11 Things That Separate the Good Swimmer from the Great Swimmer

natalie-coughlin-santa-clara-2015 (3)
Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

By Brittany Oxley, Swimming World Intern

Originally posted June 25, 2015

“This is the difference between being good and being great.”

That quote has been engrained in my head since I started swimming at 6 years old. I believe every coach I have ever swum for has said those words.

But what really is the difference between good and great? Is there a simple black and white answer? I think the answer varies, but I do believe much of greatness is defined by the mental toughness of the individual and how they tackle adversity. What does it take to become great? It takes your mentality, pushed to its limits.

Here are 11 characteristics of great swimmers…

1. Great swimmers know their goals.

They remind themselves of why they are there each day, despite the challenges. Keeping goals in the forefront of your mind keeps you motivated each day and reminds you of the purpose of practice.

2. Great swimmers know there are going to be bad practices, but they are willing to focus through the pain.

This is what makes great swimmers stronger. Making improvements and focusing on the small details while broken down will make so-called “bad practices” more meaningful.


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Baughman

3. Great swimmers know that it takes more than effort to have a good practice. It takes being uncomfortable.

Pushing yourself past the point of comfort will mimic races. The last 50 of a 200 free will be uncomfortable. Training with this discomfort will make the last part of your race seem easier, or at least familiar.

4. Great swimmers know pain is inevitable, but they turn pain into something so minute that it does not affect them.

Pushing through pain and blocking it out will allow swimmers to stay mentally tough. Tell yourself you can get through it and block out the negative thoughts in your head.

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

5. Great swimmers know there are going to be practices that do not make sense, but they trust their training.

I’m sure we have all had sets where we wondered “why am I doing this?” but this is when you must trust your coach. There is a plan as to why you are doing that. Trust it.

6. Great swimmers put in additional time each day to ensure they’re at their best when it counts.

To be great, you must put in extra work. Do abs, do pull ups, eat right, drink water, get sleep. All of these will affect you at the end of your season. So maximize on the opportunities to separate yourself from the masses.

Kalisz, Chase-24

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

7. Great swimmers learn from their mistakes.

Did you not stick to your race strategy? Did you not take enough dolphin kicks underwater? Then be conscious and make changes to help better yourself.

8. Great swimmers keep their emotions cool and stay focused on the big picture.

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

9. Great swimmers do not let others’ attitudes affect their own.

Staying positive and inside your own head will allow you to focus on yourself, not others. Do not buy in to others being negative during practice, or being negative at meets. Stay confident in yourself.

10. Great swimmers focus on what they CAN control.

Do not think that someone is taller than you, or stronger than you. Know that you put in all the effort you could and trust in that.

Michael Phelps, right, and Garrett Weber-Gale, both of the U.S., react after winning the men's 4X 100-meter freestyle relay swimming event on day three of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Beijing, China, on Monday, Aug. 11, 2008.

Photo Courtesy:

11. Great swimmers do not wait. They take advantage of every opportunity and do not plan for “someday.”


  1. Jocelyne Humbert O

    Why swimmers are such awesome people because they take all of this with them.

  2. Martina Chione

    My coach told me that the difference between a good swimmer and a great swimmer is high elbow in freestyle

  3. Martina Chione

    My coach told me that the difference between a good swimmer and a great swimmer is high elbow in freestyle

    • avatar
      Meagan C

      hahah this is so true

  4. Jose Neumann

    Christian Mayer Miguel Castillo

  5. Lara Heida

    Offfff?? Farah Shaban

  6. avatar

    Michelle Stansberry

  7. Danell Nellie

    Shelly Ross, Jennifer Anderson Seeley,

  8. Deborah Bunce

    Read this Gema Fandila Bunce

  9. Han Sen

    Ne Le

    • Jed Wells

      thanks James