Will you be a great swimmer? Here is your 5-step program to finding out.

This post originally appeared at YourSwimBook.com. To join Olivier’s weekly motivational newsletter for swimmers click here.

We all dream of achieving the pinnacle of excellence. But few have the stomach for what comes next. The hard work, the sacrifice, the time spent honing and perfecting our technique, elevating our conditioning until that moment where we stand up on the blocks and let it all fly.

Curious to know if you have what it takes to achieve mind-swirling success?

Here is your 5-step program to finding out.

1. Determine the cost.

In the immortal words of Snoop Dogg (or B.B. King if your musical tastes are a little more, ahem, aged), “you gotta pay the cost to be the boss”. What will you have to pay to achieve greatness?

Podium-topping success comes with an equitable amount of sacrifice. The idea that we can have our cake and eat it too is sold to us via advertising (“Swim faster with no effort!”), but if you want to achieve something awesome in the pool you’ll have to earn it. (“You mean I actually have to work hard for this?”)

Daydreaming about success is fun, and therein lies a common problem—those fantasies can feel so real, so tantalizingly close that when confronted with the harsh reality that an obscene amount of work and time is required to make them come to pass that we recoil in disgust. (“Eww, two-a-days? No, thanks.”)

Are you willing to do what is necessary? It’s okay to say no—there are an endless number of reasons to say so.

But if you…

  • Plan on being on the blocks the next time the Olympics come around.
  • Wanna go to a Div 1 school and get your education paid for.
  • Want to be the best dolphin kicker on the team.
  • Plan on breaking a minute for the 100 freestyle for the first time.

…then you need to determine what it is going to cost.

There is no shortcut, and no getting around this fact. If you ask any elite athlete if they were able to sandbag their way to excellence, they will laugh.

What is the cost for you to be great?

2. Ride the momentum all the way down the mountain.

If you check out the big success stories of our sport you’ll see they always start out modestly.

Phelps was just a big eared kid from Baltimore with way too much energy on his hands. Lochte was a full-time goof off as a kid, consistently attracting the ire of his coach (also his father).

Making a modest or small start is the surest way to build the mother of all components of success—momentum. To build yourself up into an unstoppable mass of achievement, smashing through the steps and goals en route to that monster of a goal requires you starting small.

I know, I know—our first instinct is to hammer down, to make big and life-bursting change. But this “big-switch” type of thinking isn’t sustainable, and almost inevitably leads to burn-out or failure. (If you are one of the very few people who can make wholesale changes overnight and make it stick, I am truly envious.)

The purpose of measured change isn’t necessarily to inflict progress, but rather lay the foundation of self-belief. Although small, these steps provide a glowing example that you accomplish the things you set out to do. Only when you realize this via the proof of you actually doing what you say you will do (versus claiming that you will or can do something) can you begin to set your sights a little larger.

The consistent application of little wins will always trump the flash-in-the-pan jolts that come with the occasional big win, so do not underestimate the value of them.

Will you embrace the concept of little wins to build up the momentum to send you crashing towards greatness?

3. Create a schedule, not a deadline.

It’s easy to ignore the importance of the day-to-day grind in favor of the lustre and shine that comes with fantasizing about our goals of greatness. Talking and dreaming about our goals is fun, actually living them—not so much.

Having a goal is a crucial step, but it is an empty one without a plan to get there. And even here most swimmers fall short—they will describe what they need to do (“Faster turns!” or “Better breakouts!”) but not outline what they are going to do.

What are the systems, habits and routines that you will have to put in place to achieve greatness?

Let’s say that you intend on smashing your personal best time and breaking the state record. To do so you’ve determined that you need to improve your kick. Knowing this, what will you do on a daily basis to get there? What are the things you will inject into your practices in and out of the pool to achieve this objective?

Will you…

  • Spend an extra 10-15 minutes after PM practices doing vertical kick?
  • Focus on banging out perfect breakouts in practice from warm-up to warm-down?
  • Do bonus hamstring and hip stretches at home on Tuesday-Saturday nights?
  • Run stairs on your own for 35 minutes at the stadium on Saturday and Sundays?

What will your schedule look like for you to earn greatness?

4. Be a little crazy.

Nobody chases unrealistic goals. Okay, I shouldn’t say nobody. Very few do.

The “crazy” goals are in rarer waters, meaning that there are fewer people chasing after them. (More room for you.) Most swimmers will content themselves to chase after safe, mediocre and “easily” achievable goals.

Why do we do succumb to the pull of mediocrity? Perhaps because it’s what we have come to believe is to be expected. For a great deal of us it’s about staying comfortable, staying within the familiar confines of our own lane lines.

Greatness is not a normal act. It’s weird. It sticks out, and it is sure to get you some looks. It flies in the face of the mental lock-step that we fall into when surrounded by people who tell us how it is and how it will be.

In the words of author Jack Kerouac—

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble makers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo…The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Are you just crazy enough to believe that greatness is something within you?

5. Be a little stubborn.

Okay, so you have your crazy goal. A determination to earn it. And maybe you have a schedule to achieve it mapped out. Assuming you are ready to rock and roll, you will next encounter resistance.

Somebody, somewhere, at some point, if your goal is lofty enough, will tell you it won’t happen. It might come from a teammate, or worse, a parent or coach.

Resistance comes in various forms. Dismissal of your goals as too ambitious for your abilities, the negative influence of those you surround yourself with (“Oh it’s just one morning workout, what’s the big deal?”), to outright jealousy and blockage.

A curious symptom of those who are jealous of what you are doing is that they now don’t have the feeling of superiority over you. Isn’t that a weird thing? Because you choose to do something great, it makes them feel lesser than they like, leading them to hate on what you are doing. (“I couldn’t do it so why should they?”)

At the end of the day, if you know in your heart that greatness is upon you, will you be stubborn enough to see past those who doubt you?

In Summary

There is nothing inherently wrong with simply doing your time when it comes to your swimming career. For many the friendships, competition and travel are all they aspire to in their years of circling the black line.

But if you are ready to take it further, to extend yourself over and over again to the point of breaking, to take your talent and abilities for a sky-screaming rip, than it leads me to ask—will you be great?

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.

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6 years ago

As an “ahem, aged” Masters swimmer two years into my second swimming career, I enjoyed your article very much.

Goal-oriented swimming has served me well. And while my goals are less lofty than the Olympic podium, they still require extra time in the pool, constant small refinements to technique, and no small amount of “crazy and stubborn.”

While “greatness” may be elusive, I do have the deep feeling of satisfaction that comes from achieving my goals–and setting the next ones.

6 years ago

Probably one of the best articles I have ever read.

6 years ago

I thought this was going to be a satirical piece, but it’s really solid! Number 4 spoke to my heart…I always tell my kids that “strange is good”. I told them EVERYONE they love (LeBron James, Missy Franklin, Jennifer Lawrence) are all strange people. Normal is boring. It’s vanilla. It also helps them not look down on strange people at school. 🙂

But really good article.

6 years ago

Perfect article. never let anybody tell you, you can’t do something! Love the little wins to build momentum to greatness.

Arian Haque
6 years ago

Am Arian .I practice a swimming club of lssc.

5 years ago

I became what can arguably be defined as a “great” swimmer. The sacrifice was too high and thus, none of my kids is even allowed to swim competitively. You can never get your childhood back. I can see both sides, but I made my choice.

Captain Ahab
5 years ago

“You got to pay the cost to be the boss” was actually a tune by James Brown. Step 1 should have been pray to god everyday.

5 years ago

Jack Kerouac didn’t write that quote. Rob Siltanen did:

(go to page 5 to read about the quote)

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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