US Olympic Trials a Reminder to Focus on What You Can Control

The 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials have wrapped up.

It was a week of fast swimming, a remarkably large number of swim-offs, heartbreak, excitement, redemption, and a reminder that swimming fast means focusing on what you control.

The atmosphere in Indianapolis was electric.

To say the least.

Sessions regularly had over 20,000 spectators in attendance in a stadium typically used for NFL games.

There were massive scoreboards, lots of media, loud music and boisterous cheering.

Which meant increased pressure and stress.

Even for Olympic veterans, who have competed and dominated at the highest levels and on the biggest stages, the atmosphere in Lucas Oil Stadium was on a whole new level.

Katie Ledecky, on the blocks for her prelims swim of the 400m freestyle, found the crowd noise so loud that she started shaking and had to remind herself to relax.

“I haven’t felt this kind of energy at a swim meet,” said Ledecky. “Even at an international meet… I was blown away walking out there and seeing all the spectators.”

Those that swam well under pressure had a lot of the same things to say…

  • Focus on what I can control
  • One swim at a time
  • Concentrated on swimming my race
  • Focus on being my best self
  • Stuck to my race strategy
  • Enjoy the process

And so on.

Things that demonstrate the importance of mentally swimming in your own lane.

Control What You Can Control

When swimmers crater under pressure, it’s often because they fixate on the things they have no control over.

Dwelling over a past swim. The expectations of people in the swim community. Worrying about a potential future outcome.

They end up expending a lot of energy and focus on the uncontrollables, things that don’t help them swim their best in the moment.

There is a long list of things you can’t control:

  • The fans
  • The media
  • The officiating
  • The atmosphere
  • The meet schedule
  • The pool conditions
  • The expectations of others
  • What people are saying online
  • The swimmers in the next lane

We only have so much mental bandwidth and focus to go around.

You can spend your focus and energy on things you don’t control (and feel mentally exhausted and experience the loss of self-confidence that inevitably comes with it), or you can direct your focus and control on the things you do control.

Things like:

  • Your effort
  • Your preparation
  • Your body language
  • Your self-talk
  • Your race plan
  • Your process
  • Your pre-race routine
  • Your attitude towards competitors, teammates, officials, etcetera.

The Next Step

For swimmers who struggle with this kind of thing, start by being more conscious of when your attention drifts towards the uncontrollable.

Bringing your concentration and focus back to the present… This moment, this lap, this stroke cycle…

Can help box out the things outside of your control and allow you the chance to swim to your potential.

Ultimately, you can spend your energy and concentration on the things that help you swim your best…

Or the things you can’t control, won’t control and will leave you feeling you are spiraling out of control.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, author, swim coach, and certified personal trainer. He’s the author of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook 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, 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 in the pool?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.




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1 month ago

Stop overcooking yourself in the heats of an individual event especially with a heavy schedule. The IOC does not dole out medals for performances in the heats at the Summer Olympics.

Tea rex
1 month ago

I’d give a shout-out to Jack Aikins. He had a great meet, and put himself in a great position to qualify. But, you can’t control what the guy in the next lane does.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, swim coach, and best-selling author. His writing has been featured on USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming, NBC Sports Universal, the Olympic Channel, and much more. He has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 …

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