The Simple and Sneaky Mental Trick That Will Help You Swim Faster

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

One of my favorite and most legit ways of toughening up mentally and improving your mindset is managing your self-talk.

After all, the self-talk we use in the pool infects every emotion, decision and action you take:

  • When you feel lousy in the water, your self-talk piles on: “I feel like crap in the water today, obviously I am not going to be able to have a good workout.”
  • When a teammate is swimming lights-out and is crushing you in the main set: “Rachel is beating me so bad, obviously I am never going to be as fast as her.”
  • When a set is crushing you mentally, and you can’t believe how much is still left: “I still have nine more reps to go? Ugh, I am already so tired, how can I possibly do this?”

The typical result of negative self-talk is that it leads us to withdrawing from the sets or swim workouts. We quit. We ease our effort. And we end up squandering what could have otherwise been a juicy opportunity to improve our swimming.

Once in a while this might not be a huge deal, but if your workouts are imploding regularly because you are unable to keep a lid on your self-talk it’s going to become a problem for your swimming and your goals.

So, self-talk is important.

Sweet.

But how do we go about improving it?

Where Does Your Self-Talk Slip Away From You?

When it comes to fixing your self-talk the first step is pinpointing the times in practice where it gets away from you.

Believe it or not, we (and I mean more broadly as people, but as swimmers, too) are remarkably consistent with the way we do things. We are creatures of habit, no matter if those habits do good things for us in the pool (showing up on time, not breathing into the wall), or if they are counter-productive (giving up on hard sets, pulling on the lane rope).

When things go well, it’s because we do the same set of things. Perhaps more importantly, when the chlorine hits the fan it’s also usually because of the same series of hang-ups.

Being self-aware enough to know when and where to implement better self-talk is important. And is a key component of tightening up your mental game in the pool.

But for today, I am going to talk more specifically about making it prominent within your training.

The Secret to Better Self-Talk (and Faster Swimming) is Consistency

Look: talking a big game about improving your self-talk is easy. Once you see its power, it is tempting to run out, find yourself a series of mantras or performance cues to use as performance-boosters, and off we go, right?

Making those cues and positive self-talk requires consistency above all else. Better self-talk isn’t a band-aid to use a week before the big meet, it’s something you should be instituting within your training from the beginning of the season.

And my favorite way to do this is to write out a simple mantra on your water bottle.

I know, I know, most of you don’t want to write something tacky or possibly embarrassing like, “You can do it!” or “I believe in me!” on something your teammates or friends might see at the risk of them asking questions.

For myself, I chose a piece of self-talk that encourages me to push through those gnarly all-out sets so that I do just one more rep. (And then another…and then another.)

It’s my favorite way to push myself: by providing myself an “end”—it’s “only” one more, after all—my brain doesn’t force me to punch the brakes when I am in agony during a hard set. In other words, I give it a way out, or let it think we are almost done, so that I can empty the tank more often in practice.

The Power of Self-Talk in Action

Here’s some research to demonstrate just how automagically your swimming improves when you get strategic with your self-talk.

Researchers took a group of 41 competitive swimmers and split them into two groups.[1]

The first set of swimmers were given a quick education on self-talk, asked to write up some positive forms of self-talk to use in practice, and were instructed to write them down and have them visible at the end of the lane in practice.

The second set of swimmers, the control group, went about their practices like they normally would.

The ten-week intervention was bracketed by a pair of swim meets, where times were recorded and compared. Which group do you think performed better at the end of all this?

(Like you didn’t know…)

The self-talk group, after those ten weeks, out-improved the control group by nearly 1.5%.

That’s a huge and nasty improvement, especially when you consider that the swimmers didn’t have to attend a single extra practice, or swim an extra meter, or spend more time on deck than their teammates.

It was simply choosing better and more productive language to use in the pool, and putting it somewhere they would see it every day (and therefore actually use it with some consistency).

The Next Step

When it comes to improvement, we will do just about anything and everything to slice some time off of our personal best times. Whether it’s throwing piles of money at the latest and greatest tech suit or getting up at 4:30am to make it to our early morning practices.

Picking some better forms of self-talk, and making them visible for yourself to see each day in practice, is about as simple as it gets. It will not only help you focus up in practice, but you will also experience less anxiety on the way to faster swimming.

What is a piece of self-talk that you can bring with you to the pool today that will help you push a little bit harder, for just a little bit longer?

ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY

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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About 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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