How to Use Self-Talk for Better Swim Practices

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

How we choose to talk to ourselves, that little voice in our head that whispers to us to keep going, or on the other hand tells us to give up, has a profound impact on how we perform in the pool.

Multiple studies among national and international level athletes have shown that self-talk has been found to boost motivation, help control focus and attention, build self-confidence, and effect performance. Well, that sounds pretty good to me!

So what is self-talk, and why is it so rad? And more importantly, how can we use it so that we can swim faster?

Self-talk, quite simply, is the collection of thoughts you direct at yourself. It’s the voice that tells you that you are doing a great job, that your stroke feels great, to remember to engage your core, that tells you that you’re miles ahead of the competition. It recognizes our successes and awesomeness in the pool, and also serves as the vehicle for reminding us to work on specific areas of our technique.

On the other hand it is also that voice that tells you that you are too tired, that you don’t deserve to be successful, that you aren’t good enough and that you should quit.

Self-talk, in all its forms, represents the best and worst in the ways that we direct thoughts at ourselves.

It is beyond simply being kind or nice to ourselves that positive self-talk is important. As it turns out, it is smart strategically to incorporate positive self-talk in our swimming.

After all, when things don’t go well, and you berate yourself mentally, you end up stalling in shame and disappointment. You wallow, dwell, and waste time where you’d otherwise be moving forward with your goals. But if you could move on quickly from setbacks, foster a positive environment in your mind where setbacks are temporary, where failure is simply a step in the journey, then imagine the kind of progress you could make.

Here is a 5-point plan to managing your negative self-talk so that you can move forward with a positive environment between your ears:

1. Become aware of the tone and frequency of your self-talk.

Most swimmers will never fully realize the extent to which self-talk directs their swimming. With little judgement take note of the way that you talk to yourself when a workout gets tough, or you are finding that things aren’t going your way over the course of the day. (That rhymed. Nice.)

Take it a step further by writing out the particularly negative ones. A weird thing happens when you take your nastiest self-directed thoughts and put them to paper – they seem to lose their relevance and effect when we actually read them aloud.

2. Put a face on it.

You know that overprotective friend or family member that is always bubble-wrapping your plans and goals? Negative self-talk is kind of like that. It is generally just trying to protect you by discouraging you from doing anything that might cause you harm or disappointment. When you view the negative self-talk in this manner, as someone who is out for your interests but being a little too overprotective, it can be easier to talk it down.

3. Evaluate how much your environment is coloring your choices.

Ever find that when you swim with certain swimmers that the sets just drag on? That the dark cloud that follows them around begins to sprinkle some of the no-no juice all over you as well?

The external influences in our lives have an effect – it’s up to you to figure out if you are going to be held hostage by the actions of others, or if you are going to be empowered by them.

4. Reframe the self-defeating thoughts.

There will always be those sets and workouts where you think they are impossible. The interval is too fast, the breathing pattern too challenging, the yardage to daunting. Here are a couple ways to reframe that silly negative self-talk so that you can give yourself a fighting chance at plowing through:

  • Focus on the feeling of accomplishing the set/workout. Yes, it will be tough, it will be challenging – but the feeling you will have upon completing it will be worth it: “The set is impossible…but I will feel pretty awesome about myself after I complete it.”
  • Change the tone of your language with a challenge. Sometimes simply changing up the tone of your self-talk from negative or self-defeating into one that promotes tackling a challenge can be the little thing you need to get past it. So instead of saying something like, “This is set is going to be impossible,” you could change it up to, “This set will be hard, but will prove how tough a swimmer I am.”
  • Why can’t you? Play devil’s advocate with your negative thoughts. When you tell yourself that you can’t do something, that it is simply too hard, that it’s impossible, pull yourself aside and ask – why not you? Why can’t you? Dropping the challenge opens yourself to a mindset where you are more willing to look for a path forward, instead of closing yourself off to any and all possibilities.

5. If nobody else would say it to you, don’t say it either.

It’s awful how we can be our worst critic. We allow ourselves to say and think things that would inspire fiery resistance if it came from the mouth of anybody else. So then why do we allow that little voice to be, well, such a little meanie?

Strive to be your biggest voice of support, to treat yourself with the same kindness and respect that you would expect others to treat you with.

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3 years ago

Nice article. Feelings lead to thoughts which lead to actions.

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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