Self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.
There is a rather obvious link between the 4 words above. In your swimming career, you are always accountable for your results. You are responsible to make sure that you get all the little things done (no breathing off the start or walls, keep pace, finish properly, etc), being reminded or not. A huge danger in training is complacency; you get too easily satisfied by doing the bare minimum or getting away with not doing things properly. You need to keep your motivation and avoid complacency.
Motivation and complacency is often a 2 way street with the swimmer and the coach. Speaking as a coach, few things are more de-motivating than having to tell the same teenaged swimmer who has been swimming for a long time to NOT breath off of the first stroke every practice... on par with that is having to tell that same athlete to stick to the rules of a set, catching them not paying attention to their strategy, or having to remind them that they are missing too many practices. As a coach, these things are warning signs for things to come. It is demotivating because the coach has flashes of a disappointing performance, a crying athlete and an angry parent; less than fun times to come. A lot of times its easier and more motivating to work closely with the athletes who are doing it well and you know are going to be very successful at the next competition (I am not saying that this is right; just stating the obvious mindset --> path of least resistance).
There is a definite relationship between athlete motivation and coach motivation and, if started in the wrong direction, can certainly spiral downwards (athlete is disinterested --> coach gets disinterested --> swimmer gets less interested, etc). Many athletes expect to be told things too often rather than taking the responsibility to practice doing it well even if no one is watching. Don't do it so I'll be happy; do it so you'll be really happy when you're successful. That's what this is all about.
This audio is from my interview with Randy Bennett around 2 years ago. I love this clip so much I want to marry it and have 3 baby clips with it! Randy talks about the misconception around how hard it is to win at a high level and articulates it very well. Work this backwards to any level; if someone wants to beat you, they're going to do it if they want it more.... not necessarily in that 60 seconds, but in the 6 months leading up to that 60 seconds.
So what do we do now?
Athletes: It is your job to do things properly. ALL THE TIME, not just when you feel like it or are having a good day. Sure, you might have a sniffly nose or a sore arm or you're hungry or over tired... but life doesn't give you a day off when you feel crappy. Your competition is still training to get better... even on the days that you have a lot of homework. Championships will still run when the day after Little Jimmy didn't sleep well. And guess what - when you grow up and get a job, you have to show up to do that job everyday, no matter how you feel, no matter how nice it is outside, no matter how badly you want to go to your cottage, no matter how many times you were up with a vomiting child, no matter how much time of your life it takes. Train to be tough so you can take it in swimming. Make it a characteristic so you can bring it into other aspects of your life!
All clubs are in the business of creating great people, not just great swimmers. And yes, you can be a "great guy" and very likeable even if you don't do the work... but you can be a much better one if you commit yourself to doing the work everyday.
Stay Motivated & Motivate Those Around You. Take Responsibility For Your Swimming. Be Accountable For Your Decisions & Actions Inside and Outside Of The Pool. Avoid Complacency - Never Be Satisfied With Just "Getting It Done"! Do Something Special Every Time.
Update: You need to read this article. Thanks JJ for the hook up!