6 Things Swimmers Can Do to Develop Mental Toughness

6 Things Swimmers Can Do for More Mental Toughness

Being mentally tough is essentially about conquering yourself.

  • By using more productive self-talk in the water…you push through doubt and discomfort during hard sets and practices.
  • You use visualization to prepare for the stress of competition…and rise to the occasion when it matters most.
  • You focus and concentrate on specific things at practice…and improve faster than ever because you are fully engaged and present.

Mental toughness is more than just about being “tough”…it’s about maximizing your talent, skills, and ability.

It’s taking what you already have and using it more consistently.

While I doubt there is a swimmer out there who wouldn’t like an extra couple pounds of mental toughness, there is a persistent misconception that mental toughness is something you have or you don’t.

In reality, mental toughness is something that can be properly programmed and trained.

Your mental toughness is like any other skill…

Spend time working on it, you are going to get better at it.

Spend no time working on it, avoid it because you don’t know where to start or because you think it’s something purely innate, and that mental toughness you hope for won’t show up when you need it most.

Here are some simple things swimmers can do to build mental toughness.

Write positive self-talk on your water bottle.

If there is one skill to work on for more mental toughness, it’s this one.

Be intentional about the self-talk you are going to use, and write it down so that you read and see it precisely during those moments when you need it most.

Your self-talk shouldn’t be unrealistic, and should be unique to you and your personality.

The best way to go about better self-talk is to look into your inventory of great performances and tease out the forms of self-talk you used then and applying it to what you are doing now.

Finish strong in everything you do.

Effort and focus always starts strong. Whether it’s a season, a main set, or a week of training, at the outset we are fresh and energized.

As the effort and fatigue go on, our concentration diminishes. Often this leads to our effort tapering off as we near the finish.

Finishing strong is something we could all do a little more of.

The benefits of closing everything you do with maximum effort should be obvious, but let’s quickly recap: Finishing strong all the time makes it a habit (builds confidence), immediately separates you from the competition (fatigue makes cowards of us all), and shows you how mentally tough you can be.

Be the swimmer who finishes strong, all the time.

Evaluate your workouts regularly.

One of the less-talked about realities of fast swimmers is that they aren’t just talented (even though that for sure helps!), it’s that they are better able to sort through their performances, good and bad, and take lessons and motivation from them.

Good swim or bad swim, they learn and move forward.

This type of self-awareness and willingness to use every performance as fuel for the next is like putting fins and paddles on your swimming.

You are simply going to improve much faster when you can use experiences for more informed training and preparation.

Put on your white lab coat and objectively look at your training. What are you doing well? Where are you being successful? How can you spread that around further? What are things you can improve on?

Instead of avoiding your weaknesses and opportunities for growth to protect your ego, take a step back and evaluate how you train, how you prepare, and how you can be even better.

Grade your biggest mindset opportunity daily.

One of the issues that I hear about from swimmers who want to get mentally tougher is that they don’t really know how to measure their mental toughness.

How each swimmer defines mental toughness, and what it means to them, is unique.

Grade your mental toughness.

Give yourself a tangible target to work with, even if the skill itself seems like an abstract thing.

I’ve always found that grading effort after practice is an easy way to put more focus on excellent effort during training.

Set daily challenges and goals in practice.

Daydreaming during practice is something we all do to a certain degree. But if that’s all you are doing, then you are going through the motions and not really making the most of your time in the water.

One way to focus up is to set yourself small goals and challenges each day at the pool.

  • Today I am going to push off with perfect streamlines for the whole practice.
  • Today I am going to finish every rep of every set with a race finish.

Little things that go beyond what your coach expects of you will not only keep you engaged and present at practice, but this kind of engagement is a lot more fun and rewarding than allowing your mind to wander and your swimming to suffer.

Visualize yourself overcoming adversity.

And not just swimming the “perfect” race. Mental imagery is a proven way to bulletproof your race-day performances.

Countless Olympians from Michael Phelps to Katie Ledecky use this mental skill to prepare for the stress of competition. Often swimmers are blindsided and choke on race day because they aren’t prepared for the pressure, stress, and expectations.

When you use visualization properly, to rehearse the nerves, the butterflies, the block under your feet, the cold rush of water when you dive in, moments of adversity in real life aren’t as devastating.

Because you’ve imagined yourself thriving in the face of adversity ahead of time, the sting and shock of your goggles springing a leak or your legs feeling cement on the final lap doesn’t derail your focus and energy.

Your next move

Want to take your mental toughness to the max?

Wanting more mental toughness is the easy part.

It’s putting together a plan that is custom to you is where things get tricky.

That’s why I put together Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset.

Inside, I will show you everything you need to know about developing more mental toughness than you ever thought possible.

Things like:

  • How to conquer the discomfort and pain that comes with hard workouts…
  • Gold-medal winning tips for self-talk that keeps you centered and calm in the face of adversity…
  • How to crack your performance code—the exact mental and emotional state that helps you swim like a demon under pressure.

Conquer the Pool is trusted by some of the best swimmers and teams on the planet, including Olympic gold medalists, NCAA champions, and world record holders.

“This is the best book I have ever read concerning mental training.” – Ray Benecki, head coach, The FISH Swim Team

When you are ready to turn up the mental toughness, Conquer the Pool is waiting for you.

Learn more

Coaches and teams: Team and group order options are available.

Included is a healthy team discount and custom branding (putting your club logo on the cover of the book).

For more information on team orders and a free estimate,

Click here for more info on team orders

Get Daily Tips on How to Swim Faster

Subscribe to the YourSwimLog.com 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 YourSwimLog.com. 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 »