Missy Franklin’s Strategy for Building Self-Confidence Before Competition

American swim star Missy Franklin captivated the world during her reign as one of the best swimmers on the planet. Here’s how she built her self-confidence going into big swim meets.

Missy Franklin has achieved some wild stuff in the pool:

  • Broke the world record in the 200m backstroke at the London Olympics.
  • Won six gold medals, the most by any female swimmer at a single world championship meet, in 2013.
  • First woman to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle.
  • Individual and team NCAA championship titles with Cal Berkeley.
  • And the star of swimming’s first viral video (yup, I’m talking about Call Me Maybe).

You would think that with this pedigree of excellence, records, and gold medals that Olympic-levels of self-confidence would come naturally to Franklin.

But Franklin, despite the smiles and bubbly personality, had her own doubts, uncertainties, insecurities and lapses in self-confidence. Just like any other swimmer.

One of the tools that Franklin used to help her stay focused and confident when the pressure was at its highest was a Confidence Jar.

Building a pattern of excellence.

The world came to learn the name Missy at the London Olympics.

While she was a recognized star in the swimming community by 2012, Franklin achieved stratospheric heights of fame in London. She ran away with the gold medal in the 200m backstroke, taking down the world record in a time of 2:04.06.

After Franklin’s five-medal performance in London, she could have cashed in on her success and collected millions in endorsement money. She postponed the transition to pro, enrolling at the University of California, opting to swim for the Golden Bears under Teri McKeever.

The collegiate swimming experience is unique. The team cohesion, the dual meets, the electric championship meets.

And it was at Berkeley, swimming for the Golden Bears, that Franklin started using a Confidence Jar.

The purpose of the Confidence Jar is simple.

Keep a jar and fill it with highlights and moments of success and excellence.

Have a good swim practice? Write a note and put it in the jar. Conquered a hard set? Put it in the jar. Drop a new PB in the weight room? In the jar.

“As a team activity we all decorated our own jar and then throughout the season we would write notes of encouragement to ourselves,” said Franklin. “We would write down really good practices that we had or really any moments that we were very proud of ourselves.”

There were a few reasons Franklin used the confidence jar.

For starters, the jar acted as a Hall of Fame, a place where she could log and recognize all of the little things that she was doing well, that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle over a long season.

When you think about how many workouts, sets and reps compound into a full season, the highlights can get buried under the not-so-great moments.

A Confidence Jar was a way to recognize all the little moments of excellence that were happening along the way. Reminders of all that the things that have been accomplished.

“Seasons are so long that we tend to forget all of the incredible things that we’ve accomplished throughout the entire season,” said Franklin. “To have a jar that is full of all of the accomplishments that you have achieved in a season, whether it is just a really good practice or set, a time that you encouraged a teammate, or even a really great weight session, there were so many different options for things to put in the confidence jar but ultimately you opened it up and you were reminded of not just the past couple weeks of good work or the past couple months, but the entirety of the season that you had put in and all of the work and effort that had prepared you for your competition.”

When you open the Confidence Jar and look through the moments of excellence you have accumulated is up to you.

You could do it monthly. You could do it when you are having a rough patch of training.

Or like Franklin, you could bottle that bad boy right up until the night before a big swim meet.

Save it for when the pre-race nerves and performance anxiety are peaking.

“I only opened my confidence jar the night before the biggest meet of the season,” said Franklin. “It just made that so meaningful to me, being able to go through all of these notes, so many of which I had forgotten about, and to open them the day before the biggest competition of the year right before I’m about to race was always so powerful.”

Getting your mindset right when you need it most.

Reading through the things that she had accomplished in the water the day before a big meet gave her a big shot of confidence. A surge of good vibes at the right moment.

“I was immediately overcome with so much confidence in everything that I had done to be as prepared as I possibly could be,” said Franklin. “I mainly used this in college and then again before the Rio Olympic Games.”

Ultimately, the Confidence Jar helped Franklin be in the proper mindset to swim fast.

She knew that she had prepared herself physically, it was just a matter of insuring that her mindset was in a good place.

“It was always helpful no matter what the circumstance, whether it was before NCAA’s or the Olympics, it always had the same affect. When you go into a competition, so much of it is mental over physical, and to go into a competition with the best mindset possible is the most important thing that you can do for yourself. My confidence jar helped me do that.”

The Confidence Jar is such a great tool to use because it is personal.

It’s individual. It’s a collection of the things you have accomplished. Things that no one can take away from you.

The Confidence Jar is a visual representation of the work you are doing.

As the season progresses, and that little jar begins to stretch at the seams, you get a strong, motivating sense of how much quality work you have done.

You can see it right there, each day, getting more and more packed.

The season is long, and it’s not always obvious to us how much quality work we have done in the water.

But with the jar, getting progressively more stuffed with mini-achievements, you have physical proof that you are getting better in the pool.

The Confidence Jar motivates you to chase excellence in practice.

As you get into the habit of writing out moments of excellence, you will hunger for the satisfaction that comes from depositing them into the jar.

You will chase those moments in practice more often.

The Confidence Jar creates a positive feedback loop that inspires awesomeness more regularly.

The Confidence Jar teaches you to recognize excellence.

Ever wonder why that one bad practice from like two weeks ago is still burning in the back of your mind? Or how that one bad race you had at a meet three months ago still causes you to doubt what you did today?

Negative experiences take up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth and space in your head. If you are swimming great 95% of the time, but are focused solely on the 5% where your swimming goes to Loser-town, your self-confidence is going to crumble in competition.

This is why it’s so important to recognize your achievements in the pool. Doing so helps you build a solid foundation of confidence that you can draw on before your next big race or hard practice.

The Confidence Jar helps you develop the skill of self-confidence.

It’s not an accident that elite swimmers tend to have higher levels of self-confidence [1].

Unfortunately, for a lot of swimmers, self-confidence is something that is considered innate.

Something they have or they don’t have (and will never have).

The sneaky thing about self-confidence is that it’s a skill, something you can consistently work on and improve. Like your technique, or your conditioning, it takes a little bit of time each day thickening your armor of self-confidence.

A Confidence Jar is the perfect tool for getting into this regular habit.

What could you put into your Confidence Jar?

Here are some samples to use as inspiration:

  • Broke 3:00 for the first time doing a 200m kick
  • Did a 24” box jump for the first time
  • Made every practice for the week
  • Did ten minutes of extra core work after practice
  • Skipped going to a house party to get a good night of sleep before a really hard practice

Other things could include motivational song lyrics. Times where you cheered on a teammate struggling through a tough stretch of training. Or when you helped a younger teammate improve their technique.

You are already doing the hard work at the pool.

Give your self-confidence a chance to flourish and be there for you when you need it most.

Thank you to Missy for taking the time to answer my questions on this tool for developing self-confidence.


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

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I go yugo

Team confidence jar … everyone participates throughout the season.


Taking advice in self-confidence from Missy Franklin may not be the smartest thing, says anyone who attended 2016 Olympic Trials.


Feel free to keep your opinions to yourself my dude


One bad meet doesn’t take away from the fact that she won six Olympic medals (Five of them gold), or 16 World Championship medals (Eleven of them gold), or her bananas NCAA 200 free record which still stands.


The counting of medals is a strong argument. Agree. But don’t forget to mention that Rio medal was earned for the participation in morning race after which coaches decided that letting Franklin race in final will put American team in great risk. The entire story of Franklin in Rio was summarized by media like “Grace in Defeat”
Her first three years of competition on international arena were spectacular. But it was first and the only three successful years of her career. I agree with FERN that her short career cannot be used as an example of confidence.


“coaches decided” means coaches not have confident in her, that is quite different from MF’s self-confident. If she was offered a spot in the final but declined, I agree that is a counter example of self-confident.

Ol' Longhorn

You do have to admit, I assume, that making the Olympic team with two completely fried shoulders that caused her to retire after repeated surgeries, is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Take Dressel, Ledecky, Regan Smith, kill off their shoulders to the point of surgical necessity and then see if they can make the Olympic team.


@OL’ LONGHORN: Missy Franklin’s case is full of mysteries. Read my comment on LUIGI’s post. Please, don’t forget that this discussion is not about Franklin’s place in the history but about how confident she actually was.


He’s got a point


It’s a sad day when we put someone down who has accomplished so much before physical ailments sidelined them. She accomplished more than most swimmers ever will and did it with the brightest of smiles. She has been a role model to my 13 year old since Touch the Wall came out, and they don’t swim the same events. It’s because of who she was and how much she loved the sport. That’s why we should respect her and continue to put her on the pedestal she deserves to be on.

Scott Morgan

Always bizarre to see people try and belittle multi Olympic Gold medalists and world record holders. It is exactly because of her well documented trials and tribulations that she likely knows more than others about what working on self confidence on the top tiers of sport actually means.


It is not belittling. It’s just that Missy can’t have it both ways. Upon retirement, she sought sympathy in noting her depression, anxiety, and insomnia and blamed the expectations and “indescribable pressure” those expectations placed upon her for poor performance in 2016 and beyond. Now she is being held out as an expert on self-confidence, promoting the use of a Confidence Jar in an effort to remain relevant??? It seems inauthentic in that the Confidence Jar magic clearly did not work for her, and perhaps given her mental illness she should not be giving advice on this topic.

Scott Morgan

Please, she can give and present her own experiences and tactics of self confidence whether or not you feel she’s “having it both ways”. People are not just one thing or another; even the people you might present as qualified will have had doubts and struggles. I believe she’s especially qualified to speak on the subject: it’s belittling to say she’s not.


self-confidence is also a process and constant learning. Regardless of the swimming outcome, she still have a lot of self-confidence to be there, swam the races and accept the outcome as best as she can.

it is important to recognize that self-confidence does not equate winning or best time. The two has a sufficient relationship in logic – true in winning/best time implies self-confident is also true. But not winning or no best time does not always imply that self-confident is not true.


I consider her one of the greatest swimmers, but not an example of supreme self confidence.
Which, by the way, is not an insult. Lacking self confidence is not murder. A lot of great athletes did. Even when they were the best. We still love them.


I still don’t know and didn’t hear or read from anybody the explanation of how it was possible to have a miracle like week in March of 2015 at NCAA and in a year become absolutely nobody not being able to make any finals in Rio. And it wasn’t only 1:39 at 200FR the quality of which was tested by the best swimmers possible, any of her races then were outstanding including sprint and IM races. And later how was it possible to lose that much from trials to OG just less than in a month. The only explanation I can suggest is that with coming physical changes caused by maturity process she lost her confidence.

Ol' Longhorn

“absolutely nobody” doesn’t apply to someone who made the U.S. Olympic Team. You can hide shoulder injuries in SCY. You can’t in LCM, especially at 200 distances, which were her best. My guess would be her back problems that surfaced at PanPacs affected her upper thoracic mobility, which is death to scapular function and shoulders. She tried to gut it out, even going back to her old coach, but didn’t have it. Lots of veterans lost a lot from OTs to OGs — Lochte, as one notable example. And other vets didn’t make the team. You can call it “lack of confidence,” but I’ll call it courage in facing adversity of the injuries and STILL getting an Olympic gold medal.


I never made the connection between results and confidence ; I said that one can feel very insecure even at the top. Hell, Spitz did not want to swim the 100 free final in Munich! And I don’t think that lack of self-confidence means lack of bravery, either.

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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