5 Helpful Ways to Maintain Focus After Bad Swims

nathan adrian

5 Helpful Ways to Maintain Focus After Bad Swims

We’ve all been there before. The weekend you have been waiting for has finally arrived, and now it’s time to show off all of the hard work you have put into the pool. Enthusiasm is rushing through your veins, and your long-awaited time to prove yourself by having an outstanding meet has come. Behind the blocks, you feel warmed-up and energized, waiting for your heat to come across the speaker for the starter to initiate your race. As you dive-in, the first stroke feels different. Or, your breakout was sloppy. Maybe you had a bad turn. Negative thoughts begin to run through your mind, and as soon as you touch the wall and look at the board, you begin to ache in disappointment of your performance.

As you climb out of the pool in disappointment, you wonder how the remainder of the meet will play out. As you process your race, the subsequent stream of consciousness can be scary. You begin to question what your coach thinks, how your parents will react, and what other teammates have to say. Stop, take a deep breath, and understand the damage these thoughts are doing to you, considering you haven’t even dried off yet. Bad swims and competitions are inevitable in every sport. There is no dancing around it. If everyone performed flawlessly every time, there would be no variety or opportunity to grow in the sport. Here are five ways to maintain your sanity and self-esteem when things don’t seem to be going your way:

1. Focus on What You Can Control

After your swim, take a moment before your mind starts racing to understand your surroundings and what you can control. No time machine can take you back to fix a breakout or tighten up a turn. Instead, turn your focus on your next swim and what you can do to be successful. Swim a long warm-down, refuel with a snack, or hydrate your body. If the meet is multiple days long, you control how much sleep you get at night to reset and relax. Do things that allow you to feel your best, not something that draws you back in your past.

2. Allow Yourself to Express Emotion

All too often, athletes are supposed to be brick walls when it comes to emotions. We are stigmatized to “toughen up” and move on. It’s vital, for your emotional well-being, to understand how something made you feel and process those emotions. Try and reach out to someone who you trust, such as a coach, teammate, or parent. Don’t bash yourself and re-live through your bad swim, try and think of a time you had a bad practice or an emotionally challenging experience and how you coped. Small affirmations are important, too, as we all deserve self-love and appreciation for our efforts.

3. Create a Positive Atmosphere

Throughout the meet, create your ideal environment where you radiate positivity and light up the pool deck. Cheer for other teammates, wish other competitions good luck and make the event an experience to remember. After the meet is over, years down the road, you won’t remember the bad swims as much as you remember the good times you had and memories to look back on.

4. Create a Mantra

What phrase or statement gets you through tough times in other areas of your life? Try creating a self-invented mantra for the tough times and experiences in your life. Think of something inspiring but meaningful to you to remain focused and excited about swimming. Allow your creativity to shine through and pull yourself out of the spiral of negative thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, it takes a gentle reminder to power us through our most challenging obstacles.

5. Learn From the Experience

If there is any positivity to take away from a bad performance, it is the ability to learn, grow, and change in the future. It may be hard to think of in the moment, but all great athletes have had failures in which the opportunity for growth presents itself in a way that could ultimately benefit you for the greater good in the future. Think, if you didn’t have a poor performance, maybe you would have never thought to change or work on something new, keeping you from reaching your full potential.

As you grow older and gain more experience in the sport, it’s important to understand that swimming is more than times, cuts, and the place you finish. When you look back on your time as a competitor, don’t let the unideal times be the ones you remember the most. It will be tough to find joy in the sport of swimming if you refuse to accept the good and bad parts of being a competitor. Opening yourself and vulnerability lack severely in sport, but you can do something about. Creating a habit of taking ownership and responsibility for your performances through a willingness to change and grow will be the defining factor in your success in the sport of swimming. Bad performances don’t determine success or failure, you do. So, dry yourself off, re-focus, and crush your next swim.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.