No matter how talented or gifted a swimmer may be, they are still human. And that means that every athlete, whether an Olympian or an age-grouper, will struggle with maintaining confidence from time to time.

Our self-confidence, the way that we perceive our abilities and future capability, is in constant flux. Some days we are on top of the world, everything seems to bend to our will, and our mood and hope for the future reflects this. But then there are days where nothing seems to go right, we doubt our preparation, our talent, our abilities.

There is no cure-all for those lousy days. But educating yourself on how these drops in confidence appear is the first step in limiting the severity and frequency of those crappy days.

There are a variety of reasons we experience sagging confidence, from stress, to being surrounded by negative people, but here are 4 of the more common ways that swimmers lose confidence—

1. Needless Comparison

I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Ian Thorpe’s swimming exploits. He was a 15 year old he won the 400 free at the 1998 Perth World Championships in a time of 3:46. I’ll never forget the utter discouragement I felt hearing about this as we were getting ready to jump into practice. Standing in front of the blackboard as coach scrawled the day’s workout, I felt any hope I had for my own swimming career disappear. After all, not only was Thorpe killin’ it, he was also 3 years younger than I was at the time.

This type of comparison is dangerous, and as my lowly effort in that practice showed, was utterly counter-productive.

This type of comparison happens all the time; with the people you train with (“how is that guy beating me right now?”) to the swimmers you frequently compete against at local meets (“Wow, she looked really good in heats”).

It’s difficult, but focus on yourself, your training, and your own preparation. You’ll never be able to control the outcomes of other swimmers, but you can give yourself the greatest chance for success by zeroing in on yourself.

2. Lack of Clear, Tangible Goals

I don’t know about you, but unless I have a specific plan or goal for something, the likelihood of anything of note being achieved drops in a hurry.

This experience isn’t just limited to swimming; in my post-competitive swimming days I still occasionally catch engaging in this directionless meandering. If I don’t sit down at the computer with a plan for what I am going to do, suddenly my time starts to evaporate to stuff that doesn’t really matter – browsing the internet, creating Angry Cat memes, watching random videos of killer whales wake surfing.

The same goes with your swimming. You should be showing up every day to the pool with a crystal-clear idea of what you need to achieve. Focusing on a clear, awesome goal reduces something else that can cripple your motivation and self-confidence, and that is your worst possible outcomes.

3. Worst Possible Outcomes

These are, as it plainly says above, the worst. We all experience this in some form or another – the panic and dread of imagining a poor swim. Whether its getting beaten by a slower swimmer, getting DQ’d, or your suit falling off, we all tend to imagine the WPO from time to time.

Having that crystal clear goal is vital for combating this; focus on your awesome goal instead of the often ambiguous WPO (your suit is going to fall off? No, its not.).

Think about the last time your WPO actually came to fruition. Probably never, right? It’s normal to over-exaggerate our fears. WPOs can be of some benefit; they are designed to implicitly keep us from being hurt, whether its physical (heights, snakes) or mental/emotional (disappointment, failure).

Typically what happens in these situations is that it will pass, and you’ll find yourself saying, “That wasn’t so bad.” Alternatively, when you find yourself getting lost in a steaming pile of WPO, step back for a moment and honestly ask yourself if this WPO is even close to being a valid fear. More often than not, you’ll be able to invalidate the WPO by taking an objective look at it.

4. Failure becomes fatal

The ultimate confidence killer comes when we come up short on our own expectations. Our shortcomings, setbacks, hiccups – whatever we wanna term them, can solidify those self-doubts that we had been carrying along.

I knew I would never beat swimmer so-and-so.I was right; I really am not that talented. I’ll never be a successful swimmer. I’ll never be able to take my swimming to the next level.

Setbacks are lame enough without having to let them make doubts into full fledged beliefs. They should be embraced as learning opportunities. “What can I draw from this?” You can draw a dizzying sense of empowerment from knowing precisely what leads to less than desirable performances so that you can avoid it in the future.