The Real Reason You Didn't Swim As Fast As You Wanted

The Real Reason You Didn’t Swim As Fast As You Wanted

When things don’t go well at the big meet it can be easy to get down on yourself. Here is what you should be doing instead.

You’d been fantasizing about this exact moment for months.

It was destiny, you were due, and today was your moment, your time to shine.

As the ref blew the whistle, and you got up on the blocks and stared down the placid water of your lane, the pool fell quiet.

You hunched over, gripped the blocks so tightly your knuckles turned white and when you exploded out of the starting position it felt like you were being launched off a trampoline through the air.

There is a brief shock at how cold the pool is. Face to the quickly moving black line below you your arms were locked in a streamline so tight the water seemed to fall off you.

The breakout was done with such speed and power that you broke a little too late; unaccustomed to the raw speed it was tough to judge where you were in terms of depth.

No matter.

You were going so fast it hardly made a difference.

You feel light on the water, riding high, the nervous energy taking you through the first couple lengths, while you consciously had to pull back the reigns in order to pace yourself through the rest of the race.

You hurtle into the finish in a cascade of white water, timing the touch perfectly.

Your head whips around, scanning the names on the scoreboard, half-expecting to see “NEW POOL RECORD” or “DID EVERYBODY ELSE SEE HOW FAST THIS KID SWAM?” beside your name…

The Real Reason You Didn't Swim Fast at the Big Meet


The time doesn’t look right.

You squint. Furrow your brow. Peel the goggles from your eye sockets.

See your name…

“Yup, that’s me… That’s my lane…”

But the time…

You wrap both arms on the lane-rope, race to catch your breath, and struggle to grasp the time.


“How did this happen?”

It’s a slow walk to the warm-down pool.

Bypassing where your team is sitting you get a couple consoling looks from teammates.

“Good swim,” they say.

You hop into the warm-down pool, ignoring the looks from your parents up in the stands, who seem to be conferring with other parents about what had happened.

“I don’t know,” they say with a shrug.

Had you, though?

As you float and slowly swim in the warm-down pool it’s tough not to think the worst things about yourself and your swimming…

  • “See, knew I was never going to be that good…”
  • “Obviously I will never be as successful as I dream to be…”
  • “I completely and utterly stink at this sport. I hate it.”

If this situation sounds painfully similar it’s because it happens to almost all of us.

Spend more than fifteen minutes watching races at your local swim meet and you will see these thoughts in the body language of swimmers who fall short of their expectations.

And so have just about every other swimmer on the planet regardless of whether they are an Olympic champion or a newbie age-grouper or anywhere in between.

The reason you didn’t achieve your goals isn’t that you stink…

Or that you don’t deserve it…

It’s because your expectations were off.

In other words…

Your self-awareness wasn’t on point.

Why Self-Awareness Matters (Much More Than You Realize)

Self-awareness is tough, sometimes brutal, but improvement is impossible without it.

It’s also a tough skill to acquire.

For nearly all of us we can never truly guesstimate how we are going to perform.

Next to the rare occasion that we completely outdo our expectations are a dozen moments where we fell incomprehensibly short of them.

Self-awareness can also, well….hurt.

Most swimmers don’t have the heart to objectively break down their swimming.


Because it stings their pride too much to acknowledge that they actually weren’t doing things as well as they imagined.

It’s safer and easier to live in la-la land than it is to confront the realities of how we are actually training in the water.

Start by Auditing Your Training

The road to being self-aware starts with critiquing what you are presently doing.

Instead of simply chalking up that bad swim to “not deserving it” poke around under the hood of your training.

  • What are the things that have brought you success in the past?
  • Over the course of your career so far what are the moments where you have truly shined?
  • What were the circumstances that led you there?

If you really want to get down and dirty I would challenge you to write out your workouts (including rating yourself on the quality of the meters swum, the effort you gave and how engaged you were) for two weeks to really see what you are up to in the pool.

At the end of the two weeks you will have very detailed overview of your swimming.

The consistency and patterns will be a bit of a shock if you have never done this exercise before.

Don’t feel too bad if you see a lot of bad habits dotting your days of training…

If you see that you weren’t really making all that many practices, or that focus levels were low, or that you were sandbagging a lot more sets than you realized, it simply means you have a ton of stuff that you can work and improve.

Being self-aware starts with having a clear and unbiased understanding of what you are up to in the pool.

[Check this post if you are looking for some more guidance on how to properly audit your training in the water.]

Get Regular Feedback From Your Coach

Getting feedback only after your big race went down the tubes is not enough.

In those moments coach will typically look you in the eye and remind you of all those practices you missed. The main-sets you abandoned. The tougher intervals you passed on.

And sure, the ache and sting from that swim might launch you into a heightened level of commitment for a period of time, but in order to sustain that wave you need to know that what you are doing is working.

You can get yourself some objectivity through the use of a training log, but power this tool up to the max with regular check-ins and sit-downs with your coach.

After every Saturday practice sit down with your coach for two minutes and go over the week. Remember, the goal is objectivity here, to get an idea of how you are actually training, so keep an open mind.

Yes, you might not always like what he or she has to say, but if you are willing to be open to their assessment of how you are responding to training you and your swimming will be better served.

Self-Awareness is Your Weapon

Unpredictable performances at meet-time are the worst.

We can both agree on that.

And yet, so many swimmers lack the self-awareness it takes to create expectations that are rooted in reality.

We expect to pull a swim out of nowhere at the big meet. We tell ourselves that we’ll show up when it matters. Or that we trained harder and more often than we really did.

Competition simply lays bare what we did in practice.

The key to making the changes necessary for the results you want in competition…

And in practice…

Starts with having the self-awareness necessary to make the right changes.

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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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