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Swimming Psychology: The Mental Side of Swimming

Swimming Psychology: The Mental Side of Swimming

While coaching at Old Dominion, I took advantage of the free classes I received while being an employee. One of the courses I took was Sports Psychology — one of my favorite topics. Recently, while cleaning up my old computer, I came across an essay I wrote entitled, “The Mental Side of Swimming”. This essay breaks down some of the simplest Sports Psychology concepts and relates them back to swimming.

Having just met Dr. John Heil at the International Swim Coaches Association Clinic, I emailed him a copy to get his thoughts before posting onto our blog. Dr. Heil is both a clinical psychologist and sport psychologist- with a clinical practice focusing on pain and injury management, and a consulting practice in sport psychology, police and public safety. He agreed the essay was a good summation of mental training concepts and that there were no inaccuracies or need for change.

With that vote of confidence, I’d like to share these simple mental training concepts in a series of blog posts starting with the premise:

The Mental Side of Swimming


You choke in meets and/or just swim slower than you should.


Mental blocks that facilitate slow swimming: 

  1. You think about past races where you made mistakes and did not swim your best.
  2. You over-analyze how you feel in the water or specific movements dealing with stroke technique. 
  3. You talk or think about yourself negatively during a race (Am I going out to fast?  Too slow?  What’s the person next to me doing?  I don’t feel good.)
  4. Not being able to block out distractions, whether it be internal (negative self talk) or external (watching the swimmer in the next lane passing you)

Best possible conditions to swim slow:

  1. Big/important meet
  2. Swimming against an opponent you have never beaten or are intimidated by
  3. Critical times during a race (Finals at night) or on a relay (especially anchoring)
  4. Worried about what your peers/coaches/parents think or how they will react if you swim slow
  5. High anxiety plus extreme nervousness

High arousal and high anxiety lead to:

  1. muscle tension (tight, un-relaxed muscles)
  2. difficulty sleeping (not enough rest; poor sleeping patterns)
  3. trouble concentrating (no focus at all)
  4. negative self-talk (beating yourself up in between your own ears)

Which in-turn, all leads to slow swimming!

Next up? Swimming Psychology: Self Confidence!