10 Top Reasons Why Swimmers Fail

Photo Courtesy: Bill Slattery Jr.

By Wayne Goldsmith

Put your hand up if you want to fail.

Put your hand straight up in the air if you really want to lose – you enjoy coming last and you think it’s neat to perform poorly.

Can’t imagine, there’s too many hands up.

No one wants to fail. No one deliberately chooses to fail.

But sometimes swimmers will claim that in spite of training hard and giving their best, they never seem to get the competition results that they believe they deserve.

Facing Failure – Finding the Reason for a Lack of Success.

When faced with failure, swimmers, coaches (and parents) will look for simple reasons to explain the poor result.

In general, the most common reasons people will identify as “the” problem behind a sub-standard competition swim are:

However, there’s an old saying…“it’s no good finding a great solution to the wrong problem”.

Failing to perform in Meets rarely relates to something as simple as “not doing enough training”, yet it is the most popular reason that most people cite to explain poor performances.

This is far too simplistic.

Many swimmers will attend all the sessions required by their coach, they’ll swim the same workouts as their team-mates in training, yet when it comes to Meets, they’ll fail to perform – leaving them – and their parents – puzzled, perplexed and frustrated.


Photo Courtesy: Brian Jenkins-Vermont Athletics


Here are the Top Ten Reasons Why Swimmers Fail.

  1. Counting the laps and not making the laps count. There’s training and then there’s training. You might be doing the same number of laps as your team mates, but unless you’re focused on developing your own skills, technique, fitness, speed, power, endurance and racing ability while you’re training, the success you seek will not be forthcoming. You can increase your yardage, you can add more training sessions, you can train through your holidays – you can increase your overall training load as much as you like and still not improve. It’s not about the number of laps you do – it’s about how you swim each of those laps.
  2. Attending training but not actually being there. Everyone has “bad-days”” times when they’d prefer to be somewhere other than at the training pool. This perfectly normal. However – once, you’ve made the commitment to go to training – you need to be at training. Once you walk through those doors at the pool, you need to be at training – physically, mentally and emotionally. If you’re swimming up and down wishing you were somewhere else or wanting to do something else other than swimming – go do it. If you don’t want to be there – don’t be there. But – when you attend training – make sure all of you is there and giving everything you can to everything you do.
  3. Inconsistent training performances. Some swimmers will do ten sessions a week but only perform to their best at one or two of those sessions. Some – more committed and more dedicated to self-improvement and personal success may train to their potential for four or five of the ten training sessions. And – a very small number of swimmers will consistently train to their full potential. Want to know why you fail? You choose to! Because you choose to train inconsistently.
  4. Poor lifestyle choices. Swimming is more than swimming. Some swimmers will consistently train to the best of their ability then live on junk food, stay up all night watching TV, drink nothing but soda, sleep poorly and never do their stretching or dryland work. Then they look up at the score-board at a Meet and wonder “why aren’t I swimming fast? I do all the training I am supposed to do!”. Choose to train to your full potential at every workout – and choose a high performance lifestyle to support your training.
  5. Focusing only on strengths. It’s fun to do the things you like to do – which are usually the things you are good at. It’s only natural. But focusing your practice sessions only on the things you enjoy doing does not help you improve the things that may be holding you back. A great example is when your coach says “Choice”. Coaches will often use the term “Choice” – a part of your workout where you can choose to do something rather than being told to do it. So for example, during your warm up, your coach might prescribe “Easy 400 choice”. When giving the choice to choose….choose to work on things that can help you get better. Most swimmers when offered “choice” – make the wrong choice – usually to swim slow freestyle with poor technique and sloppy skills, instead of working on the things they know can help them improve.
  6. Not doing enough kick. Not many swimmers love kick. But – kick – depending on who you talk to – may contribute far more to swimming performance than you might realise. Learn to love kick. Think about kick differently. Instead of thinking of kick as something you do to fill in time between swim sets, start looking forward to kick sets. Aim to be the best kicker in your age group, your lane and your team. Find faster kickers in your team and race them in training. Strive to set “kick-PRs”. Learn how to kick 75 metres in your 100 metre swim time. And 200 metres in under 3 minutes. Concentrate on kick…and failing at Meets is less and less likely.
  7. Sloppy skills. Over the past 30 years, some of the smartest minds in swimming science have studied how swimmers swim. Biomechanics brains all over the world have produced countless pages of data about how the best swimmers in the world swim their races. Guess what? Swimming is not swimming! That is – the best swimmers in the world are not necessarily those whose actual swimming speed the fastest in the pool, it’s the swimmers who can combine very fast swimming speed with outstanding dives, starts, turns and finishes. In some events, e.g. 50 and 100 short course racing – skills make up over 50% of the total race time. That’s half of the race performance totally reliant on dives, starts, turns and finishes. Now think about your training. Do you spend anywhere near 50% of your training time developing your swimming skills?
  8. Believing 99% is good enough when it comes to race practice. There’s a myth about racing: “it’ll be fine on the day”. In other words, I can train close to my best and then on Meet day, with my best swim-suit and my favourite cap and swimming in a “fast” pool (another really dumb swimming myth) – I’ll swim fast. Wrong. In fact the opposite is true. You must choose to make your training more challenging and more demanding than the competition you are preparing for – then you know – with some certainty – that you will swim fast when it matters.
  9. Lack of self-belief. Self-Belief really matters. How you feel about yourself – how you love, accept and value yourself as a human being matters more than you can possibly imagine. Confidence is a critical aspect of successful race performance. Confidence is a combination of two factors: self-belief and evidence. “Evidence” is all the things you do: pool training, dry-land training, flexibility work, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, drills and skills work etc etc – it’s all the things you do in and out of the pool to help you become a better athlete. “Self-belief” is how you feel about you: it’s your love and acceptance of yourself as a person. If you want to be more confident – train hard, do your best, give all you can to everything you do but….more importantly take time to learn to about yourself and to unconditionally value yourself for no reason other than you are who you are.
  10. Inability to perform in the competition environment. Most swimmers do not fail because they can’t swim fast. Many many swimmers will swim amazing times during taper – and believe that this training speed is all they need to perform successfully at their target Meet. Wrong. Competition performances are not just about physical speed, they heavily influenced by two critical concepts:
    • T.U.F. – Technique under fatigue, i.e. your capacity to maintain high swimming speed, great skills and excellence in technique when you are tired and;
    • P.U.P. – Performance under pressure, i.e. your capacity to  maintain high swimming speed, great skills and excellence in technique when you are experiencing emotional pressure.


Turning Things Around: Success is Your Choice.

Sick of failing?

Had enough of not achieving your full potential?

Tired of not winning the medals – and swimming the fast times at Meets that you know you are capable of?

Then – choose to change the way you do things.

And don’t count the laps, make every lap count.

Wayne Goldsmith


  1. Terry Fountain

    Tori Fountain These are important!!??

  2. Chris Jones

    Loose ≠ Lose

  3. Lauren Doughton

    Samantha Wyllie Myah Ambrose Kobie Markham take note girls! ??

  4. Annie Cooper

    I grew up on Swimming World Magazine in the late 70’s early 80’s. The magazine was inspirational. This article is not. Nearly all of what I see from you, today, Swimming World, is not worth the time it takes to read.
    Be better.
    Do better.
    Help swimmers dream.

  5. avatar

    This article, compared with the hundreds I’ve read, is absolutely disappointing. It’s not at all inspiring, not at all encouraging, not at all supportive. It’s just criticism, criticism, and more criticism. The least you can do with this article is offer a solution instead of just pointing out everything that’s wrong and leaving it there. The self-assured tone makes this whole article worse.
    Be inspiring.
    Give constructive criticism, not just plain criticism.