The Ripple Effect of a Bad Swim Practice

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for swimmers by clicking here.

At some point—today, tomorrow, next week—we’ll have a bad practice. Here’s a sneaky way to bounce back quicker.

The problem with a bad practice isn’t necessarily the bad practice itself. Yes, it’s a miserable experience, we feel like we wasted our time, and we get a sense of having let an otherwise perfect training opportunity go down the drain.

Nah, it’s what happens next that is the real performance killer.

It’s the ripple effect of that bad practice into the future.

For most of us, that practice is still in our mind the next time we walk on deck, fresh as can be, influencing and coloring our thoughts and actions. We tend to perform at our next swim practice, or in the arena of competition, our next race, with the memory of our last performance fresh in our mind.

It’s why swimmers go on stretches of bad workouts. One after another. With one bad practice turning into a stretch of them.

It’s why swimmers have one bad race on Thursday night, and by Sunday night are still swimming in a funk, even though the training leading up to the meet was out of this world.

The momentum of a performance or workout inevitably seeps into what’s next.

Viewing our swims as an interlinked chain can help us to sever the link between the bad workouts, while also making us more aware that we need to be able to reframe the bad swims and practices so that we can get things back on a positive track.

When we have a bad practice, or we race below expectations, the self-talk, the self-image, and the feelings we experience end up affecting how we swim tomorrow. Our self-confidence feels shaken, and this feeling doesn’t go away the moment we walk off the pool deck.

Conversely, when we have a great practice, or we race like a maniac, experience a surge of confidence and momentum. The sense of competence, of being in control, and of being able to perform at a high-level sticks with us until our next swim.

As you can see, our swims and practices are rarely an island, cut off emotionally from one another.

For better or worse, how we swim today is going to influence tomorrow’s confidence and performance.

Finish Today with a Little Win

Here is one little and totally doable thing you can do anytime things aren’t going your way in the pool.

The power of this is that it is controllable, and gets you focused on mastery, which will give you a spark of confidence moving forward that can easily turn into a wildfire in the future.

In practice

We all have those practices where our stroke seemingly abandons us. Where the usual pace and intervals feels 12.4% harder than it should. As a result, doubt multiplies like camping chairs in the bleachers at a swim meet.

Although your speed might not be there, and your stroke might feel like garbage, there is something you can do.

And that is to swim the last 100m of your practice with the best technique you can. No more, no less. 100m of the best technique you can do.

No clock, no stroke count, just straight killer execution.

In competition

Race didn’t go as planned? Take a breath—this happens to all of us. Not only at some point, but at many points over the course of a swimming career.

Once you’ve done your warm-down (although the temptation is to go mope in the hot tub or showers, don’t), do the same thing as above.

Swim 100m with no pace clock, with no attention to anything or anyone else in the water. Do those two or four laps with the best technique you can.


Finish today with a little win. It will give you a small step back in the right direction that can help you step into a bigger win.


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.

COACHES & CLUBS: Yuppers–we do team orders of “Conquer the Pool” which includes a team discount as well as complimentary branding (your club logo on the cover of the book) at no additional charge.

Want more details? Click here for a free estimate on a team order of CTP.

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2 years ago

Why does the picture have to be of my boy Drew? He is one of the hardest workers I know and never has a bad practice. Even if his performance isn’t what he may want it to be at one practice, he always learns from it and takes something good away from it. A true student of the sport.

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2 years ago

It’s just a picture

Johnny Bravo
2 years ago

Drew Kibler: The Face of Bad Practices

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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