How to Support A Swimmer After A Poor Race (Examples Included)

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Photo Courtesy: Abby Boone

How to Support A Swimmer After A Poor Race (Examples Included)

By Abby Boone, Swimming World College Intern

Every swimmer has come to the wall at the end of a race and been unhappy with their swim. Whether they are sad or mad, whether there are tears or frustration, each swimmer turns to their coach for comfort and counsel.

Ten coaches from around the country gave their advice on what they say to a swimmer after a bad swim:

“You have to look at the bigger picture. It’s all a part of the process. Respect the process. I try to teach the life skills as opposed to the finality of the swim.”
Seth Orlove, Swift Aquatics (Skokie, IL)

“There is going to be a lot worse things that are going to happen in your life. I think about all the swimmers I have had come through my program and all that has happened to them after their time on the team. Swimming is just a game; life is a much tougher game.”
Ed Brennan, University of Tampa (Tampa, FL)

“Mostly, I try to listen them. I ask them how they feel and let them talk. They often say it better than I would and often comfort themselves. If they can tell themselves what they did wrong, they learn much more than if I am telling them.”
Jay Porteus, Empire Swimming (White Plains, NY)

“It depends on what caused the bad race. You have to tell them ‘This is what you did well, this is where you erred.’ Of course, you’re kinder with younger swimmers, but if it can teach a lesson, do. Don’t just comfort. Comforting doesn’t teach anything.”
Chris Coraggio, Barracuda Swim Club of Northeast Tennessee (Johnson City, TN)

“An emotional response is valid, but they have to have it on their own so I often tell them to walk away and come back later when they just want to talk. This race is not the most important thing that is going to happen or the worst thing that is going to happen in their lives. Yes, learn from it, but then let it go. My friend Eric Nelson from Miami say ‘every heat is winnable,’ and it is. Sometimes you just have to focus on the small successes.”
Mary Liston, Rockwood Swim Club (St. Louis, MO)


“You always have to focus on what they did that made them so upset. Learn from it. Not every race is perfect, but there is always another swim meet. Life doesn’t end with that one swim and they can’t act like it will.”
Tim Bauer, Woodland Swim Team (Shenandoah, TX)

“I teach the positive mental state of mind. How did it feel? Swim it out, learn from it, move forward. You have to continue to be positive no matter what happens or you can never move forward.”
Derrick O’Donnell, McFarland Spartan Sharks (McFarland, WI)

“At an upper level meet, they’re all here for a reason. They’re talented, so I remind them of that. I give them the basics and remind them of what they need to bring it back to where they want. But if it’s a bad performance, I’m going to tell them that. Everyone appreciates honesty, even if they don’t want to hear it right then.”
Dave Krotiak, Fox Valley Swim Team (Naperville, IL)

“I always tell swimmers to focus on what you can control before you swim. Afterwards you can only learn from it. Not every swim is a good and you do get emotional sometimes, but only while you’re in the water can you do your best.”
Olga Espinosa, Saint Croix Swim Club (Stillwater, MN)

“I work off the condition that athletic performances must be evaluated pragmatically. I foster an understanding of how a race could have been better and facilitate the swimmer to evaluate their own abilities in making changes. There is not a window to make excuses or “ lame shift” in this program, but rather a systematic approach of breaking down the race that can teach the swimmer to move forward and perform better in the future whether that is the next race or next competition. I like to give the swimmer constructive feedback that shows them what they did well and what they need to improve upon. Much of how the athletes respond is directly correlated to their disposition in practice and how they manage their sets when they are having a good practice or a bad practice. Swim practice is as much training athletically as it is psychologically in how to respond to adversity and creating solutions when confronted with hurdles to overcome.”
Hollie Bonewit-Cron, Nova Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)


  1. Steffen Staiger

    We used to tell our team mates: Look on the bright side, at least you didn’t drown…

  2. Jenny Schienle

    I don’t recall ever having a bad swim, do you Brad Horner, Kitty Schefelker, Jane Penner-Hoppe, John Penner, Zora Neuhold-Huber? If I can’t remember it, did it happen?

  3. Brad Horner

    Uh yeah. But I like the advice by one of the coaches that said to turn it back to the swimmer. Ask ’em what the cause might be and how to make it different.

    • Jake Brown

      Sadly that’s the truth! Just kiddin coach. I’m gona get back in the water soon.

    • Kyle Darling

      Haha I dunno if he even reads the newsletter. I put a lot of effort into that stupid thing and almost nobody reads it haha

  4. avatar
    Jim Lutz

    What did you think? Good, bad, fast or slow are not acceptable answers. State the truth in a respectful manner and always find a teachable feature on which to build.

  5. Zora Neuhold-Huber

    Hahaha Jenny Schienle 🙂 I think about my age group coach Roger Ridenour, who had such a great way of listening when I was bummed about a swim and then he’d explain the impressive things he thought I was capable of in the future. Thinking back, it’s all the more impressive how he did that.

  6. Nicole Stewart

    It takes 10 positive thoughts to overcome one negative thoughts. I think they need to take time to know what they need to change and then get over it. Believe you can and you will!

  7. Nicole Stewart

    It takes 10 positive thoughts to overcome one negative thought. I think they need to take time to know what they need to change and then get over it. Believe you can and you will!

  8. Jerry Rattigan

    Baseball.. Stand around, spit and play with your balls.. Tiny little balls..

  9. Warren Jones

    Never give up, success only comes from the pain of failure, that’s what makes the taste of success so sweet.

  10. Jf Asim

    Dont worry…. Win or lose….
    Because it is one of the favourit games of Holy Prophit Muhammad (SAW)

  11. Michael Venis

    I can think of a few choice words and silent treatment Keelan Bridge Ned Wieland Gus Benoit

    • Ned Wieland

      Gus Benoit MV’s go to: “that was fcken atrocious”

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