What to Do When You Are Getting Crushed by the Super Talented Swimmer

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

Looking over you see the rooster-tail of water coming off your teammate’s kick as he motors past you with seeming ease.

Another workout, another dusting.


It’s a common problem we all experience at some point or another: training or competing against The Natural, the swimmer who can barely show up to practice and still kick your butt all over the place by virtue of a sickly amount of talent.

Making this worse is when your work ethic far outshines the hard work being performed by The Natural…and they are getting all the attention from a fawning coach as well.

It can feel deflating.

It can make us feel like our training is pointless.

The reality is this: you can’t change talent.

You can only change what you can do with yours.

Here’s why you should turn your chlorinated frown upside-down:

There’s always going to be someone with more talentAnd there’s always going to be someone with less talent.

It’s easy to look across the lane rope and wish that you had the other-worldly talent of someone else.

But get this: someone is looking at you and thinking the exact same thing.

There is a swimmer in the other lane that is looking at you and wishing and pining for the talent you have. There will always be someone faster, someone more talented, someone more genetically gifted, etc. Just like there will always be someone with less talent, who is less further along than you are.

Now, you can waste energy and focus by commiserating over your “misfortune”, but besides tickling your desire for self-pity, it’s not going to help you swim faster.

Use the comparison to power your swimming.

Comparison-making can be a powerful and motivational tool…when it is used properly. Using the talent of others as a yardstick for yourself can be used for good or bad.

It’s okay to get mad. To get pissed. As long as you are using those “negative” emotions to make positive changes in the pool(same goes for life in general).

If you are looking across the lane rope and using the frustration and dissatisfaction to rise to the occasion more often during your swim practices, and if you use that sense of unfairness to push you to recover harder, eat better, and sleep more… Well, what do you think is gonna happen?

You are going to improve like crazy.

On the other hand, if you use the performance of other swimmers as a barometer for how you should train today, for how you should prepare to give your best, and for how you take care of yourself in and out of the pool…well, at that point comparison-making becomes a detriment to your swimming.

Talent isn’t all it is made out to be.

For every naturally-gifted swimmer that “makes it”—and there are plenty—there are many, many more talented swimmers who never get anywhere because they relied on their talent alone.

They were spoiled by the early and easy success talent gave them. They expected talent to be “enough” to be successful over the long term.

Being talented brings with it expectations that it be fully developed (you owe it to yourself to develop it, as onlookers, parents and coaches will remind the talented swimmer), which can mess with a swimmer’s self-identity.

Is talent helpful?

Of course, it can be.

But it is a lousy predictor of work ethic. It doesn’t dictate character. And it doesn’t instill a tenacious attitude.

You learn quicker what it takes to be successful.

I’ve written before on the limitations and burden of talent. One of the “curses” of talent is that it blinds you to what high-grade swimming truly entails.

Talent hides the hard work, the dedication, the commitment to the details that are required to be successful in the water.

The upside for our less talented swimmer is that they learn early on what it takes to be successful. They are more aware to the changes and improvement they need to make.

Talent can blind the gifted into thinking they don’t need to improve their skills. That the details don’t matter.

Hard work will take you further than talent ever will. And more importantly, you will have earned it.

What does getting bummed out over someone else’s talent get you?


This form of comparison-making is crushing. It erodes confidence. It instills a sense of victimization. It is not fair, so what’s the point of even trying?

Focusing on someone else’s talent robs you of your own journey.

Getting better in the water is a trip, man.

Conquering Hell Week. Doing the 100x100s. The first time you crack a minute in training. And so on.

These are moments that stick out, and that are inordinately personal. They are things you did, and they are the things that constitute your journey as a swimmer.

Being perpetually distracted by what the swimmer in the next lane is doing steals these experiences from you. It takes away the opportunity to focus on your own process.

To develop better self-awareness.

To check your weaknesses, to multiply your strengths, and to recognize your moments of excellence and resilience.

“Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed—there’s so little competition.” –Elbert Hubbard


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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30 Years & Counting
3 years ago

Wish I could like this twice

3 years ago

At least in age group swimming often the “most talented” are the most physically mature, and that “talent” will fade as others grow and mature; but often coaches seem not to be able that discern this and over look the slow developers. As a result they then fail to develop anyone, because no one bothered to teach the slow developers how to swim…

3 years ago

Quit and join the chess team

4 years ago

Move away from Gainesville.

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
Reply to  Togger
4 years ago


Bon Jovi
4 years ago

hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
– kevin durant

Reply to  Bon Jovi
4 years ago

What happens when talent works just hard enough to beat you?

HB Swim Dad
Reply to  Swimmer
4 years ago

A list of a few non-genetically gifted Olympians:
1. Daiya Seto: he’s 5’9″ and one of the fastest in the 400 IM. He’s always the shortest on the block, swimming against Phelps and other giants.
2. Cody Miller: has a rib deformity that affects his breathing (pectus excavatum), and he suffers from asthma.

Both of these swimmers work very very hard at improving their aerobic base and choosing events that minimize their disadvantages so that the hardest working swimmer with the best technique can shine against talent that works less smartly, less diligently. Obviously, you can ask “what if the talented swimmer works just as hard?” The answer is unlikely because that same talented swimmer still has to… Read more »

Reply to  HB Swim Dad
3 years ago

I feel like this is a bit of a wrong way to look at it. I agree with the Cody Miller bit. But Seto and most of other smaller Japanese swimmers are very different and were considered prodigies in their country since a very young age. They lack height but recompensate in every way possible and have insane talent for the sport.

Reply to  Bon Jovi
4 years ago

“But also, I’m going to join the best team of all time so u can coast to a ring”

Reply to  Bon Jovi
4 years ago

When I think of hard work, I think about how you can’t spell hard gain without Tonya Harding.

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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