Keeping Your Head Above Water: How Swimmers Can Thrive In The Grind


Keeping Your Head Above Water: How Swimmers Can Thrive In The Grind

By Rachel Sansano, Swimming World College Intern 

Sometimes, it’s all too easy to get lost in the mental and physical grind of swimming. If you aren’t careful, your mind becomes your biggest opponent and you start to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a very common occurrence during the fall months when training is in full swing. 

Championship meets seem ages away. Morning practices are followed by homework-filled nights. Your to-do list seems endless and impossible. When you get wrapped up in the day-to-day struggle and forget why you love swimming, your mental health starts to go downhill. Once your brain is no longer on your side, your training suffers. 

When athletes reach this point, they go into “survival mode.” They are just going through the motions. They do what is expected of them, but their heart is no longer in it. Their energy is concentrated on completing the workout so they can move on with their day, rather than focusing on how they can improve. This “survival mode” can be triggered when an athlete begins to get stuck in the monotonous cycle of waking up, practicing, finishing school assignments, going to bed…then doing it all over again the next day. 

Even though they are still at every practice, they are mentally incapable of focusing their full attention on whatever their coach is asking of them. This is not because they’re lazy, but because continuing the monotonous cycle no longer seems to require their focus. It’s a habit that they no longer put thought into. 

Any coach will tell you that improving your swimming takes both focus and a drive for improvement. Athletes who are in “survival mode” aren’t capable of this. To get the most out of your training, staying out of “survival mode” is crucial. How do you do this? Here are two ways to help you keep your head above water, metaphorically of course. 

Take a Break

Make time for something that you enjoy outside of the pool and the classroom. Taking a step back from your typical schedule is a great way to hit the reset button. Taking a step back doesn’t mean you need to take weeks or days off at a time. Once you reach a certain level of training, days off are no longer an option. 

Instead of a whole day off, set aside one or two hours just for you. Do whatever you want with this time. If you want to take a nap, go for it. If you want to hang out with friends, great! If you want to work on a hobby you forgot you had, perfect. The only things off-limits during this time are swimming and school.

Schedules are busy, but even if you can only find 10-15 free minutes, take advantage of this time. It doesn’t have to be every day, but make it a rule that you set aside time for just you at least once a week. Refreshing your mind will rejuvenate your worth ethic. 

Set Weekly/Daily Goals

Set weekly or daily goals for yourself. By setting short-term goals, you are giving yourself something to look forward to. This will give your brain something to focus on.  Be sure to pick something that’s within your reach. These small accomplishments will help keep you grounded.

Goals keep you on track and focused. By actively looking for ways to improve, you are keeping yourself from getting lost in the day-to-day grind. These goals will serve as stepping stones that lead you to bigger and better things. Keep track of your goals on your phone or in a notebook. Being able to look back and see the progress you’ve made will show your brain that your actions have a purpose. You are improving slowly but surely.


Yes, swimming is exhausting. But at the end of the day, your attitude and mental approach to the sport will make all the difference in the world. Keep a positive attitude and avoid hitting “survival mode.” 

At some point, your swimming career will come to an end. So do your best to enjoy it…even when your 5 a.m. alarm is blaring.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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