Wanna Swim Faster? Start By Unleashing Your Inner Grit

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.

Grit sounds decidedly like an old school term. I suppose that sentiment is accurate, as somewhere along the way someone told us that it would be easy. That it should be easy. That we wouldn’t have to work hard. That if it was meant to be, it would just happen.

Elite swimmers have a sort of stubbornness, a manner of dreaming that is measurably delusional, a way of thinking that tells them they are not only capable of doing what they set out to achieve, but that nothing– nothing– will stop them or get in their way. It’s a dogged determination that no matter what happens, regardless of circumstance they will charge headlong towards their goal without delay.

What’s realistic, what’s possible, what’s achievable. Those swimmers at the top don’t think in those terms. They make a goal, no matter how outlandish, and stubbornly stomp it down.

Sure, they waver. There are crises in confidence and motivation along the way, but by and large, they refuse to acknowledge the possibility that what they have chosen to achieve cannot be done.

In other words, they show some world class grit.

What is grit, you ask? Well, lemme tell ya.


Angela Duckworth has brought the term to the broader public and out of the realm of Western movies. The University of Pennsylvania associate psych professor sought to find out why some people excelled where others didn’t.

Inspired by a 1926 study by Catherine Morris Cox that looked into the backgrounds and coming-ups of 300 superstars from history, including Mozart, Da Vinci and a host of other smarty pants, Duckworth distilled Cox’s study, observing that all the subjects had demonstrated remarkable tenacity and perseverance in the course of their diverse careers.

To test out just how relevant grit was to success, Duckworth created a 12-question survey that pumps out a score between 1-5 of how much grit someone has. Some of the questions are surprisingly simple:

  • I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
  • Setbacks don’t discourage me.
  • I am a hard worker.

And so on.

In 2004 she took this survey to West Point and had 1,200 freshman cadets fill it out at the beginning of an intense summer of training called Beast Barracks. This was in addition to the academy’s own Whole Candidate Score, which evaluated cadets based on SAT scores, physical aptitude, class rank and demonstrated leadership abilities.

At the end of the summer it wasn’t the Whole Candidate Score that predicted who would drop out and who wouldn’t. It wasn’t SAT scores, or physical aptitude.

Duckworth’s little simple questionnaire was easily the most accurate predictor of who was successful during that intense summer of training.


The cool thing about grit is that it doesn’t appear to be related to genetics. Or what your parents do for a living. Or how big your feet are, or how talented you are. It’s something you can cultivate, an attitude that you can choose to adopt.

Here are 5 tips for developing grit in the pool so that you can lay some punishment on your goals this season:

1. Make practice your proving ground.

Many swimmers lament the practice. And it’s understandable. For a couple hours you swim up and down and around a black line, in sometimes suffocating conditions, swimming until your legs and arms and lungs border on collapsing.

What practice is designed to do is to help you improve specific parts of your performance. It’s an environment where you try and try again, gaining valuable feedback in the process, and applying that knowledge and skill to further improving.

It’s at times frustrating, and it can become exhausting both mentally and physically – but it is what is required to level up your swimming.

2. Get vicious with your failures.

How many times have you suffered a setback or failure and taken it personally? Sat back and hated on yourself because your performance didn’t match expectations?

Gritty swimmers aren’t afraid of their failures, and they don’t allow their failures to dislodge them for any longer than absolutely necessary. They take their failures, rip them apart for any silver linings or feedback, and paddle on.

3. Chase excellence, not perfection.

Perfection is the antithesis of action. It’s an unattainable ideal that paralyzes and stalls the most well intentioned of swimmers. It is inflexible, binary and completely and utterly unforgiving.

Gritty swimmers recognize this, and instead hurl themselves forwards in the pursuit of excellence, which is much more forgiving and allows for the necessary failures and setbacks that promote growth.

4. Keep your promises.

In matters both big and small, stubbornly stick to your promises that you make to others, and especially the ones you make to yourself. When you keep your word you see things through.

Ever notice that when your word starts to mean less to yourself that you get down on yourself? Start to doubt that you are capable to follow through on the things you intend to deliver?

It does matter that you keep your word. When you start to slip in the small promises, you will find that the bigger things will start to slip through the cracks as well. If you make a promise to do something, fulfill it.

5. Embrace the grind.

You’ve heard this term before. Embracing the grind. Sure, it sounds great on a motivational poster, but what does it really mean?

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that as long as we think positive that success will come to us. This type of empty positivity might make you feel good for a little while, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of accomplishing difficult things.

Consider the difficulties that lay ahead of you, and prepare for them – whether it’s in having a Plan B for moments of injury, or setting up a recovery program for yourself for those grueling weeks of training over the holidays.

About YourSwimBook

YourSwimBook is a log book and goal setting guide designed specifically for competitive swimmers. It includes a ten month log book, comprehensive goal setting section, monthly evaluations to be filled out with your coach, and more. Learn 8 more reasons why this tool kicks butt.

NEW: We now have motivational swimming posters. Five of ’em, actually.

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Christine Bagarra

Where can we buy the book, YourSwimBook?

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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