Pursley Pep Talks; First In A Series

Swimming World will publish a collection of coaching perspectives written by Alabama head swimming coach Dennis Pursley. This is the first installment of a series that will be rolled out throughout the coming months.


Most people would probably agree that it’s not a good thing to underestimate the strength of the competition–we can sometimes set ourselves up for failure with overconfidence or an overly inflated ego. Equally important, performance can also be negatively impacted by underestimating your own accomplishments and abilities.

Successful swimmers will recognize both their strengths and weaknesses–we all have them–and will develop strategies to capitalize on the former and minimize the latter. They draw confidence from their accomplishments and are motivated to eliminate their shortcomings. A balanced perspective is important to the process of becoming the best that you can be.

It can be beneficial to look to those who are ahead of us. The desire to emulate them–and chase them–can help to bring the best out of us. But it is also important to look back occasionally and see how far we have come.

Rookies and lower-seeded swimmers in major competitions can sometimes feel overwhelmed and out of place, but nothing could be further from the truth. The pecking-order myth is one that is shattered in every major competition by rookies and other swimmers in early heats who refuse to concede that the results are predetermined by the psyche sheet.

Whether we’re talking about the sectional championships or Olympic Games, it is important to feel like you belong, to look forward to the challenge and to enjoy the experience! It is equally important to avoid the temptation to be satisfied with participation without regard to performance.

This is not likely to happen in a trials competition, but I have often seen it happen in major international competitions. Successful PERFORMANCE is the goal, not participation. What is successful performance? It has nothing to do with the place you finished or even how fast you swam. It has everything to do with how close you came to swimming up to the best of your ability on that day

Circumstances beyond your control won’t always allow you to swim as fast as you would like to swim, but NO circumstances can prevent you from being focused, determined and aggressive in your racing. If your EFFORT has left nothing to be desired, you can be proud of your performance.

The great athletes are rewarded by success and are motivated–rather than discouraged–by failure. They learn from their mistakes and turn bad into good, whether it’s in the next race, the next meet or the next season.

Whether this is your first championship meet or your 21st, the ingredients for success are the same:
* Appreciate the opportunity
* Enjoy the experience
* Expect the best (give yourself a chance!)
* Accept the responsibility to perform (regardless of the circumstances)
* Confront adversity with confidence and determination
* Give it your best shot
* Contribute in every way that you can to the success of the team

About Dennis Pursley
After getting his start as a volunteer coach on Don Gambril’s first Alabama staff, current Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley has gone on to one of the most extraordinary careers in the sport of swimming, a career that led him to be named one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming in 2003.

Pursley has helmed coaching staffs throughout the world, including stops as the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, the inaugural director of the United States National Team and most recently the head coach of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad. Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Ariz., before becoming the head coach of British Swimming in 2008.

Pursley and his wife Mary Jo have five children, Lisa, Brian, David, Steven and J.J. Lisa and David have joined him on the Alabama staff.

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