by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.
While some swimmers seem to be born with a natural bravado and high levels of confidence, for the rest of us, having the confidence to believe in ourselves and our training can be tricky to maintain over the long term.
As the season of the competitive swimmer is a long one there are going to be the inevitable setbacks and failures along the way…and the corresponding shattering of confidence that comes along with it.
Why our confidence careens off a cliff:
We are struggling to improve. Swimming better isn’t just about getting faster—after all, a lot goes into improving our overall performance in the water. Mastering specific areas of our technique.
Negative self-talk. While your coach can’t always hear your negative self-talk, they can see it in your body language. The rolled over shoulders, slumped head, the frustrated eyes behind the goggles. “I can’t,” is probably the most well known hit of your negative self-talk.
One setback sends us hurtling into a negative spiral of doom and gloom. We all experience setbacks with our swimming. Our feel for the water abandons us when we need it most. We swim slow when we expect to be swimming faster than ever. It’s not generally the setback that is debilitating, it’s the way that we respond in the aftermath.
The fragility of our confidence (more so with some swimmers than others) means that it requires daily TLC.
For those who suffer from epic bouts of low self-confidence you should especially be going out of your way to do things that will create a situation when you are more confident in your abilities and in your training.
Doing these things aren’t merely “feel good” or “rah rah”, but meaningful progress that you can truly believe in.
1. Focus on your process.
When our confidence goes it is usually accompanied by thoughts of how far we are far from our goals. The combined lack of progress and frustration leave us feeling uncertain, anxious, and helpless. A prime recipe for low self-confidence.
To get back on track it’s necessary to forget about your swim goals. Forget the big meet. Forget what you want to achieve this season.
Instead, direct your energy and focus at the things you can do today to be a great swimmer:
Today I am going to go to practice and swim with great technique from beginning to end.
I am going to focus on kicking from my core for the whole workout.
I am going to get to the pool early and do an extra 20-minutes of core work.
When you go to the pool focus exclusively on the thing you want to work on.
These are things you can directly influence, giving you an instant sense of control, helping you to regain some of that lost self-confidence.
If you are focusing on your long term goals, and how not close you are, anxiety and stress go up, and performance inevitably goes down.
On the other hand, if you think only about what you are doing in the present moment, this lap, this stroke cycle, this 50m of freestyle kick; not only will stress go down, but your effectiveness in practice will go up, and, yup, you guessed it—so will your confidence.
2. Set yourself up with some mini-wins.
As mentioned, it’s rarely the initial setback that causes the real damage: it’s the days and weeks of poor training that follow that cause us misery. It’s like the swimmer who has a bad race on Friday morning at the bad meet and then swims like crap for the rest of the week.
Getting out of these mini-funks is tough, as when we go spiraling down them everything about the situation reinforces how we are feeling. After all, we beat ourselves up for not being “good enough” and then feel bad about ourselves for feeling that way. Ugh.
The malaise just keeps piling onto itself, and one of the fastest ways is to sneak out via some small wins.
Before heading to your next swim practice figure out three super small wins. These examples will look insanely easy, so easy that you can’t deny trying them. That’s the whole point. Small actions snowball into larger, even more powerful ones, so don’t underestimate their power:
I am going to 50m of freestyle with the best technique I can.
I am going to do 10 awesome streamlines.
The reason that this works so well is that action is the greatest motivator of all. When in a funk we sit back and wait for motivation or a sign to hit us. But the only way back is to fight the resistance and act.
3. Reframe your self-talk.
Low confidence and negative self-talk go hand-in-hand like bad odor and that soggy towel you left under your bed for a week.
Swimmers spend a lot of time in their own heads when training and in competition. From wall to wall we have nothing but the sound of bubbles to accompany the script that is playing in our brains.
And while our self-talk might not seem impactful, it’s basically who is behind the wheel in terms of our effort. The reason is simple: Our thoughts direct our actions.
What we think about and focus on is what we end up doing:
If you are thinking that the set is too hard, that you can’t do that interval, that you’ll never be the swimmer you want to be, your body will listen.
If you are thinking that maybe you can do it, maybe it’s not as bad as you think, and that what you are capable of is limitless, your body will listen.
Here are a couple quick ways to reframe two of the more common types of negative self-talk I hear from swimmers (and hear in my own brain during training):
Before: It hurts too much > After: What if I just do one more…
Before: I can’t do this. > After: I’ll try one.
Our confidence can seem like a very fragile thing at times. After all, one bad swim, one bad swim practice, and we can suddenly end up doubting all of our hard work and training.
While doubt is natural, being crippled by it and losing out on valuable chunks of training and competition because we careen off into another bout of low self-confidence simply doesn’t jive with our long term goals in the pool.
Give the above daily confidence-builders a go the next time you are suiting up to hit the pool.
ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY
Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.
He’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.
It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.
Ready to take your mindset to the next level?
COACHES: Yuppers–we do team orders of “Conquer the Pool” which include a team discount as well as complimentary branding (your club logo on the cover of the book) at no additional charge.
Want more details? Click here for a free estimate on a team order of CTP.
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