Psyche Outs


by Wayne Goldsmith
Swim Coaching Brain -


"The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it but what they become by it." John Ruskin

How many times do you hear a football player or baseballer or basketballer say something like “It was tough out there today. The other team really psyched us out”.

Sportspeople talk about the psyche out as something someone else did to them – that someone somehow did something mystical or magical that impacted on their performance.

Lots of people talk about psyching what is it?

What is a psyche out?

A psyche out is the words, actions and behaviors of another person trying to increase PRESSURE on you and as a result try to negatively influence your performance.

Pressure is a misunderstood concept in sport.

Pressure is not the race.

It is not the crowd.

It is not the gold medal.

It is not the opposition.

It is something you put on yourself – it is something you create: it is something you generate.

The psyche out has one goal – to convince you to put more pressure on yourself.

Even the best swimmers will perform poorly if they lack confidence and can not deal with the pressure of competition.

Think about swimming in your home pool on a warm summer morning with your friends. It feels great. It feels relaxed. It feels comfortable.

Now imagine 50,000 people sitting in the stands around the pool watching you swim.

How do you feel? Nervous? Tense? Uncomfortable? Under pressure?


The pool hasn’t got any longer. The water hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is you – and your perception that swimming in front of 50,000 people is different (and more pressure) than swimming in front of a few moms and dads.

Pressure is something you generate in response to your perception of the situation.

Why do some people try to psyche out others?

Nothing impacts on performance like pressure! The main reason people try psyche out others is to artificially create pressure by increasing doubts, fears and insecurities in their opposition and try to erode their confidence.

Pressure Places People in Positions for Poor Performance.

Why are psyche outs such an effective strategy?

Your attitude and your confidence determine your destiny. Anything that impacts on your attitude and destroys your confidence is potentially damaging to your performance.

The psyche out is a tool some people use to attack attitude and kill confidence to get you to increase pressure on yourself.

What kinds of psyche outs are there?

Psyche outs come in two basic forms – the DIRTY DOWNERS and the POSITIVE POWER PLAYS.

Dirty Downers (DD) are those psyche outs which focus on bringing people down through criticism, sarcasm and down right meanness.

Positive Power (PPP) are psyche outs which give you strength and confidence without putting anyone else down.

Dirty Downers.

Where do they happen?

Dirty Downers can happen any where – the locker room, at the end of the pool during warm up, in the ready room, in the marshalling area, behind the name it, the Dirty Downer can hit you anytime......anywhere.

Who does them?

Thankfully not many swimmers are Dirty Downer Do-ers!

Dirty Downer Do-ers are often swimmers who lack confidence in themselves and decide their best tactic (and their best chance of winning) lies not in developing their own confidence and self belief but in destroying the confidence of others.

Make yourself PSYCHE OUT PROOF.

Here’s the secret......psyche outs only work if you let them! It’s not the psyche outs that are the problem – it’s how you respond to them.

Dirty Downer Do-ers can find fault in your appearance, your clothing, your hairstyle, your club, your friends, your family, your coach, your training program, your swim gear, your body odor, your dog......but the important thing is to learn to control how you respond to the comments and criticisms.

A Dirty Downer Do-er is trying to get you to lose confidence and get you to create pressure on yourself by making you feel inadequate in comparison to them.

Forget comparing yourself to other people – compare yourself with how close you are to your own full potential.

Some of the best (and worst) psyche outs:

A few leading swimmers were asked to talk about the best and worst psyche outs they have ever heard. Here are some real beauts!

  • “Is that swim suit really small or have you just put on weight lately”
  • “Are you still swimming? I heard you gave up a long time ago”
  • “You look really tired – are you ok?”
  • “Those goggles are really old. I can’t believe you still wear them”

Regardless of the psyche out – remember the secret – the psyche out only works if you respond to the pressure it is trying to create!

What they say and what they mean...

Often the Dirty Downer Do-er will give hints about how they really think and feel in their psyche outs.

If they are feeling a bit flat, tired and fatigued, they might try to hit you with a “hey you look tired and worn out” comment. Listen to what they say but also listen to what they mean:

For example:

They said…….

They meant…….

“I have been doing 10 sessions a week and I am in the best shape of my career”

“I am not really sure how I am going to go today”

“We’re swimming through the meet. We’re not even tapering for this meet”

“I need an excuse in case I don’t swim well today”

“We’ve just done a hell week”

“I am really tired”

“We’re doing 50 miles a week”

“I am really tired”

“I’ve just done a huge PB in the gym”

“I need to make you think I am stronger than I really am”

Ten things you can do to respond to a PSYCHE OUT-ER:

So......what do you do when a DIRTY DOWNER DO-ER strikes?

  • Smile
  • Say “thanks”
  • Shake their hand and say “I really appreciate your support”
  • Laugh and say “Is that the best you can come up with?”
  • Tell them, “I am sorry. I really wasn’t listening to you”.
  • Tell them an even bigger “exaggeration”
  • Walk away
  • Say, “Wow – I am really lucky to be racing someone as talented and gifted as you”
  • Keep chatting with family and friends
  • But the best thing of all is to......IGNORE THEM AND SWIM YOUR BEST.

Psyche Out Practice – dealing with DIRTY DOWNERS.

You can make yourself DIRTY DOWNER “PROOF” by being ready to perform at your best.

The best way to do this is to make sure your training and preparation is tougher and more challenging than the competition you are targeting.

Nothing gives you more confidence than going to a meet knowing you have done everything in your power to prepare fully – physically, mentally, technically and tactically for the meet.

If you are prepared to the best of your ability and you know you have done your best in training then your confidence to compete well is high and......


Positive Power Plays – PPPs – using psyche outs to your advantage

Yes – you can be a psyche out-er: but you can do it positively and not have to put anyone else down. How?

Nothing psyches out other people like confidence! Confidence works both ways – it can make you impervious to psyche outs AND it can psyche out others. It is your secret weapon!

Confidence comes from having complete faith in your training and preparation.

Faith in your training and preparation comes from working hard, developing all the physical and mental skills that will make you ready to perform and doing the little things right every day.

Body language – Psyche out with your Body!

A lot of communication is non verbal, ie communication other than speech.

Your body says a lot more than you realize. Your arms, legs, head, body and face often relay messages to other people about how you really feel inside.

For example:

Body Action

What it means

Walking briskly with body tall and straight


Standing with hands on hips


Sitting with legs apart


Sitting with hands clasped behind head and legs crossed

Confidence and superiority

People pick up on your body language and will react to it.

Just as you want your words to convey confidence, strength, composure and certainty, send positive, powerful signals through your body language.


  1. A psyche out is something that can only happen to you if you let it.
  1. A psyche out is the result of not being ready to do what you have to do – PROPER PREPARATION MEANS NO PRESSURE.
  1. The greatest defence against the psyche out is confidence – confidence which comes from your belief in your preparation and yourself.
  1. Make training more challenging and more demanding than the competition you are targeting and you can relax and enjoy the challenges of the meet with confidence, control, composure, certainty and calm.



Thanks to Wayne Goldsmith from Swim Coaching Brain for providing this article. Wayne is one of the world's leading experts in elite level swimming and high performance sport.