5 Practical Ways to Develop a Killer Instinct

Jason Lezak

5 Practical Ways to Develop a Killer Instinct

By Wayne Goldsmith

It’s not that fashionable to talk about having a “Killer Instinct”.

It’s far more popular and correct talk about “sticking to your process” and “working to your race plan” and to “concentrate on your technique and the result will take care of itself”.

But – let’s be honest.

No-one joins a swimming program to stick to a process, work to a race plan or concentrate on their technique….swimmers swim to win.

And a critical part of winning is to have a Killer Instinct.

Here are 5 Practical ways to develop a killer instinct.


What is a Killer Instinct? Pacers and Racers.

What is a Killer Instinct?

There are two different types of swimmers: Pacers and Racers.

Pacers love swimming, they enjoy training, they like competing and they are inspired by improvement and progression. They work hard – they dream of being successful and they give their all to be the best they can be.

Racers want to win and they hate losing. It’s as simple as that. And it’s their love of winning and hatred of losing that drives them. It’s what motivates and fires their commitment to be relentless in their planning, preparation and performance.

While Pacers would like to win: Racers have to win.

Pacers might dream of winning: Racers do whatever it takes to ensure winning is the only possible outcome.

Pacers don’t like to lose: Racers hate losing with a passion. They despise it.

They don’t hate themselves for losing – they don’t beat themselves up for not gettin’ the gold – it’s not like that.

They just hate the fact that they lost and they make a commitment to work harder than ever to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Is it “healthy” to have a Killer Instinct?

Every time this topic is discussed, there are people who will argue that “winning is over-emphasised in sport” and that sport should be about encouragement, participation and enjoyment – the “everyone gets a prize” argument.

There is some merit to this argument. For the majority of people who play sport – it is mostly about fun, friendships, learning, improving, fitness and all those other positive experiences that sport provides.

However – let’s be brutally honest.

Some people win – and some don’t.

The nature of competitive sport is fundamentally focused on winning and losing.

There’s a team who wins the Super Bowl – and a team who loses.

There’s the guy who gets to wear the Green Jacket for winning the US Masters gold tournament and then there’s the other players who just get to drive home in their regular sweater.

There’s the winner of the Olympic Games 100 freestyle and then there’s the other seven swimmers who don’t get the gold.

The reality is that competitive sport – when it comes down to it – is about winning and losing and the fact that some people are a little more committed to winning than others.

Does it mean that if you don’t win you’re a loser?

Of course not.

But what it does mean that you need to accept the reality of competitive sport: you win or you lose – but you don’t have to like it and more importantly – you have it within you to do something about it.


5 Practical Ways to Develop a Killer Instinct


  1. Titles not times. Forget records. Forget PRS. Forget tracking your percentage improvements. Race to win! Focus on titles and podium finishes and not how much your 100 backstroke 50 split time has improved.
  2. Race to win. Feel free to think about, talk about and train hard for winning. Get comfortable talking about winning. It’s not a rude word! It’s what you crave. Winners naturally and comfortably focus on winning – that’s why they win so often. If you don’t focus on winning when you race – who will?
  3. Forget the obsession with qualifying times…..so much of the sport of swimming is based on chasing qualifying times. Forget about it. Stop chasing a fraction of a second here so you can qualify for this meet or that meet. Focus instead on the development of the full complement of racing skills that you need to win and embracing a relentless commitment to excellence and hard work in practice and guess what….the qualifying times will take care of themselves.
  4. Race in practice! Training is not training – it’s racing practice. Anyone can swim laps….anyone. Just doing the laps will not make you a winning swimmer. At every possible opportunity in training – practice racing. Five metres from the wall – if you see another swimmer in the next lane fractionally in front of you – race them to the wall. Out-touch them. Breathe fewer times than they do. Kick more than they do. Race them! Even if it’s in warm up or in a kick set or during a pull set or a drill practice – learn to race anyone – anytime – anywhere and in any situation in practice and you’re well on the way to thinking and swimming like a winner.
  5. Develop racing skills – not just pacing skills. It is vital that all swimmers develop accurate, precise pacing skills. The ability to pace within 0.5 seconds per lap – consistently – in all strokes and over all distances is one of the most important swimming skills anyone can master. However – pacing is not a winning skill – it’s a strategy to learn how to control race pace and avoid “blowing-up”, i.e. it’s primarily designed to minimise the risk of losing. Winning skills include the capacity to change pace suddenly and dramatically, to change breathing rhythm, to switch stroke ratings and stroke tempo at will and a range of other skills that help you to win regardless of the competitive situation you are facing.


“But I don’t have a Killer Instinct” I hear you say.

Are “Killers” born or are they developed through the right training and by smart coaching?

Hard to say for sure.

But one thing is certain.

You can learn to be a winner. You can learn to think like, talk like and act like a swimmer who is committed to winning and who is focused on achieving the highest levels of swimming performance success.

Whether you’re a natural-born “Killer” or a swimmer who wakes up one day and says “I’m sick of just swimming fast – I want to win” – you can improve your competitive swimming skills, learn to be a Racer and become the Winner you’ve always dreamed of being.

And…Don’t Count the Laps…Make Every Lap Count.


Wayne Goldsmith

P.S. My thanks to legendary multiple Olympic Gold Medalist, World Champion and World Record Holder – the Great Alex Popov – who taught me the “Pacer – Racer” lesson many many years ago and it’s never left me. Thanks Alex!

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Seva Seahawks SwimTeam

process and race plan; sounds familiar

Anneliesse Bruns
8 years ago

Josh Seaburg

Amanda Ong
8 years ago

Marissa Hon and Shane Wee

Mary Blachek
8 years ago

Michael Pettit

Lori Campbell
8 years ago

Caitlin Campbell, Brody Campbell, Kellen Campbell

Lori Campbell
8 years ago

Caitlin Campbell, Brody Campbell, Kellen Campbell

Natalie Archer
8 years ago

Brittany Archer

Junaid Arif
8 years ago

Muhammad Haseef

Doug Shanks
8 years ago

Louis Tudor

Michael Beehler
8 years ago

Kelly Ullrich what do you think about this?

Anne Emaus
8 years ago

Kalina Grace Emaus

Heather Johnson Anderson

Gracie Anderson

8 years ago

The irony is Phelps just interviewed and said he ONLY focuses on times. I think there is no “one size fits all” with this stuff.

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