Mike's Mailbag: Practice to the Fullest


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Every Monday I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com


Dear Mike,

Last summer I had a knee injury and I couldn't swim for about 4 months and then I pulled for about a month. Having all this time off did make me appreciate the sport but... When I came back I realized how behind I was. My best stroke was breaststroke and I couldn't swim that over the time period of my injury. I also got a new coach that I didn't connect well with and didn't push me hard enough. I ended up making excuses to skip sets and get out of the pool. All of this eventually made me beat myself up about how "bad" and "terrible" I am and that I can never get better. I stopped trying in practices and in meets, only giving about 50%, maybe 75%. I'm now on my month break and I've decided to switch pools and coaches (same team though). Before my injury, I was at the top of the group concerning times. And now after, I'm in the middle. 

My question is how do I regain my confidence level? It has gotten so bad to the point where I get anxiety attacks only at the pool. And how do I push myself to work hard and to actually try my hardest? 

Every time I try, I give up because of the confidence issues.

Thanks so much!
Confidence Issues


Hey Confidence Issues,

Confidence means “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities.” Re-read that. The definition of confidence doesn’t say, “self-assurance from being totally great and awesome” or “self-assurance from victory and gold medals” or “feeling great about defeating everyone else.” 

Notice the words “one’s appreciation” and “own abilities.” 

Have you ever met someone who brims with confidence? I don’t mean someone who is cocky. There’s a difference between cocky and confident. I mean that confident person in your class who speaks his or her mind, who isn’t afraid to make a fool out of themselves, who dances alone on the dance floor, who wears the ridiculous t-shirts to school and is the first to enter any belly-flop contest. 

Confidence doesn’t mean being the greatest at something. 

Confidence means being the greatest at being yourself

Injuries can really hurt your confidence. They weigh on you, consciously or unconsciously. You go to practice and favor your injury, a consequence of being hurt. You don’t want to get re-hurt. You slowly get back into the mix of things, after a long, long break. Injuries, though, make you feel like someone else. Injuries don’t make you feel like yourself. Subsequently, injuries hurt your confidence. 

But it’s so hard to get pre-injury confidence back. You’re afraid you will get injured again. Or, worse, you worry you won’t return to pre-injury performances. I remember when I had injuries: I always worried I’d never get into my peak performance shape. So I worried, which affected my confidence, which affected my attitude, which affected my effort. 

When you’re fearful in practice and you don’t try to the fullest, you’re not embracing your full potential. You’re not being yourself. 

It’s a catch-22: You can’t be confident without being yourself, but you can’t be yourself because you’re injured. What do you do? 

You must acknowledge injuries are part of life. You can’t help them. Instead of fretting or worrying you won’t be the person you were before the injury, accept the person you are after the injury. Accept who you are in every moment – regardless if you are hurt. 

Try this: Tell yourself, “I’m going to practice to the fullest.” It’s like saying, “I’m going to live life to the fullest.” Practice to the fullest. The fullest of your capabilities, win, lose, or draw. 

At the end of the day, rate yourself 1-10: Did you practice to the fullest? If you did, give yourself a 10. If you slacked off, rate yourself accordingly. Keep a journal. Do this every single day. At the end of the month, look back and see how you did.  

You’re so busy switching pools and coaches and training environments, looking for an answer that will help you regain confidence. I wish it was that easy. 

True confidence doesn’t come from winning, or being the best, or dominating practice, or breaking a world record. Long-lasting self-confidence comes from being true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to show the world who you are -- injury or no injury, win or lose, succeed or fail. 

Hope this helps.