7 Ways to Develop Mental Toughness for Swimmers

Success isn’t dependent on talent or ability. How often have you seen a swimmer with all the talent in the world not live up to their potential? Or the swimmer with a less-than-glamorous technique power their way to the top of the podium?

The difference between those who flirt with success and those who hurtle and scream after it with unending determination lies in the attitude. In other words, mental toughness.

But how do we develop this skill and attitude? Or is it just one of those things that some people are born with and others are not?

Here are 7 powerful ways to develop your mental toughness–

1. Mental Toughness is Forged by Preparation. The confidence that comes with mental toughness is a point of view that recognizes that everything has been done ahead of time to insure an exceptional result. Doubt generally emerges from cracks in the preparation; If only I had made those morning swims; My warm-up wasn’t as thorough as it should have been.

2. Avoid the Peaks and Valleys. When I competed, I was always most afraid of the guy who didn’t pound his chest before a race. The guy who sat quietly in the ready room; eyes steely, ignoring the world around him. The chest-pounder blabbering to everyone was a non-threat to me – after all, someone who cannot control their emotions didn’t seem like someone who could race tactically.

Keeping a level head and avoiding the highs and lows may seem sort of counter-intuitive; after all, passion is necessary. However, this type of level keel means that hiccups don’t derail you, and when success comes your way you brush aside complacency.

3. Embrace Challenges. Being mentally tough isn’t something we are born with. It is something that is shaped by experience and adversity. Generally our fears of those super-hard practices and sets aren’t born of reality – they are exacerbated by our minds.

How many times have you finished a set you previously thought too challenging and told yourself, “Now, that wasn’t so hard!” So the next time a coach is writing up a set that has others cringing, remember that it’s how you react in precisely those moments that will shape your degree of mental toughness.

4. Focus on Right Now. We live in a society that expects more and more of us each day. We are bombarded with expectations from the moment that dastardly alarm clock rings until we finally doze off at night. But the reality is that we are not natural multi-taskers.

Dividing up our attention amongst various tasks or activities simply guarantees that we end up with a handful of mediocre performances. Focus everything you have on what you are doing at this moment. Don’t worry about the next set, the next practice. Execute with ultimate excellence on what you are doing at this very moment.

5. Nerves of Aluminum, err, Steel! It would pointless to say that you don’t get nervous as hell each time you step up on those blocks; staring at the flat water ahead of you, hoping your preparation was enough to propel you towards that best time. Nerves are there, and they aren’t going anywhere. It’s how you handle them that ultimately decides how you perform. This goes back again to being prepared, of focusing on the moment,

6. Be Perpetually Ready for War. Elite swimmers don’t need conditions to be perfect. They simply need a bathing suit and a lane. They don’t mope when they swim poorly in the heats and get an outside lane for finals. They can be up and ready to swim on nearly a moment’s notice. The reason the mentally tough can crush consistently solid performances is that they don’t require conditions to be completely ideal to swim their butt off.

7. Relentless Purpose. Do you have goals for swimming? Do you have a concrete, visceral idea of what you want to achieve this year? Those who possess mental toughness have a destination, and they will do whatever it takes to get there. The destination for you could be a best time, making a travel team, or smashing some world records. Whatever it is, write it down, and start chasing that awesome goal right this second with vicious, unending purpose.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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