Mental Training for Swimmers: Does It Work?

Mental Training for Swimmers: Does It Work?

While most swimmers and coaches understand that mental training can be effective, there is still not a lot of swimmers who work on it. Here is just how little time you can invest into mental training to see faster swimming.

The thing that separates truly elite swimmers from the rest is rarely a physical gift or talent.

More often than not, it comes down to who can manage their stress and anxiety in the moments before the big race. Or those who are able to better face resilience.

In other words, it is generally the swimmer who is better mentally prepared to unleash a performance when it matters most that excels.

And while we hear a lot about the necessity of talent, and the way that it lackadaisically tries to explain high performance as some sort of mystical or God-given ability, in reality talent is not enough if you want to achieve excellence in the water.

Not by a long shot.

The Research on Mental Training for Swimmers

To get a swimmer headed towards the peak of their abilities requires specific mental skills and habits that will then allow them to make the most of their physical skills.

See Also: 6 Benefits of Mental Training for Swimmers

After interviewing a group of 10 American Olympians across various sports, researchers found that they held a common set of characteristics and mental qualities:

  • An ability to focus and cope in the face of adversity.
  • They were found to be highly motivated intrinsically (in other words, they found joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of the goal and were able to motivate themselves).
  • Set up pre-race and pre-workout routines in order to achieve a sense of automaticity with their performances.
  • The Olympians had high levels of mental toughness and resilience.

This research, in particular the ability to thrive and bounce back when challenged, whether it is losing, not performing as expected, or being injured, echoes research on a group of “super champions” that has been covered previously on this site.

Mental Training for Swimmers Does It Actually Work

How Much Mental Training Is Enough?

One common complaint I receive from swimmers and coaches regarding improving their mental training is a lack of time.

After 8-10 sessions in the water, along with a couple dryland sessions, it’s understandable that most athletes and coaches feel like they have little left over to spend on sharpening their mental skills.

See Also: The Coolest Thing That Happens When Swimmers Work on Mental Training

But, as it turns out, you don’t need to allocate a whole ton of time to see tangible results.

This study that found adding regular mental training work to a group of 36 nationally ranked age group swimmers over a 7-week period found performance improvements in the pool, while also significantly impacting the swimmer’s positive psychological profiles.

The athletes did 45-minutes of psychological skills work per week. Training included teaching goal setting, how to use visualization, relaxation and concentrating techniques, as well as teaching the swimmers how to manage their self-talk.

At the end of the 7-week period the swimmers reported improvements in self-esteem, mental toughness, and dispositional optimism.

The Takeaway

There are lots of reasons not to use mental training for swimmers. I hear them all the time:

  • I don’t have enough time for more training.
  • I tried it once, and it didn’t really work.
  • There’s too much stuff to cover, I don’t even know where to start.
  • That’s for other, “broken” swimmers.

And so on.

But as the research has shown, it is effective at building resilience (the main indicator of success in the pool and in life), mental toughness, and even self-esteem.

But perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t require a huge commitment of time. As demonstrated just 45-minutes per week can inflict some serious improvement on both your swimming and your overall mindset.

See Also:

The Science Behind Setting Better Goals in the Pool. There is a proven way to set better goals in the water. Here is the science behind setting smarter goals that you are more likely to achieve.

At What Age Should Swimmers Start Mental Training? This was in answer to an email from a newsletter subscriber that many swim parents struggle with. Here is the answer.

Get Daily Tips on How to Swim Faster

Subscribe to the newsletter and get tips and advice on how to swim faster every weekday morning, straight to your inbox. 

Join 33,000+ swimmers, coaches, and swim parents learning what it takes to swim like a boss.

Unsubscribe anytime. Email will never be shared or sold.

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

Related Articles

Journaling Prompts for Swimmers
Mental Training

21 Journaling Prompts for Swimmers

Feeling stuck with your journaling? Here are some journaling prompts for swimmers to build self-awareness, confidence, and help swimmers maintain perspective over the course of the swim season.

Read More »
The Importance of Having a Powerful Why for Your Swimming
Mental Training

The Importance of Having a Powerful Why for Swimmers

Swimmers invest a lot of time in the water over the course of the season. The two-a-days, long swim meets, and the perpetual sogginess can be difficult to bear for even the most motivated of swimmers. In the moments when you are struggling with commitment or motivation, it’s a great

Read More »
The Big Mistake Swimmers Make with Motivation
Mental Training

The Big Mistake Swimmers Make with Motivation

Motivation or some variation of it is by far the most common query I get from readers of my weekly newsletter. “How do I get motivated to work hard?” “How do I get motivated to do the things necessary for my goals?” “Why is it so hard to get motivated

Read More »
Mental Training

The 3 Swimmers You Can Learn Most From

During my noon-hour swim today, my mind wandered back to my age group days. The swimmers I trained with. The swimmers I raced against. My heroes growing up. And the resulting big box of ribbons and medals collecting dust under my bed. Over the years, I realized, I’d learned a

Read More »