3 Things Swimmers Can Do to Get Motivated to Train Like Their Hair is on Fire

3 Things Swimmers Can Do to Get Motivated to Train Like Their Hair is on Fire

Struggling with getting and staying motivated? Here are three things you can do each day to fuel the fire.

We all know the struggle well.

We sit there wishing, waiting for the thunderbolt of motivation to strike us and propel us to the pool to do that big set or swim practice.

The perceived lack of motivation leaves us feeling even more demotivated. Like maybe we aren’t good enough. Or that we aren’t deserving of the big goals we have for our swimming. So we sit there, looking up at the sky (or down at our phone), waiting for motivation to show up.

Motivation doesn’t work this way. It’s not a muse that calls out to us. It’s something we need to actively chase. Daily.

Here are three things you can do to help get the motivational fire roaring:

1. Motivation comes from progression.

While there are a lot of different reasons for why swimmers burn-out on the sport, I’d argue that the main cause is that we aren’t improving.

After all, is there anything that is more demoralizing, and more utterly demotivating, than spending hours and hours and hours doing something and seeing no measurable improvement?

Working at something, making daily improvements, and experiencing first-hand the jumps in ability, skill and strength in the water provides swimmers with the kind of white-hot intrinsic motivation that keeps them committed to the shoulder-numbing training schedule that goes year-round.

In other words, motivation comes from getting better.

The only problem is that for a lot of swimmers, they don’t maximize the opportunities they have for improvement in the water. They make the mistaken assumption that the only barometer for getting better is on the scoreboard at the end of the season.

And as a result, they base their motivation exclusively on how close they are to a new PB. Which leaves how motivated they are up to the fickle nature of how they “feel” that day.

Choose daily things to improve on. Pick something today to completely and utterly master at practice. Add one dolphin kick to each of your walls. Do deadly flip-turns for the whole practice.

This policy of daily, measurable small wins will not only steadily mould you into a better swimmer, but will also act as a daily drip-feed of motivation.

“There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” –Bruce Lee

2. Motivation comes from showing up.

So you’ve got your big goal. And you’re feeling motivated to put a thrashing on it. But…nothing happens.


Although the goal is in place, and we have everything we need in order to do the things necessary to accomplish it (pool, a coach, a lane rope to pull on while swimming backstroke), suddenly we get hit by “when-I-feel-like-itis.”

  • I’ll start working hard when I’m feeling really motivated.
  • I’ll give a better effort when I feel better in the water.
  • Tomorrow I’ll start eating better.

This is a classic motivation hang-up: we make motivation a precondition for starting.

Something that elite swimmers understand, even if it is just intuitively, it’s that motivation happens when we start the work. After all, how many times have you gone to practice when you weren’t “feeling it” and somewhere in the middle of the session found yourself not only “feeling it”, but performing better than you’d expected to?

Motivation has a curious way of showing up once we begin the work.

Don’t make “feeling motivated” a pre-condition to train hard and smart. Show up, take the first few steps of your practice, and the motivation will follow.

3. Motivation comes from being properly rested.

Want to know what the best motivational and performance-based supplement you can take is? No, it’s not your morning cup of joe (although that can help in a pinch), nor is it that over-priced container of Butt-Blaster 9000 pre-workout powder. It’s getting a healthy amount of sleep.

Swimmers don’t get as much sleep as they should. Research has shown marked improvements in performance when swimmers get 9-10 hours of sleep per night (an improvement of 0.51 seconds over a 15m sprint after about 6 weeks of better sleep habits), and other studies have shown that even elite, professional swimmers don’t get enough shut-eye at night.

While the physical effects of one night of bad sleep aren’t a biggie (with one study of swimmers getting 4 hours per night for 4 nights in a row finding grip strength and top swim speed not decreasing), it’s not the physical effects that cause us misery.

It’s the increased rate of perceived effort. Your workouts simply feel harder. You know how hard those workouts already are when your motivation levels at are 9/10; when we are sleep deprived suddenly we are rubbing sleep out of our eyes and walking on deck feeling 5/10 motivated to workout.

In addition, our short-term memory and ability to focus and pay attention (and a host of other cognitive functions) all decrease quickly with just one night of bad sleep.

It’s hard to get motivated to train at your best when your attention is shot, and things feel remarkably harder than they usually do.

Sure, getting more sleep is tough (see here for some tips on how swimmers can get more quality time with their bed). But when it comes to improving performance and improving motivation levels there is nothing more potent and enjoyable than spending a little more time between the sheets.

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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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