The First Step in Building Genuine Self-Confidence at the Pool

The First Thing Swimmers Need to Do to Build Confidence

A fresh season is right around the corner.

Let’s make this season the one where you have bullet-proof confidence.

Here’s the first step.


You well know the nuclear radiation that is feeling super confident. You walk across the pool deck like the Terminator. Main sets don’t faze you. Other swimmers performing well don’t intimidate you.

It doesn’t matter what kind of workout your coach writes up or who is swimming in the next lane, all you know is that you got this.

This feeling is great.

But for a lot of us, hard to maintain. We know our swimming would benefit greatly from having this kind of self-confidence, but what we don’t know is how to have that feeling more often.

You have a great practice, smash a personal best time, or crush a competitor, and you are on top of the world.

But then…

Your workout goes flying off the rails. A slower teammate dominates you at practice. You add ten seconds to your personal best time…in a 100m event.

Bye-bye, self-confidence.

Making our confidence contingent on a result is problematic in itself, but so is the very foundation of our self-confidence.

After all, if you took a bird’s eye view of the moments where you experienced rabid, I can reverse the spin of the Earth kind of self-confidence, how often did they happen?

How often were those moments things you had full control over?

And how many of those things just happened?

If you want to be confident more consistently—and tap the benefits that come along with it, from properly funneling pre-race nerves and butterflies to pushing harder and faster in practice more often—you need to start by becoming more self-aware about where your self-confidence comes from.

And that starts with this little handy exercise.

What confidence is…and isn’t.

Swimmers often think that confidence can only come from winning. Or smashing a personal best time.

They look for the grand slam moments of confidence and patiently suffer through the roller coaster of doubt and uncertainty in training, clinging to the hope that on race day they will get their Costco-sized dose of self-confidence that they have worked so hard for.

And because they rest their hopes of feeling super confident on the performances of others, of a tiny moment in time on race day, it can very quickly feel like feeling confident is something they have very little control over.

Developing legitimate and real self-confidence—I’m not talking about the fake or inflated confidence you see some athletes have—comes from locking in on the things you can control and giving yourself permission to feel confident.

To cut to the core of what it takes to build real self-confidence, one of my favorite exercises to do with swimmers is to have them build a list of things that they control that makes them confident.

Swimmers often lump in the things they do and do not control in the same confidence pile. Differentiating between the controllable things that build confidence and the uncontrollable things that chip away at confidence is crucial.

Here’s an example of what this might look like.

Things I control that give me confidence:

  • Showing up to the pool on time.
  • Doing every streamline with killer precision.
  • Not giving up when things get tough.
  • Executing my pre-race routine
  • Grading my effort after practice

Things I don’t control that don’t give me confidence:

  • How fast the competition swims
  • The way other people perceive me or possibly think about me
  • What people on social media are saying
  • How busy the warm-up pool is
  • How long a meet is running
  • How fast or slow your teammates go

You can’t reliably build confidence when it hinges on how other swimmers do. Or when it is based on the expectations of others.

By basing your self-confidence on how others perform you relinquish control of your self-confidence, and by extension, how you end up performing.

The Confidence Blueprint

This exercise is super simple. But there are plenty of times it will come in handy over the course of the season.

Have a bad practice?

The next time you hit the pool, revisit your list of confidence-builders and focus on them to get back on track.

Feeling doubt and uncertainty?

Uncertainty comes from the unknown, from the uncontrollable. Read through the things you do control and reset your focus.

And so on.

This sheet has your back. Injury, bad workout, illness, disappointing race, losing at the finish, getting cut, getting DQ’d. Doesn’t matter what kind of adversity or pressure you are under, your confidence hit-list gives you ways to generate confidence and progress.

The Next Step

Grab a piece of paper, and draw a straight line down the middle.

On one side, “The things that give me confidence that I control.”

On the other, “The things that grand-theft-auto my confidence that I don’t control.”

Put pen to paper.

It’s not enough to “know” these things…

Write them out.

Revisit them frequently.

And ride the elevated levels of self-confidence to faster and faster swimming this season.

More Stuff Like This:

8 Things Swimmers Can Do to Build Superhero Levels of Self-Confidence. Fast swimming means having the self-confidence to know that our best performance will show up on race day. Here are eight proven ways that swimmers can develop superhero self-confidence at the pool.

Training Goals are Your Secret Weapon for Building Self-Confidence. Self-confidence comes from the training that you do each day in practice. Here’s how setting and tracking training goals in the pool can help you develop some serious self-confidence on race day.

Image Credit: J.C. Mouton

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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.

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