Swimming is a physically demanding sport.
The breathing, the timing of the strokes, the endless yards in the pool. The early morning swim workouts, the doubles, the five-day long swim meets.
But the mental side is equally as difficult.
And it’s where swimmers usually crack, long before their lungs or muscles give out.
Whether it’s giving up in the middle of a main set, getting frustrated when other swimmers outpace them, or being overwhelmed by pre-race jitters, one of the ways swimmers can steel themselves to the mental challenges of the sport is with a set of core values.
Having core values, like—I am the kind of swimmer who never gives up when things are hard—is crucial for helping swimmers grow and excel in the water and giving them an anchor when things get stormy in the pool.
Whichever core values you choose are obviously going to be unique to you and your goals.
Setting the core values is the first part.
The next step is actually sticking to them.
Here are seven strategies that swimmers can implement to make their core values, well, core to their swimming performance each day at the pool.
Let’s dive right in.
How to Stick to Your Core Values in the Pool
After you’ve done the work of writing out the core values or guiding principles you have for yourself as a swimmer, it’s time to get to work on integrating them so you can reap the benefits of them.
Here are some strategies to help you do just that.
Write them out.
This is the obvious first step, but it’s something most swimmers skip! Why? Because they believe that thinking about them is enough.
Write them down. It makes them more “real” when you have to put pen to paper by bringing them out of the clouds and down into reality.
The act of writing them out may help you clarify them a little bit too as seeing them on paper can often solicit a different reaction compared to simply thinking about.
If you don’t write them down, they may as well not exist.
Reflect and journal how you live up to your core values.
Reflection is a classic tool for assessing how you are doing in the water and helping you accelerate forwards.
Make a point to journal out the moments where you exemplify your core values, and the moments where you lived them, and it will help internalize the core values moving forward.
Reflection helps you to build a record of success, internalize the wins, and build confidence moving forward.
Create an environment that aligns with them.
One of the big secrets about swim teams that have awesome culture is that they have reminders of their values everywhere.
Championship swim teams have championship banners hanging from the rafters in the pool, not to brag, but as a visual reminder that excellence is expected here.
It shows that excellence is realistic and an expectation and that in this pool, it’s possible.
How can you build an environment that aligns with your core values?
Having them written down and visible is an easy win. On your smartphone. On your water bottle. On the front page of your training log.
Values require a constant effort because they ask the most of you, and you can make adhering to them easier by consciously building an environment—including supportive people, including friends, family, teammates, and your coaches—that push you to strive to live up to them.
Start with a few and ramp up from there.
Avoid the urge to go all in, all the time on your shiny and ambitious new core values, especially if these core values are a stark contrast to current behaviors and habits.
Change takes time.
Draw up a list of 2-3 core values to start and accelerate your efforts as you master those. Starting day one with a list of 39 new core values is a recipe for failure.
In the same way that you improve speed in the water one rep at a time, or build a stronger squat one weight plate at a time, aim for progression and start simple.
Strive for consistency and excellence, not perfection.
We are human—we are going to slip up and occasionally fail to live up to our core values from time to time. Does that mean we should give up on them? Nope.
Recognize when you fall short, but seek ways to be more consistent in your pursuit of living up to your core values instead of wallowing when you fail to live up to the unrealistic expectation of being perfect.
Read them each day.
Self-affirmations for swimmers are an excellent tool for deepening the connection between the core values you want and your daily behaviors.
Each morning, write out or read your core values. Or do so before a big workout. Or a big swim meet. Or any other point where you are going to be tested.
While it’s one thing to say what kind of core values we want to have, if we aren’t reinforcing them with repetition, they got lost in the fog of our daily lives.
Be intentional about keeping them front and center in the pool and in your life.
Grade the execution of your core values.
I am all about making things as measurable in the pool, especially when it comes to subjective things like “work hard!” or “have a good attitude!” or “be the swimmer who always does more than the competition!”
Give yourself a score daily/weekly on the top 1-2 core values that matter most to you.
Doing this will keep your values top-of-mind, promote accountability, and help build the habit of sticking to your core values.
The Final Lap
Ultimately, excellent core values make the right thing the default thing in the water.
You don’t have to hem and haw about whether you are going to work hard… you just do it because that is what kind of swimmer you are.
You don’t think about cheating the workout when coach isn’t looking… you just do it because that is what kind of swimmer you are.
You don’t sink into bad body language and complain when things get tough… because that is what kind of swimmer you are.
Because you don’t have to think about what the right thing to do is, you just do it.
Set yourself a set of core values. Use some of the tips in this list to make them stick. And get more from yourself in the water than you ever thought imaginable.
Mental Training for Swimmers (FINALLY) Made Simple
Whether you are tired of choking on race day, want to finally conquer your mindset so that you can give your PB’s the beating they deserve, or want to develop a killer game plan for your mindset, Conquer the Pool is your ticket to faster swimming.
“This is the best book I’ve ever seen concerning mental training.” — Ray Benecki, Head Coach, the FISH Swim Team
Used and trusted by some of the top clubs and swimmers on the planet and written with the feedback of 200+ head coaches, Olympians, former world record holders, and NCAA champions.