How Swimmers Can Learn to Be More Present in the Pool

Michael Butler
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How present are you when in the water?

How much time do you spend swimming mindlessly, just going through the motions? If you’re like me, probably a lot, about 50%. That’s why I felt like my techniques were improving sporadically and not always at the same rate.

This was the case until the day I decided to focus more on my technique and put more of my mental energy into it. Suddenly, my improvement started to ramp up consistently, no more ups and downs where I would swim one week like a superstar and the next week as if I had never learned a stroke.

Here are a few tricks for swimming more mindfully.

How to Be More Present in the Pool

I am always excited when a swimmer has the commitment to hired a swim coach. However, I do not completely understand this commitment until a few training sessions pass and I realize how much swimmers miss just being in the pool. They miss the feel of the water, they miss the movement in the pool, and they miss the freedom of a lap swim.

While it’s important to them to achieve a next level of performance, it’s equally important for them to just stay present in the pool.

When Getting Distracted in the Water

Distractions can keep swimmers from drifting away from the experience they are having at that moment, the good feelings. Distractions can include:

  • Thinking about the future
  • Thinking about the result
  • Thinking about judges
  • Thinking about other swimmers
  • Thinking about the next event
  • When the going gets tough mentally

When does your focus sneak off?

Another one of our many mindsets that has us constantly looking forward to the next thing is our inattentiveness.

Some of the world’s most legendary athletes and coaches have acknowledged the importance of training yourself to be attentive to what is happening in each moment.

If you can learn to be more attentive to your experience in the pool, you will better able to see what works and what doesn’t work, and you can make a practice of noticing when your practice habits create the conditions for you to get more comfortable in challenging situations like races.

If you’re not attentive in practice, you’re missing out on the growth opportunities that could help you be better in the future because you’re not noticing what needs to be noticed. Because you’re not noticing what you’re doing, you don’t notice if you’re not doing it properly.

What does it mean to practice being more present?

Being fully present is a practice. You can practice being fully present the same way you can practice learning a language or playing a sport.

What do you want to focus on?

To maximize your time in the pool, you’ve got to figure out what you really want to get out of your workouts. Define your goals.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can figure out what to focus on during your swim practice (and breathing practice). Let’s take a look at some common goals that many swimmers have.

Establishing Workout Form

Something that swimmers focus on when they are first learning swimming techniques is practice in keeping their bodies at full extension. Because they aren’t very good at this, they use their diaphragm as a way to make sure that their bodies are not sinking. If you are focusing on this, it’s okay to use your breathing only as the end result of keeping your body extended. You can use your breathing as a way to reinforce your focus on keeping your body extended.

Teaching Your Body to Relax

If you’re focusing on keeping your body extended, another big piece of this is to learn to relax. If your body is under tension, then you can’t sustain this for a very long time.

What happens when you get unfocused?

Picture yourself working on a project at work. You focus on it, and you are very productive at it. You work for about five hours, and you are able to finish 3 tasks. You feel a sense of accomplishment, because you were able to accomplish something.

Now think about the same scenario where you get unfocused. Maybe your co-worker starts talking to you about something and distracts you a bit. You start talking to them about it, and you lose your place and have to go back and re-review what you were doing. You spend an extra 10 minutes or so doing this.

While the time differences aren’t that significant in the above scenarios, the amount of productivity you feel because of the different experiences is huge. This is because the feeling you are left with after the task has ended is different.

When you mess up an assignment at work, your manager is more likely to notice it, and you are less likely to be perceived as reliable. When you let yourself become distracted in the middle of a task, it can be easier to let yourself start feeling lazy and start doing other things. If you let yourself become unfocused, you can start feeling like you’re not doing a good job, and you may stop doing the task or start avoiding it.

The Next Step

“Last night I almost died” has always been something of a catch-22. If someone is drowning, you shouldn’t dive in to save their life because it could be dangerous to you as well.

And if no one is there with a current lifeguard certification card, calling 911 and leaving the rest up to the pros usually is your best bet.


If you barely know how to swim, the best thing you can do to ensure your safety in the water is to make yourself slow. Don’t dawdle. Don’t stop to look at your surroundings.

Don’t stand up or try to tread water to save your life if you don’t know how to swim. Make yourself slow by kicking your feet and doing the freestyle stroke to the shallow end of the pool. You don’t want to kick and move your arms; you just want to propel yourself forward.

All the while, stay aware of your surroundings – what’s around you and what’s around others.

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