Goldminds: Stop Thinking … And Swim Faster!

Emma McKeon fly Photo Courtesy Swimming NSW

Goldminds: Stop Thinking … And Swim Faster!

If you want to swim faster, do all your thinking in training so that when you race, you won’t need to “think”—everything will become automatic.

A swimmer once asked me” “What should I be thinking about when I race”?

I replied: “Nothing—or next to nothing.”

He looked puzzled and asked: “How can I think about nothing? There’s my stroke, my dive, my underwater kicking, my turns—there’s so much to think about…it’s impossible not to think.”

I said: “As always, it comes down to training. In training, MAKE IT HAPPEN, then when you race, you can relax and LET IT HAPPEN. Do all your thinking at training—then, to go fast at the meet: STOP THINKING…AND SWIM FASTER.”

So, this month’s “Goldminds” is all about nothing!


A common problem in swimming is overthinking.

Every swimmer understands this!

You’re standing behind the blocks, and your brain starts thinking about 10 million things all at once: Did I warm up enough? Did I warm up too much? Are my goggles on straight? Did I stretch? Do I need a drink of water? What lane am I in? Is this a fast lane? I’ve never been in lane 7 before—what if I come up slowly? Where’s my coach sitting? Where’s my mom and dad? Is my race next? What event am I swimming? Where do I take my first breath?

And on and on and on and on—your brain switches to overthinking mode, and you can barely remember your own name!

We call all these thoughts, “noise.” But the trick to eliminate the noise is by remembering BRICS—the basic building blocks of pretty much everything!

By following these BRICS steps—and by taking just five deep, slow, relaxing breaths, followed by some simple, but important and powerful words—you can turn off “over-thinking” and turn on “fast racing!”


Breathe. Deep breathing is like giving a gift to your over-thinking mind! A long, slow, deep breath helps to keep you centered, and allows you to remain in control even in the busiest and craziest of situations. When you feel yourself shifting into over-thinking mode, say the word, STOP, to yourself and take one long, deep breath…hold it for three seconds…then as you exhale, say the word, EASY. That one “easy” breath makes the whole world seem a whole lot better.

Refocus. When the over-thinking starts, it seems like there’s a million things happening all at once. The BRICS technique is all about turning those ONE MILLION things into just ONE thing! So, after you take your first long, deep, relaxing breath, take one more breath, count to three…but this time, on the exhale, think of one thing that you need to do right now…and say to yourself the word, NOW! By refocusing on this one thing—and saying the word, NOW—your over-thinking brain becomes concerned on just the next thing you have to do: the next thing you need to do right here and right now.

Internalize. There are lots of big, loud, noisy, shiny things at swim meets! Lights, flags, starting-pistols, cheering, fans—it can feel like “crazy town!” So, the next step in the BRICS technique is to make it all about you. Start with your first deep breath—the EASY breath. Then take that next breath—the REFOCUS breath. Then…as you exhale after your third deep breath…count to three, then think and say the word, ME! In other words, take a moment to forget about the lights, the cameras and all the actions, and bring everything back inside your space, where it’s calm, cool and relaxed.

Clarify. The next step in the BRICS technique is to clarify what it is YOU need to do. This is where you take one more deep breath…count to three…and as you breathe out, think about the word, HERE. This word is very powerful because it brings you right back into the moment—this meet, this race—and starts centering your purpose and clarifying the task at hand.

Simplify. And the final stage of BRICS is called, SIMPLIFY. Take another deep, slow, full breath…count to three…and as you exhale, say one word—one “cue” that reminds you about something important you need to FEEL during your race. If it’s breaststroke, that word might be SMOOTH. If it’s butterfly, your simplifying word could be POWER. The actual word doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you focus in on one word that will connect you to your stroke and your race by reminding you how you want to feel while you’re swimming.

So, to review: the BRICS breathing words are:



 I often tell swimmers, “Get out of your own way!”

What this means is that you need to trust yourself and not get in the way of your mind and body doing the things they’ve trained to do.

I often see swimmers who’ve trained brilliantly for months, who eat the right foods, who get plenty of sleep and who should swim like greased lightning, get to a meet and swim slowly.

It’s not their body that’s the problem…

Or their technique…

Or their skills…

Or their diet…

Or their recovery.

It’s THEM! They did everything right in preparation, then when they got to the meet, for some reason they forgot the most important part of being a successful swimmer: TRUST YOURSELF and BELIEVE IN YOU.

The BRICS technique really does work, and it will help you a lot—providing you remember to get out of your own way, trust in your training and believe in yourself.


  1. In training, MAKE IT HAPPEN…then when you are racing, you can relax, stop thinking, and LET IT HAPPEN.
  2. BRICS is a simple, breathing-based concept to help you take control of your mind and body at swim meets: five breaths to swimming success!
  3. When you’re standing behind the blocks, all you need to be thinking about is one thing: one simple, clear cue that can help you stay relaxed and focused on doing what you’ve trained to do.
  4. The key to swimming fast…is…to get out of your own way and allow your body and mind to do what you’ve been training it to do! Over-thinking leads to under-performing. Just relax, breathe deep and go fast!

Wayne Goldsmith has­ worked with swimmers, coaches, swimming clubs, swimming parents, sports scientists and swimming organizations all over the world for more than 30 years. He has contributed to Swimming World Magazine for nearly three decades. He is one of the world’s leading experts in elite-level swimming and high-performance sport. Be sure to check out Goldsmith’s websites at and

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