Why You Aren’t Improving As Fast As You’d Like

When you aren’t seeing the results you want in the pool it’s usually because your expectations are out of whack. Here is how to re-calibrate your expectations and get back on track.

I’ve seen it happen more times that I can count.

A young swimmer, charged and brimming with energy and fire, writes out a big goal at the beginning of the season. Puts down some quality work. Shows up at meet time feeling confidant and prepared.

And then swims much slower than they expected.

Dejected, they feel like their hard work was all for naught. As though all those workouts, all that attention to detail evaporated into thin air with nothing to show for it. Perhaps most depressingly, this athlete now feels that the process is flawed or stacked up against them.

In other words, what’s the point?

Look:

Even though it looks exceedingly simple, properly setting goals is not easy.

While writing out a goal on a piece of paper and taping it to the fridge door takes but a moment, learning how you progress, what it takes to be successful, and figuring out how to manipulate your strengths and build on your weaknesses takes experience and patience.

Here are a few reasons why your expectations aren’t being met in the pool:

1. Your goals and expectations in the water are unrealistic.

I hate hearing this myself, and I am equally not at ease spreading this truth about progression in the water. Often times, more than I would care to admit in my own experience, our goals are unrealistic and don’t match what we are doing in the pool daily.

Working hard for three straight weeks—while commendable and an incredibly impressive achievement—won’t result in a 3 second drop in your 50 freestyle. (Well, for most of us, at least.)

A simple way to remedy unrealistic expectations is to have a clear record of your training history. Something that you can reference in order to build a pragmatic forecast for your swimming.

When you can accurately chart your progress within a training log you’ll see how much work it actually takes to improve in the water, and not be left to expectations that aren’t based in reality.

2. You’re making the same mistakes over and over again.

Setbacks, mistakes—whatever ya wanna call them—are bound to happen.

As sure as you stubbing your finger in a lane rope, getting slapped by another swimmer’s paddle, or choking on water right before a flip turn, at some various points in your swimming career you’ll get derailed.

The most frustrating of failures are the ones that we are already aware of. The ones that we experience over and over again.

A lack of consistency. Giving up too early. Not showing up for AM workouts.

The things we know we should be doing, but because we believe ourselves to be the exception, end up ignoring and paying the price for (again) later:

  • If you know that you should be sleeping more during the week, but you keep staying up late despite your good intentions, than can you truly be surprised that those early morning workouts aren’t that great?
  • Similarly, if you watch a competitor dolphin kick by you off each wall, and you continue to ignore it during training, is it fair to be surprised when he or she does the same thing to you the next time a meet comes around?

It’s only continues to be a mistake if you don’t learn from it.

3. Drop any and all expectations at the beginning.

One of the most trying aspects of a swimmer’s career will be those periods where they are coming back from a lengthy break from the water.

Whether it is as a result of having to take significant time off because of serious injury, or they simply needed to take time away from the water, the acclimatization process to the water can be frustrated when you start off with heavy expectations.

Particularly for those swimmers trying to get back into the swing of things expectations can turn out to be more of a burden:

  • Expectations signal that you are currently “less than.” Every moment between now and whenever you fulfill your expectations you feel like an inferior version of yourself. These feelings become cumulative when we don’t hit those expectations fast enough or with enough ease.
  • Expectations ignore the day-to-day routine. It’s important to have goals and expectations, but even more important is falling back into the routine and habits of being an awesome swimmer. When you are focused on showing up each day and doing your job the results take care of themselves.

4. You’ve got a misplaced sense of entitlement.

I know, I know. You’re a special little snowflake.

From the time we are little guppies in the shallow end we are told how unique and awesome and talented we are.

Somewhere along the way a sense of entitlement develops that we can get by with the bare minimum because we have been told that we are talented.

Or we feel we are the exception to having to show up to morning workouts because we are so skilled that the extra conditioning isn’t necessary.

But, but… I don’t have to work hard. I’m talented!

So are a lot of other swimmers out there. A whole lot of other swimmers. And more importantly, they are talented and they are willing to work their butts off. Good luck competing with that.

A little harsh? Maybe.

But a funny thing happens when we stop believing that the sport owes us success… Or that our talent or genetic ability should magically deliver us results….

We learn to appreciate and be grateful for the things we have. We find greater value and satisfaction in the hard work the confidence it builds. And while the sport doesn’t owe us a thing, it has given us a lot of things.

Getting to train with your teammates. An opportunity to test your limits in a safe and enjoyable environment. The physical benefits of being an athlete.

Remember: The sport doesn’t owe you anything. But it will give you everything if you choose to appreciate it.

5. There will always be a point where your expectations aren’t worth the effort (and the effort not worth the return).

We all say that we want to swim as fast and as fluid as Michael Phelps, but how many of us would commit to training 80k per week, and not miss a day of training for 5 straight years?

While I can’t tell how many of you have their hands raised right now, it is safe to hazard a guess very few.

A commitment of that magnitude would require you to give up a lot, and for most swimmers, locking themselves down into a binding commitment for that length of time, and at that intensity, simply wouldn’t be worth the return at the end of the day.

For each swimmer the lengths to which they will push themselves is as unique as they are. For some, it’s capped out at a 5 month high school season. For others, it’s training 7-9x per week, 11 months of the year. And for that very select few it’s a 24/7 job, where every meal is planned, with planned recovery sessions between workouts, and measured sleep each evening.

Achieving at the highest level of our sport is no joke, it demands a lot from you as an athlete, demands a lot from you as a person, and demands a lot from your life.

Deciding that this kind of commitment isn’t for you isn’t a bad thing, as it helps you realign your expectations for what you can achieve in the water.

So before you set yourself some crazy expectations for your swimming, consider what the trade-off is going to have to be, and whether that is something you are willing to live with.


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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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