Mike's Mailbag: Practice Thoughts


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


Hi Mike, 

I've been having a problem recently.

I'll get to practice with a hard set in my way or even at a meet facing one of my best events, but I always seem to get nervous and get in my own way. My coach always tells me I have my best swimming in front of me but the only thing that's stopping me is myself. I get in my own mind too much and psych myself out and unknowingly stop myself in my tracks before I've even started. How do I get the confidence to believe in my own capabilities and have the mind set of I can take on or do anything?



Dear Help!,

Every single practice is a chance to exercise the mentality that you “can do anything.” When your coach writes the workout on the board, this is the exact moment you need to begin talking yourself up. Getting mentally ready for the workout. Telling yourself you can do this. You can get through it. That you’re going to have a great workout. 

Whenever I was in the depths of a terrible, horrible, no-good set, and my stomach was cramping and my muscles were aching, or whenever my coach told us a seemingly impossible set, something we’d never done before, I always told myself in practice the same thing, over and over and over again: “There is no pain.” I don’t know why. For me, it worked. Or I believed it worked, and so it did. And when I got to the meets, during races, it just seemed natural: Hit the last wall of the 400 IM: “There is no pain.”

Swimmers everywhere tell themselves all sorts of mantras and motivational lines. Last night on my twitter account @MikeLGustafson, I asked swimmers what they told themselves whenever in the middle of a really difficult practice. 

While 50% (or more, and definitely tons mentioned “Chipotle”) motivated themselves by thoughts of food (let’s face it, food is awesome) there were some really great lines. If you, Help!, want to gain confidence to believe in your capabilities and have that mindset where you can take on the world, maybe try mimicking what your USA Swimming teammates say to themselves during practice. You can always use the “There is no pain!” mantra, but here are some more from swimmers around the country. 

Enjoy, and I hope this helps: 

“keep going because hard work always pays off”

“I start singing Livin on a Prayer because "Ohhh I'm half way there!!"

"What is pain"

“I ask myself if I want to get better or stay the same”

“countdown. Just remind yourself you made it this far and you're gonna make the rest. Or I completely shut down my brain.”

“my hs coach once yelled "bring it on home" at me - ever since I get Led Zeppelin stuck in my head during the toughest sets.”

“When I swam I'd tell myself to not give up and that if I wanted to be the best I couldn't give in”

"if I made it 6 rounds I can do 4 more"

“losing hurts more than this set”

“my competition is training right now too”

“I tell myself ‘It will take time, but it will be worth it, I love the water & I'm blessed to be able to swim’”

“I tell myself not to back down. If I want to reach my goals I must push through it.”

“I think of the hardest set I've ever done, and I think if I could get through that, I can get through this”

“In order to accomplish my goals, I must overcome the pain. #hardworkpaysoff”

“Just keep going, it'll all pay off in the end. Every yard is worth it.”

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”

“Accept the pain because it will always be there but never let it control you”


“I tell myself that pain is weakness leaving the body, and I'm getting so much faster because of it!”

“I tell myself that nothing in life that's worth it will come easy....”

“this may be painful, but not nearly as painful as not reaching your goals by the end of the season”

“somewhere right now my competition is finishing their tough set. I cannot let anyone out work me #WelcomeToTheGrind”

“The pain may suck, but it's necessary to become something you desire too be.”

“If I give up, I'll be disappointed in myself. And that hurts more than a sore, aching body does”

"girl you have been through worse...like Algebra..."

“just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

"you'll regret it if you don't do it right"

“I tell myself that if I get through it THIS time, it won't be as hard the NEXT time!”

“I always looked at it like me vs. the workout, and no way I'd lose. There's no better feeling than killing a hard practice.”

“at half way stands a brick wall. Brick walls are there to keep out those who don't want it badly enough.”

“You can do it. What even is pain? Afterwards, you'll be happy you finished it. It WILL pay off.”

“I pretend like the set has just started and this is the first one, then repeat”

"Halfway there, you didn't use all this energy for nothing. It's more worth it to finish than stop.”

“being able to control those thoughts are the key to success, and the difference between being good and being great!”

“No matter what, this won't actually kill me, and I'll feel awesome when it's done later today”

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