Feature | Swimming

The Queen of confidence: Swimmer Lilly King shares tips on mental approach

Double Olympic champion and breaststroke world record holder Lilly King spoke to Olympic Channel about the key to her confidence in the pool and motivation.

By Edward Knowles ·

US swimmer Lilly King is known for her confidence. The double Olympic champion and world record holder isn’t afraid to stare down opponents.

“The mental side of racing is something that I have definitely taken advantage of more than a lot of my competitors do,” she said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

"I just like to see if I can win the race before it starts" - Lilly King on playing mind games with opponents

But, even with her supreme confidence, she admitted to struggling for motivation in the run up to the Tokyo 2020 Games, before they were postponed.

"Thinking back now, I don't really think I was in the mindset to race at the Olympics."

The Olympic Channel Podcast sat down with Lilly for some tips on how to win races with confidence, why female competitors are treated differently to males, and why she loves the US women’s soccer team.

Lily King on confidence and body issues

Olympic Channel (OC): People have called you brash and cocky. But isn’t that just confidence? You are a double Olympic champion and a world record holder!

Lilly King (LK): I'm the first to say I am cocky, but I can back it up. It's because of what I've done in the pool. I think a lot of it goes back to if I was a guy, that conversation would never happen. If I was Michael Phelps, if I was Caeleb Dressel, that conversation would never happen.

But since I'm female, and I speak my mind, and I tell people what I think, that's coming off as me being brash, maybe cocky, instead of me being, ‘Oh, this supreme leader swimmer person.’

"I think there's a lot of difference between being a male athlete [and] a female athlete." - Lilly King to Olympic Channel

Women's 100m Breaststroke Final | Rio 2016 Replays

Fierce rivalry between the USA's Lilly King and Russia's Yulia Efimova cont...

OC: Olympic champion swimmer Missy Franklin shared that she had body confidence issues when she was a teenager growing up. Is this something you have also encountered?

LK: I'm going to be really honest, I am a super confident person and I don't really care what people say about me. I genuinely don't.

I know that if I am at the Olympics, and I'm in the best shape of my life, you can say that I'm fat and I don't care.

People tell me to get in better shape or lose weight or anything, I'm like, 'OK. I'm still the fastest. Like, who cares?’ But that's me.

I know a lot of other people definitely have had body issues and that is very normal. But for me and my whacky brain, I really haven’t. I think people say they don't care but I genuinely do not.

Women's 4x100m Medley Relay Final | Rio 2016 Replays

The USA's women's team win gold in the 4x100m medley relay final, beating A...

World record holder Lilly King: 'I am genuinely embarrassed when I lose'

OC: 2019 was such a great year for you again competitively. How have you maintained that level of consistency for so long?

LK: It's definitely hard to stay motivated at times because I'll come to practise and I'm like, ‘I did this already’. You set a world record [and] win the Olympics. Like, what's next?

At this point, nothing is new for me. I've done it. Which is great. I'm very happy that I've done it. But it's hard to stay motivated. It's like, ‘OK, I just have to repeat everything that I've done’.

But honestly, it all comes down to the fact that I really just hate to lose.

"I am genuinely embarrassed when I lose. So, that's honestly what probably pushes me most." - Lilly King

Lilly King (USA) on the podium after winning women's 50m breaststroke at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju

OC: How has this year been for you?

LK: Yeah, it's been really weird. Like, I'm going to practise every day, not knowing when I'm going to race again, which is strange.

"Thinking back now, I don't really think I was in the mindset to race at the Olympics" - Lilly King on Tokyo 2020

I mean, I was going to do it. I was going to race and hopefully win. But I don't think I was enjoying swimming as much as I had in the past. And then, all of a sudden, that was ripped away from us. I took a step back and realised how grateful I was to be swimming and to go to practise and to be racing.

I think I'm more mentally ready for the Olympics than I would have been had it been this summer.

It’s kind of a blessing in disguise for me right now because I definitely feel a lot more mentally prepared now.

Maybe not physically prepared because practices [are] really weird with shut downs. But I'm definitely in a much better and healthier mindset than I was before.

OC: I saw that you really love the US women’s soccer team and their attitude. They remind me a bit of you!

LK: That was the first group of females I had ever seen collectively that act like I act, that act like competitors'. [They] outwardly say, ‘You're not going to beat me. I'm tough.’

"There's swag" - Lilly King on USA Women's Soccer Team

Female athletes didn't act like that before last summer, especially as a group. And, if they did, they weren't having the social media presence that team had.

I think them coming forward and being tough and being competitors - that is what all athletes think. And that is what a lot of male athletes say. But that is not what a lot of female athletes say.

Being one of those few female athletes, it does kind of speak my mind and act like a competitor all the time. That's something that we get reprimanded for.

I think after last summer, it started to become a lot more accepted and maybe more widespread. So that was like the glimmer of hope I needed.

OC: There has been a change of attitude in a lot of people. I think people are more forgiving of people taking a stand for something now.

LK: I feel like a lot of people will say, ‘You're an athlete, you're not a politician’. And I take that as well.

I know that if I set my mind to something and I feel that I can change, I can make change, I can affect change.

I have this platform that I can use it and I choose to use that to instill change in the things I think are necessary.

Especially this year, the athletes are really starting to do that a lot, especially with the with the Black Lives Matter movement. It's been really good to see.

Athletes don't use their platform often. It's been nice because a lot of athletes have decided to speak out.

They're not scared anymore because it's becoming more normalised.

Lilly King was a guest on the Olympic Channel Podcast. For more in-depth interviews from the Olympic world and ways to subscribe, head to OlympicChannel.com/Podcast