Seven Training Thoughts That Can Make or Break A Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @swimmermichael

By Grace Nordquist, Swimming World College Intern.

Many thoughts run through a swimmer’s head during practice – that’s why people say swimming is such a mental sport. It’s what you do with those thoughts that makes or breaks you as an athlete.

Here are seven common thoughts that swimmers battle during practice that can make or break your success in competition:

1. I need air – now!


Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @ryanlochte

Your coach just got done saying he didn’t want to see anyone breathing in between the flags. You’re halfway through the set and have been doing well so far, but now you are more tired and tempted to take a breath right off your turn. With all the swimmers in the pool, the odds of coach seeing you over at the end lane are slim. Do you sneak it in or power through because you know it will make you a better swimmer?

2. I can’t do this all full-stroke fly.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Maybe you’re not typically a flyer but are being forced to swim it, or maybe you’re a flyer whose shoulders are telling you that they’re not going to survive this set. Either way, if you say you’ve never swum one-arm fly in a set, you’re probably lying (even Michael Phelps has swam one-arm fly…right?).

As you push off the wall, you have good intentions of swimming this 100 full stroke – no one-arm business. Then at the 75, you feel the other 100s you did just before this one; suddenly it seems your arms are barley clearing the surface of the water. One arm on the left and one on the right evens out to a full stroke…right? Maybe this is why you struggled in the 200 fly last meet.

3. I know I should swim breaststroke for this “choice,” but there’s no way I can make that interval.


Photo Courtesy: Carmine DiFulvio

Okay, so maybe you can make the interval, but it will be way harder than everyone else cruising by in their strokes. Plus, you swam a little breaststroke earlier – it’s okay to swim free for this set. You even ask your coach if you should swim breaststroke for this set, and they respond with the good old guilt of “whatever you think.” It’s like they know you’re thinking that you should swim breast, because last meet was not too hot – but you really aren’t feeling it. There’s always tomorrow. But tomorrow isn’t going to make you better today.

4. Coach won’t see if I pull on the lane rope.


Photo Courtesy: flickr

Really, if you only do a couple pulls on the lane line, your coach won’t be able to tell. Plus you’ll only do it on the way back when you’re really dying. Isn’t it considered a drill anyway? So it’s good to pull on the lane every once in a while. There’s no way Mary in lane four isn’t pulling on the rope: she is not that fast. It’s okay if I do a little as well. If you want to beat Mary for that spot on the relay, maybe you have to work harder than she’s willing, which means no rope pulling.

5. My legs are on fire.


Photo Courtesy: Jeremy Crawford

It’s a kick set, and it’s fast with little rest. To be honest, your legs started burning three 50s ago, and you’re slowly losing feeling. A couple of pulls here won’t hurt, right? Because pulling is the only way you’ll be able to finish. You know your legs are strong enough. Well they were…three 50s ago at least. The one who kicks through the pain will out-touch the one who gave up.

6. My _____ hurts.

Man with hurt shoulder

Photo Courtesy: (c) Stockbyte

Fill in the blank: shoulder, knee, back, hamstring, triceps, calves, pecks – the list goes on. “Swimming is good for your joints,” they say. “They” must’ve never swum competitively. You can choose to focus on whatever is hurting, or you can choose to push through the temporary pain for the gain it will bring (as long as it’s temporary – serious injuries should be monitored and treated).

7. I can’t make that time.


Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @myswimpro

Coach finishes writing the interval on the board, and you adjust your goggles to make sure you read it correctly. You then proceed to ask coach if they meant to write that time. It has to be mistake! But apparently the coach has lost their mind because they “meant to write that.” They’ve definitely got to be insane if they think you can make that time. Deep down, you know you can make it, but it won’t be easy. Then again, who said swimming was going to be easy?

In the end, it’s what you do as a swimmer with those thoughts that make or break you. You can choose to let them win, and some days they might. However, the time when you start to win the mind game is when you start to better yourself as swimmer and a positive person.

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