How Champions Find Challenges in the Mundane

Champions Find Challenges in the Mundane at the Pool

Do you find ways to challenge yourself in training? Here’s an example of how one Olympic gold medalist ruthlessly sought out new challenges in practice, fueling hyper-improvement along the way.

University of Florida head coach Gregg Troy found himself with a unique problem.

One of his swimmers, Ryan Lochte, had been progressing so much over the past couple seasons that he was thoroughly and consistently destroying his teammates during practice.

Although most of us see the laid-back and easy-going and potentially trouble-making Lochte, when it came to competing in training he was anything but laid-back.

Lochte loved to compete.

And this meant that Lochte refused to allow anyone to beat him during the main sets.

“He would not allow anyone else to win anything in practice,” said coach Troy.

The swimmers Lochte was training with at the University of Florida were far from a slack group—nearly a dozen Olympians and NCAA finalists where churning the waters in Gainesville.

In order to keep himself motivated and hungry during challenging workouts, Lochte started doing something a little different…

He intentionally pushed off late so that he could make racing his teammates more of a fair fight.

At first, it was five seconds.

And then 7 seconds.

“He would leave sometimes 7 seconds back and it took me a little while to figure it out,” said Troy. “He is leaving 7 because 5 wasn’t enough.”

Eventually, Lochte was pushing off ten seconds behind his teammates, which, as you can imagine, began to cause problems.

“It was really destroying some of our other guys because he just would not allow them to ever touch the wall first,” Troy noted.

Find challenges in the mundane.

The morale of this little tale isn’t that Lochte was super-fast in training.

Or that he ended up making a lot of his teammates feel like chlorinated super-plugs. It was that he went out of his way to keep himself motivated and hungry in training.

That is the lesson.

He found a way to make things challenging. Even if that meant he would purposely place himself at a disadvantage when it came to racing his teammates in practice.

Finding challenges, finding ways to keep things motivating, finding opportunities to turn the competitive spark into a bonfire. This is what champion swimmers do.

Playing these games with themselves keep them charging forward and prevent them from becoming complacent or getting too comfortable.

Finding challenges in the otherwise mundane slog of training.

Feast on challenges at practice today.

For a lot of swimmers, the tendency is to go to practice and more or less go through the motions with whatever the workout is.

They focus on completing the workout, and not challenging the workout.

But pulling out a fork and knife and feasting on challenges brings with it a mouth-watering set of benefits.

Challenging yourself keeps things interesting.

When things get easy, or you start to get bored, your attention wonders. Super natural. But our swimming suffers.

Challenges force you to be present.

You don’t need to go ten seconds behind your teammates to get the challenge-based benefits.

Can you do each turn at practice a little bit better? Can you add one extra dolphin kick to your walls? Can you kick with a six-beat kick through the whole main set? Challenges keep you focused on getting better.

Speaking of which…

Challenging yourself keeps you improving.

Getting better is a perpetual upward cycle of pushing your limits. Little by little, as you get better, you make things a little more challenging.

With a mindset of perpetually challenging yourself, you land butt-first in the equivalent of an F1 car mounted on a space shuttle rocket.

Straight-up hyper-improvement.

It’s easy to get caught up or stuck where we are comfortable.

That interval that we know we can do. The stroke count that is familiar.

But improvement lies just beyond that sand-bag wall of challenges. Let’s storm that thing.

Challenging yourself builds confidence.

Supercharged self-confidence comes from seeing a pattern of excellence. It happens naturally—and without having to fake it—from facing challenges and adversity. From choosing to take the challenges head-on.

If you are challenging yourself relentlessly in practice, the pressure and expectations of competition won’t seem too scary. Going head-to-head against the competition will seem almost laughably easy compared to the hundreds, if not thousands of times, that you have butted heads with your own challenges.

Competition will simply be another in the long line of challenges—particularly enjoyable now because you know that challenges and adversity bring out the best in you.

Pick a couple challenges and get after it.

Each practice is an opportunity to challenge yourself. Challenging yourself, by the way, isn’t setting yourself a standard where you know you will fail. “I have to beat my teammates on every rep of every round of every set today or else I suck!” is not a challenge.

Not in any sort of productive sense.

One of your teammates could have a breakthrough of their own.

And that’s not something you can control.

Instead, here are some better ones:

  • Swim with one less stroke during the main set.
  • Add a dolphin kick to every one of your walls.
  • Swim with a six-beat kick for the full duration of the practice.

When you go to practice, put aside the mentality of completing the workout, and find a way to challenge it.

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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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