The Swimmer’s Guide to Staying Focused When It Matters

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

It almost always happens.

At about 8-10 minutes into my slow paced warm-up I catch my thoughts out for a walk. Thinking about something that happened the night before. Or a conversation I had with a friend. Or thinking about that car that cut me off on the way to the pool, and why-I-oughta

I’ll shake the thoughts aside and return to my workout, return to focusing on my stroke and technique. But by this point I have almost certainly lost track of where I was. Was that 3, or is this one number 3? Dangit.

It is natural for your attention to waiver when you are doing slower paced work in the pool. High intensity work requires your full attention – it’s hard to be going break-neck speed, recruiting every last muscle fiber and ounce of oxygen you can get your hands on – and not be fully mentally immersed in what you are doing.

But during the slower, warm-up/drills/warm-down/aerobic work? Yeah, it’s understandable.

For those swimmers that find their attention wavering constantly while they are swimming, here is how to snap out of the listless thoughts and direct your attention at the work at hand:

1. Have a trigger statement.

Have a cue or trigger statement prepared for the times you catch yourself mentally adrift. Something positive, short and to the point that will shake you from your daydreaming and get you paying attention. It’s go time. Dominate this set. Or, keep it super simple with a guttural “Focus!”.

If you want to get a little more creative with your trigger statement, consider what type of athlete you most want to emulate, and develop a cue sentence based around that visual. Let’s say you want to be considered as a resilient, never-say-die athlete: I’m the toughest swimmer in the pool. A statement that is personal and is most relevant to you will be more effective in getting your attention lined up.

2. Bypass getting choked at yourself for daydreaming.

It’s natural that you will want to punish yourself for a lack of focus in training. Resist this urge, as pounding yourself mentally is simply another form of distraction, and more importantly, it won’t help you swim any better.

Negative self-talk feeds into negative behaviors, so the next time you catch your attention astray make the change necessary to focus and stay positive. Encouraging statements such as, “Let’s get it going!” or “Come on, let’s go!” will get you moving in the right direction much faster than hating on your inattention.

3. Create in-set goals.

Wanna stay focused on your swimming while also achieving stuff? You can do both by establishing mini-goals and objectives while you are swimming.

For example, to keep myself engaged and swimming with good technique I will count my strokes during warm-ups and warm-downs. You can do the same with stroke counts, times, number of times you kick, number of breaths, and so on.

Swimming without purpose is a guaranteed way to have your mind start to wander, and more importantly, putting that valuable training opportunity to waste. Give yourself purpose and targets to hit and you will find that you will be far more engaged in your training.

Originally published Oct 2015.


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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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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