How to Develop a Legendary Work Ethic for Swimmers

With every major success story, whether it is swimming, other sports, business or even the arts, a common thread between high performers in each field is that they have a legendary work ethic.

It’s one of the prerequisites of success that we like to think we are exempt from, or can avoid, but it’s there, waiting patiently for us to seize it.

How to Develop a Legendary Work Ethic in the Pool

Ryan Lochte, despite the lazy surfer boy image he portrays, is one of the most conditioned swimmers in the world. Michael Phelps didn’t take a day off from the pool for nearly 5 years in his preparation for Beijing. We can talk all day long about their physical gifts, but it is their insane work ethic that got them to the upper echelons of the sport.

The good news is that having a killer work ethic isn’t limited by genetics.

It’s something that you can develop for your own swimming goals.

Here are 5 simple swimming tips for developing a legendary work ethic:

1. Success requires hard work. Period.

I’ll admit it.

There are still times that I think to myself that achieving what I want won’t require hard work. For a few moments I’ll buy into the hype that I am different, that I am unique, that I will be the one to achieve extraordinary things by wishing for it. This sense of entitlement clears eventually, and the realization that hard work is an integral part of the success equation comes back.

First step is accepting that hard work is going to be a critical and necessary ingredient in your warm, delicious stew of success.

Bypass the hype machine and understand that nothing worth achieving is done without hard work. Nothing.

There's No Escaping It Success Demands Hard Work

2. Get serious about accepting responsibility for your swimming.

Here is the reality: no one is going to come and succeed for you. Your coach, your parents and your teammates might give you token pieces of motivation on occasion, but ultimately what you get out of your swimming rests on you.

No one else is going to put the work in for you.

You want improvement, growth and forward momentum with your swimming, and this doesn’t happen by playing the blame game or by making excuses.

If you are going to be the one to indulge in the awesome results, you are going to have to be the one to shoulder the work required.

No One Else Will Do The Work But You

3. Be about it.

Look, everybody wants big things from their swimming. No one looks in the mirror and thinks, “Hey, I’m going to go to the pool today, swim my brains out for a couple hours, and hope that I place last at state champs next month.”

Everybody wants it, and many are willing to talk about it, but few are willing to walk the walk. It’s great to have big plans for your swimming, but without the action to back it up, those goals are just wishful thinking.

Stop talking about being the awesome swimmer you want to be and get to it.

Be About Being a Successful Swimmer

4. Do what you can with what you have.

Conditions will never be ideal. You won’t always have the best facility, the best training grounds, the best equipment, and so on. Waiting on conditions to be perfect is a never-ending proposition. It’s simply a crutch, a delaying tactic keeping you from making the most of what you have in front of you.

On days where you look around and begin thinking about the facilities that others probably have, the advantages others must be enjoying, just think about all those who have succeeded in spite of their training circumstances. No matter what you have, someone out there is making do with worse.

What you have is not as important as the work you are willing to do with it.

Do What You Can With What You Have

5. Develop action triggers.

There’ll be those moments when we are engaged in the mental back-and-forth over whether or not we should act, whether or not to dump all of our energy into the set at hand.

Remove this banter by creating a set of cues, or a trigger for yourself to get yourself “in the zone.” This doesn’t have to be overly simple. I’d suggest combining a physical action with a mantra or quick statement. The key is to leap into action right away so that the trigger becomes hardwired as a kick-starter for hard work. Here are a couple examples:

  1. Clench your fists three times and say to yourself, “Engage!”
  2. Slap your chest and tell yourself, “Go time!”
  3. Jump up and down three times, tap your head, and exclaim, “On my signal, unleash hell!”

You get the idea. The trigger can be as subtle or as extravagant as you want. Simply make sure that you use it and always follow it with action. Use it even when you don’t need it to make the association of the trigger even stronger.

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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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