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by Olivier Poirier-Leroy

March 4, 2021

Self-talk is a mental skill all swimmers can learn

Self-talk is a powerful tool for overcoming doubts and achieving your goals, whether it’s to become a national champion or swim your first 100 butterfly.

The right self-talk at the right time (“You’ve got this!”) allows you to persevere and perform and maybe even surprise yourself. But although mental skills such as self-talk look like they might be reserved solely for peak moments of pressure and the elite swimmers on the planet, productive self-talk is something anyone can benefit from.

Here are two of my favorite tips for Masters swimmers for building positive and productive self-talk.

The Power of Curiosity

One of the key things to remember about self-talk is that it doesn’t need to be super positive to be effective. Overly cheerful self-talk or fake positive self-talk is disingenuous. Your self-talk needs to be believable and realistic.

For this reason, especially for you skeptics and pessimists out there, instead of forcing positive self-talk upon yourself, consider trying curious self-talk.

Negative self-talk shuts the door on effort and progress. Saying “I can’t” decides the outcome before you’ve taken that first stroke. Open the door of possibility a bit with curiosity and give yourself a fighting chance.

Here are examples of how you could use curious self-talk:

  • “This main set looks impossible, but I wonder how long I can last with a maximum effort.”
  • “I’ll never beat the swimmer next to me, but I wonder how well I can stick to my own race plan.”

Curious self-talk is a sneaky way into better effort because it opens the door to possibility without expectation.

Done properly, it also channels your effort into focusing on your own process and worrying less about outcomes or what others are doing.

Make Your Self-Talk Visible

Secondly, positive self-talk is a mental habit, and like any form of habit, whether it’s technique or getting up earlier, it requires consistency and repetition.

And part of building the habit means putting your positive self-talk front and center.

In a Journal of Applied Sport Psychology study published in January 2014, researchers did a 10-week self-talk intervention with 41 age-group swimmers. During the 10 weeks, the swimmers were instructed how to use self-talk, were reminded to do it regularly, and perhaps most impactful, were instructed to have their self-talk visible at the end of their lane.

After the 10 weeks were up, both the intervention group and the control group competed at a swim meet, with the self-talk group out-improving their teammates by nearly 1.5 percent. Not bad for simply using better language with yourself!

Some ways you can build an environment that promotes better self-talk more consistently:

  • Write out the self-talk you want to use when things get tough (“This set is hard, but I can do this!”) on the inside cover of your logbook.
  • Jot down a couple quick mantras on your water bottle or kickboard.
  • Make a background on your smartphone that spells out a few key words and self-talk that you want for yourself (“Work the hardest and have the most fun!”).

Give these two self-talk tips a try and see how much more possibility and progression opens up for you.


  • Technique and Training


  • Mental Training