to any bad results you experience in the pool. We’re going to discuss how to deal with bad results so that they don’t affect you in a negative way as you move forward from that experience. But, before we jump into that, it’s good to start with an important question: Is being able to react properly to bad results really that important? Does it really make that much of a difference? Well, let’s do an example and see.
You have a meet, and you’re doing 4 events that day: The beginning relay, 2 of your main events, and the final relay. You warm up for your first event, and everything is going fine. You feel great. You’re up for it and you’re ready to get out there and compete. You feel strong. However, for whatever reason, your first race doesn’t come together well at all and you do awfully in the relay, costing your team a 1st place finish they would otherwise normally secure.
You react to that result poorly. “I can’t believe I raced so badly. That was just terrible. I hope the rest of my day doesn’t go like this.” Confidence goes down. You lose a bit of your desire to do your next event because you’re scared of potentially doing just as badly in that event as you did in the relay. You’re no longer feeling good and enjoying yourself, and your focus is completely shot because you’re brooding and dwelling over the bad race you just did instead of putting it out of your mind and focusing on the one you have coming up.
As a consequence of reacting poorly to the result from your first event, you carry a poor mindset with you into your next race. Because your mindset is poor, you perform just as bad as you did in the first relay, adding a ton of time onto your time and finishing near the bottom places. With another bad result, your internal self-talk gets more destructive and self-critical. “Oh man, not again. This can’t be happening. What the heck is going on with me today? Why aren’t I swimming well? This is so ridiculous. I just can’t do this anymore.”
Now your mindset has imploded. Confidence is extremely low, the desire to continue competing and doing your last 2 events is almost non-existent, you’re feeling miserable, and your focus is totally gone because all you can think about are your previous two events and how badly you’ve raced so far. You manage to slug yourself through your last 2 events for the day, but the story is the same as the first 2 events: Bad mindset, bad performance, bad times. You leave the meet feeling completed deflated, you hate swimming, you never want to do it again, you’ve shamed your entire family for generations, and the entire world is collapsing all around you in a fiery blaze of utter despair.
The performance you produce in any given race and the time you ultimately acquire in that race is the consequence of how you react to the results you got in a previous race. As shown above, if you don’t react in the right way when you get a bad time in one event, you create a chain effect that’s like a stack of falling dominoes, putting yourself into a downward spiral that is guaranteed to have a negative effect on your performance and your results in future events. The same is also true of your meets as a whole. If you have a bad meet overall, and don’t react to that bad meet in the right way, you’ll carry a poisonous mindset with you into your next meet and struggle there just the same.
Whenever you get a bad result at the pool, whether it’s an individual event or an entire meet as a whole, here’s what you need to do in order to properly react to that bad result so that it doesn’t negatively affect your mindset going forward into your next event or meet.
1) Do not overly indulge in any negative emotions.
When you get a bad result, it’s perfectly natural and normal to experience a feeling of disappointment. That feeling of disappointment shows that you took that event or meet seriously and tried to do your best. However, you should never allow your emotional state to go beyond feeling disappointed. Once you start overly indulging in feelings of anger, frustration, or resentment, it’s very easy to trap yourself in a cycle of negative of emotions, and once that happens, that can be very difficult to get out from that. It’s fine to be disappointed. It’s not fine to be angry. Indulging in destructive emotions such as anger has been scientifically proven to create a slew of negative mental and physical side effects: Increased chances for heart attack, increased chances for stroke, weakening of the immune system, and links to both chronic anxiety and depression. Not good!
2) Never view your bad results as a reflection of yourself.
Another easy thing to do when you get a bad result is to take that result and turn it into a reflection of yourself and your abilities as a swimmer. Just because you got a bad time doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly become bad at swimming. You haven’t. You haven’t lost your ability, and you haven’t forgotten how to swim properly. Bad times are something that happens to absolutely everyone, and on top of that, it’s completely unavoidable. It’s going to happen to you sometimes whether you want it to or not. It’s simply part of the process of being a swimmer. When results are bad, don’t turn against yourself and allow that bad result to make you think you’re a bad swimmer. Don’t make that result a reflection of you.
3) Always see bad results as a growth opportunity.
You can see bad results as one of two things: You can see them as a threat, or you can see them as an opportunity. When bad results are seen as a threat, they become destructive. When bad results are seen as an opportunity, they become constructive. You’re able to take something negative, turn it around, and use it to your advantage. Bad results should always be seen as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become a better athlete, and to continue your journey of becoming the best swimmer you can possibly be. It sounds odd, but in a way, you should welcome bad results. You obviously don’t try to get them, but when they do happen, you see them for what they are: An opportunity for you to grow and to become the best version of yourself. You welcome it and embrace it as a chance to learn and improve.
4) Focus on what you put into your race as opposed to what you got out of it.
I have a question for you: What means more to you, your effort or your times? For me, the effort is always more important than the time, because the time is nothing but a consequence of the effort. And by effort, I don’t just mean how hard you worked. It’s more than that. It’s the effort you put into having the right attitude. It’s the effort you put into starting well off the block. It’s the effort you put into having strong underwater’s, clean strokes, and smooth turns. Effort isn’t just trying hard. It’s setting a high standard and demanding your absolute best every time you step up to swim. If, when the race is finished, you can look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say that you gave absolutely everything that you could, then you have every right to feel satisfied with yourself, regardless of the outcome. And you should. After all, what more can you possibly do than your absolute best?
5) Disconnect the past from the present and the future.
Too often, swimmers will make the mistake of thinking that, because they’ve gotten a bad result, they’re essentially guaranteed to keep getting bad results going forward. Never forget that past results have absolutely no bearing on present or future results. There’s no connection whatsoever between your results from the past and the results you can acquire in the future. The only connection that exists is the one you create in your mind. You can get terrible times in your first 2 events of a meet and get a lifetime best time in your 3rd event. You can have bad results in the last 3 dual meets of the season and get all new lifetime best times at your championship meet. You just don’t know. Every race and every meet is its own completely unique experience with its own unique set of circumstances influencing the outcome of those things. When you get a bad result, make sure to never create a false narrative in your mind and convince yourself that you’re guaranteed to keep getting bad results. Leave the past in the past where it belongs so that it can’t influence the present or the future and you can move forward with a fresh, clean slate.
I cannot say this enough: How you react to your bad results in the pool is going to make the difference between creating success or breeding failure going forward. Whenever results don’t go your way, be sure you use any or all of these 5 methods to help you properly cope them so that they don’t sabotage your potential for future success.
Stay tuned for Part #2 where I’ll be discussing how to handle success and great results in the pool, because as I mentioned previously, not properly dealing with success can be just as detrimental and destructive as not properly coping with failure.
Thanks for reading, and all the best!