#6 ⇢ On Confidence and How to Cultivate It

Confidence is one of the traits that is most commonly associated with great athletes. Top performers like Michael Phelps appear to be so sure of themselves and seemingly don’t care what other people think, but how do they get there? In synchro, a confident swimmer can be recognized from the moment she steps out on deck, and I often hear synchro coaches telling athletes “Swim with more confidence!”, but how do you “become” confident? It’s definitely not something you can just turn on and off, but rather a state of being and carrying yourself. I have a few thoughts on this that I’d like to share.

First off I want to say that I was a pretty shy kid and not  outwardly confident when I started swimming. Actually for the majority of my career I was very unsure of myself even when it appeared like I had it together. Because I am hard on myself and always strived to be the best, I zeroed in on my weaknesses instead of the things I was good at, which made me question my abilities and made me less self-assured as the people around me. It took me a while to accept myself for who I am and to be proud of the person and athlete that I became.

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“I was not confident in myself for many years, and it took some inner work for me to fully accept myself for who I am”

Alright, let’s dig into it. What the heck is confidence? I was recently listening to a podcast where the guest described confidence as being two-fold. One, it’s accepting yourself for who you truly are and two, trusting in the decisions that you make. This description resonated so much with me, and this is really a conversation that’s bigger than how to be a more confident swimmer, but rather how to be a more confident person. If you are not fully comfortable with who you are and don’t own your character and your actions, it will show through the way you carry yourself. If you’re constantly trying to change yourself so that you “fit in”, you’re not really being you. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work on your weaknesses, but be proud of who you are and own your individuality! I love the quote “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” I used to try so hard to be like everyone else and do all of these things that I didn’t really enjoy. Only in the last couple of years I realized the value in simply being yourself and not pretending to be someone you’re not. You’ll be a much happier person when you embrace yourself - even your slight OCD tendencies, nervous ticks, and weird food or music preferences.

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“Know yourself, trust yourself, love yourself, and it will change your life and your performance”

Now, how does this relate to synchro? Well, when you’re confident out of the pool it is very likely that you also swim with confidence. In my opinion, synchro confidence is all about showing off your strengths. For example, if you know that you have great eggbeater and artistic expression, you’ll exude that when you’re doing your arm strokes. I think that the reason athletes struggle with confidence is that we are constantly focused on our weaknesses and what we can improve on. We should definitely be working on those weak points during practice, but in competition we need to be showing off! And that starts with trusting that you’ve put in the work and truly believing that you are a badass swimmer!

During the last two years of my synchro career I was told many times that I am confident. Every time I heard that I would laugh in my mind and think “Are you kidding me? You have no idea how much I judge and question myself.” My point is, some people are great at faking it but your self-doubt will still shine through at some point. The only way you’ll truly ooze confidence is if you wholeheartedly believe in yourself, your abilities, and your preparation. For me it’s been a constant process to cultivate confidence in myself in the pool or in the office. And like anything else in life, it takes work! Know yourself, trust yourself, love yourself, and it will change your life and your performance.


Until next time,

Mariya