GIS KL Dragons Sports Teams

Creating an Identity for all athletes!

The blog below is for all athletes, I do use some swimming shpeel in there but it works for other sports too…

I started really taking swimming seriously as a 15 year old. I joined a big swim team in England and began to train with a number of national qualifiers, a level I had never been competing with previously.

In training I would always chase one athlete, hoping to keep up for as much time as I could knowing that one day I might be the leader in training, wanting to be that leader.

After months of work, I finished a ‘Pull’ set within touching distance. Looking at me, red faced and tired out by a pretty standard set, they said “You’re good at pull, sort the kick out and you could be really FAST!”

The feeling of acceptance in training, translated into the most focussed period of training that I ever went through! I was good, but I wanted to be better.

The lesson was simple: Being a good puller had become a part of my identity, but now was the start of improving that identity.


Although that particular identity was brought about by a comment made by a fellow swimmer, we have control over the identities we choose for ourselves. Identities are a conscious decision,which means that we can pick and choose how we identify ourselves as athletes.

The way that we perceive ourselves makes a huge difference to our performance. If you strongly view yourself as an excellent puller, you are going to nail those pull sets without really thinking about it. If you consider yourself a backstroker you are going to perk up and give your utmost when backstroke sets come along. We tend to favor effort when it comes to things that we consider ourselves to be good at.

Creating new self-identities can be challenging when they run counter to current habits and routines. But by tweaking and adjusting your new self-identity you can not only get past this hump but also install a strong, hands-off psychological driver that will push you to do the right things in the pool to get you to your goals.

You’ve probably heard the term “act as if,” or its slightly cruder cousin, “Fake it till you make it.” The former is more accurate, because it implies deliberate action. Telling yourself that you are a good kicker, but then not backing it up with action and results creates a false identity, which will usually send you hurtling backwards mentally.

“Acting as if” means that you don’t wait until you achieve your goal to begin acting like that type of athlete; instead, you act as though you are already that swimmer from day one, which drives the behaviors and attitudes that will get you your desired results.


Your self-identities are motivating.

Considering yourself as the athlete you strive to be is a very non-passive, motivating way to move forward with your goals. Instead of waiting until that end-of-season competition to get the satisfaction and reward of all that training you gain the sensation of having achieved it long before.

This is helpful in a number of ways, the not the least of which is that it will help you stay motivated and focused during those long bouts of training.

It makes you a process-oriented athlete.

Some swimmers imagine that it is that final swim that makes an excellent athlete. It’s not. It’s the minutiae, the daily grind, the relatively boring process of showing up every day and putting in work that makes those podium-topping athletes so elite.

Identity-based goals and habits are a fantastic tool for making yourself excellent on a regular basis, helping you fall in love with the process of generating awesomeness, which will generate the results you are looking for come competition time.

It will help crystallize decisions.

Once you have the clarity of what type of athlete you want to be, your decision-making moving forward will reflect this. If you consider yourself the type of swimmer that never misses a morning workout, skipping a night out on the town on a Friday night with your friends becomes less of a dilemma.

* Kidding. Or am I?


Work backwards from your main goals for the season, and break down what it will take for you to accomplish it. Figure out what the actions and behaviors you will need to adopt to make the achievement of those goals possible, and then phrase them as part of your new identity.

As an example (swim based… sorry), let’s say that you want to 63 flat for the 100 butterfly next summer. But to do so, you know that you are going to have to be more consistent in the pool, that you will have to make all your morning workouts, and that you will have to improve your underwater dolphin kick.

Here is how you would phrase those three behaviors/actions as part of your identity:

  • “I’m the type of swimmer that never gives up on the main set.”
  • “I am the type of swimmer who makes every morning workout.”
  • “I am the kind of swimmer that has a ridiculous underwater dolphin kick. “

Once you have chosen the identities for yourself, and begun to prove it to yourself via small steps and action, others will notice as well. She never misses a workout. He is always still there at the end of a main set.

While you shouldn’t depend on these outside reaffirmations of what you are doing, it will certainly helps to solidify that new identity within you.


It’s not enough to just say that you want to be a morning workout attender. Or that you always crush kick sets. You need to prove it to yourself. Without some sort of measurable action the new self-identity becomes a hollow promise.

Reinforce the new identity-based goal or habit with action. Based on the previous examples here are some ideas:

I am the kind of swimmer that is consistent in the pool.

Actions/Behaviors: I will never give up on a main set. I will show up 15 minutes early each day so I can prepare myself to train to my potential. I will not take a bad practice personally so that I can bounce back and give the following session my all.

I am the type of swimmer who makes every morning workout.

Actions/Behaviors: Go to morning workouts! Do everything you can to make it as easy as possible; pack your gear the night before, have your clothes right beside your bed, a shake and breakfast snack on the night table, and so on.

I am the kind of swimmer that has a ridiculous underwater dolphin kick.

Actions/Behaviors: Make 3-5 underwater kicks off each wall habitual. Spend an extra ten minutes after practice doing vertical kicking in the deep end. Take the time to stretch your core, lower back, hips and ankles.


In looking at the broad overview of what you want to accomplish this season, look at what it will take to accomplish your goals. What kind of behaviors and habits will you need to incorporate to swim your socks off? (That was an awful expression, I’ll do better next time.)

Pick a couple self-identities, attach some meaningful action to them, and let me know how it goes for you in the comments below!

Coach Rich

Pull picture

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