How To Mentally Cope With Success In The Pool

Last month, I wrote an article titled How To Not Let Bad Results Affect You. The purpose of that piece was to give you some insight as to how you can best mentally cope with any poor results you experience in the pool so that those negative results didn’t impact your ability to perform your best moving forward.

Today, as a follow up to that, I want to discuss the importance of mentally coping with success. Now, that mean seem odd, and you might be thinking, “Mentally cope with success? Why in the heck would I need to worry about that!?” The fact is, success can be just as dangerous and destructive as failure if you don’t cope with it properly. In fact, throughout various sports, we’ve seen a number of high profile athletes lose themselves after generating some success.

Rhonda Rousey is one that comes to mind. A former UFC Women’s World Champion, she reached the absolute pinnacle of her sport, going undefeated and becoming a millionaire in the process. As a consequence, her mindset shifted. She bought too much into her own hype, became too addicted and emotionally attached to her success, and after losing a championship fight to Holly Holm, she experienced an emotional collapse, even going as far as having suicidal thoughts immediately after the fight. After her loss to Holly Holm, she lost every fight after that and hasn’t won a fight since. Had she coped with her earlier success better, her fall after her loss to Holly Holm would never have been as hard as it was.

There’s also Bernard Tomic. A professional tennis player from Australia, at one point, Bernard had reached as high as #17 in the world rankings. He won multiple tour championships, and like Rhonda, won huge sums of money at an early age due to his success. That’s when things started to unravel. At Wimbeldon in 2017, he was playing in the first round, and his opponent was Mischa Zverev from Germany. Throughout the match, Bernard looked completely uninterested and bored. He sauntered around the baseline, jogged around when chasing shots, and put little to zero effort into his match. At one point, to disrupt his opponent, he faked an injury and called over a trainer in order to slow down his momentum and lessen the pace of the match. He ended up losing the match and getting knocked out the tournament in the very first round. Naturally, everyone was surprised. The answers he delivered in his post-match press conference said it all:

“I don’t know why, but, you know, I felt a little bit bored out there, to be completely honest with you. So I tried at the end and stuff, he managed to win that set 6-3 or 6-4, but it was too late. To be completely honest, like I said before, it’s tough, you know. I’m 24. I came on the tour at 16, 17. I have been around and feels like I’m super old, but I’m not. So, you know, just trying to find something, you know, this is my 8th Wimbledon or 9th I think. I’m still 24, and it’s tough to find motivation, you know. Really, me being out there on the court, to be honest with you, I just couldn’t find any motivation. I see, for example, Zverev winning Rome, and achieving, you know, I have won titles in my career. I have made finals, a bunch of them. So I feel holding a trophy or, you know, doing well, it doesn’t satisfy me anymore. It’s not there. I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same. You know, I’m going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won’t have to work again. So for me this is mental.”

As a swimmer, if and when you start to rack up some great times and generate some success for yourself, then here are some modes of thinking you want to consider so that you can properly mentally cope with that success and keep it from negatively affecting you as you move forward.

1) Do not let success go to your head – It’s perfectly fine to feel good about winning, getting great times, and to celebrate it a bit, but what you always have to make sure you avoid is letting the fact that you’re doing well go to your head. Just like how you don’t want to get too low when things aren’t going well, you don’t want to get too high when they are. If you do, you can develop a destructive sense of ego or arrogance. Confidence is obviously essential and you want to let your success give you a boost in your confidence levels. However, don’t let your head get too big. Otherwise, your ego will end up being the architect of your own downfall.

2) Remind yourself that no one wins forever – Once you’re doing well, it’s very easy to become addicted to that and emotionally dependent on it. It feels so good that you never want to lose that feeling, right? Of course, you always want to win and you want to maintain your great results as long as you possibly can. However, that must always be done with the knowledge that you simply cannot succeed forever. Your great results are going to come to an end in some form and at some point. That bad day at the pool and awful race is waiting for you somewhere around the corner. Don’t fear that. Enjoy your success while it lasts, but never allow yourself to be fearful of your recent run of success coming to an end. Failure is part of the process. You can, and should, always bounce back.   

3) Keep your mind off the results and stay focused on the process – Without question, the biggest danger of success is complacency. The fact that you’re doing well recently should never change how you approach every training session, every race, and every meet. Whether you’ve been dropping PB’s like hotcakes or winning every meet you’ve been in recently, it doesn’t matter to you. You don’t think about it or dwell on it. Every training session, every race, and every meet, you focus purely on maintaining your approach and being the absolute best version of yourself that you can possibly be every day in training and in competition. You focus purely on staying grounded, having fun, and swimming to the best of your ability that you possibly can and nothing more.

4) Always be driven by growth more than winning – It’s great that you’re doing well, but more important than winning is continuously improving and growing as a swimmer. You don’t want to allow great results to turn your focus completely onto your results. Even when you’re doing well, you want to always make sure you continue to focus on the fundamentals that helped created the great results you’ve managed to acquire. Even when you’re dropping time, there are always going to be aspects of the sport, both physically and mentally, that you need to continue working on and improving at. The journey of becoming the best version of yourself possible and realizing your full potential as a swimmer doesn’t end simply because you’ve generated some success. Growth should be never-ending. You may not be able to master the sport, but try to!

Success is obviously a wonderful thing and it’s something you should always be striving for as a swimmer. However, that has to be done with the understanding that success is never the final destination and that handling your success appropriately is the only way to stay on the path of what really counts most: Becoming the best version of yourself as a swimmer that you can possibly be.

Thanks for reading, and all the best!

About Will Jonathan

Will Jonathan is a sports Mental Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. His clients include athletes on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, Major League Baseball, the UFC, the Primera Liga, the Olympics, and the NCAA, as well as providing numerous talks and presentations on the mental aspect of sport and peak performance to various sports programs and organizations across the country. He also works as the official Mental Coach for the Florida Gulf Coast University Swimming & Diving Team.

If you’re interested to learn more about Will and his work, head on over to his website at www.willjonathan.com or connect with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/_WillJonathan_

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About Will jonathan

Will jonathan

Will Jonathan is a sports Mental Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. His past and present clients include athletes on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, Major League Baseball, the UFC, the Primera Liga, the Olympics, and the NCAA, as well as providing numerous talks and presentations on the mental aspect of …

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