4 Things You Can Do to Help Manage Pre-Race Nerves

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4 Things You Can Do to Help Manage Pre-Race Nerves

When it comes to dealing with pre-race nerves before a grueling main set or a big competition, most of the time the expectation is that swimmers find a way to rid themselves of their anxious feelings.

They put on their goggles and try to block out the stress.

But in the moments when you suction and re-suction your goggles onto your face over and over again behind the blocks, it’s not uncommon for a swimmer to inadvertently work themselves up into an anxious mess.

Part of this is because they have been led to believe that stress is a bad thing.

“Stress is bad! Do not get anxious before your swim!”

But the truth is, the sweaty palms, increased heart-rate, and of course that constant urge to pee, are normal.

Rather, it is the way we frame that pre-race anxiety and stress that can cause problems, not the feelings themselves.

So, here are four different techniques that can help you manage those pre-race nerves and inspire more productive responses to stressful situations.

1. Accept the Nerves

It is OKAY to be nervous. Learn to expect it and accept it.

If interpreted the right way, anxiety can actually be a facilitative emotion.

But it starts with first acknowledging that pre-race nerves are part of the deal.

2. Take a Look At the Language You Are Using

Using specific language to detail your emotions before a big competition allows you to take control of the narrative and from slipping into panic mode.

For example:

“I’m excited for this race.” vs. “I’m anxious for this race.”

“I get to compete today.” vs. “I have to compete today.”

“This race could be good for me.” vs. “This race could be bad for me.”

While the differences in language are subtle, when you’re amped up to compete, emotions are running high. With that personal best on the line, a little framing can go a long way.

3. Put a Positive Spin On Pre-Race Nerves

Trying to suppress stress and anxiety is impossible.

You cannot outfight or smother your body’s natural reaction to stress. The harder you try to fight it, the more frustrated and hopeless you are going to feel, and instead of being energized from the nerves, you will be left tense and emotionally wound-up.

So, the answer is not to “get over it.” If anything, thinking this way will just make things worse.

Instead, try to use those pre-race nerves in a positive way. Use them to motivate yourself and adopt a challenge-based mindset.

“I wonder what I can do here” vs. “What will happen if I fail?”

Nerves are not always bad. It’s just about how you frame them.

4. Remember a Time When You Were Successful

Think back to a time when the pressure was on­­, and yet, you prevailed and came out successful.

What was your mindset like?

Sure, you were nervous.

But you used those feelings to fuel your fire. You appreciated the ways they pushed you to focus and perform better.

Both of which are a perfect example of interpreting stress in a healthy way– which is something you already know how to do.

You just have to draw from those experiences and apply what you have learned to future performances.


But in the end, just remember that everyone is in the same boat you are. It does not matter if you are an Olympic gold medalist or a newbie age group swimmer – we ALL feel the nerves before a big race.

But properly framing stress and anxiety is something simple that you can start today.

Take control of those pre-race nerves, and use them to swim your heart out.

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