5 Mental Tricks to Conquer Your Championship Season Nerves

Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

By Emma Foster, Swimming World College Intern

As swimmers shift from winter training and the holiday season into the last dual meets of the season and the last grind leading up to their championship taper, intensity picks up. Suddenly that meet that has been looming since the early days of September is closer, realer, and starting to be a little bit scarier.

When the calendar starts reflecting weeks instead of months leading up to the big meet, a swimmer is apt to start feeling the pressure. This can be positive, allowing swimmers to focus in on their goals and tune up the last stroke corrections and other issues leading into their taper. However, it can also increase nerves, and make everything feel a little overwhelming. When every practice starts to feel like the last moment to fix something, it’s easy to start feeling like everything is going wrong.

Instead of feeling like every bump in the road is a colossal roadblock sure to keep you from your season bests, swimmers should remind themselves that within the obstacles and the challenges that are often faced in the month of January is the opportunity to get better. It is in the moments leading up to your taper meet where planes are late, pools are too warm, hotel beds are uncomfortable, goggles break, or you just plain swim slow that you find spaces to improve.

Embracing the things that go wrong will allow you to learn from the mistakes and ensure that you will be able to respond to whatever comes, and be ready to swim fast into your championship meet.

1. Stay calm.


Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

The most important thing to do, no matter what you are facing, is to stay calm. Whether a cap rips, goggles fog, or your coach throws you into an event you weren’t expecting to swim, rolling with the punches and facing whatever obstacle comes your way with grace is the best way to make sure that you are going to be successful. As tempting as it may be to pitch a fit or to panic when something goes wrong, remind yourself that these things happen and that how you respond to them is what impacts the outcome is the best way to learn and grow from the experience.

2. Control what you can control.


Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold/Aringo

Similarly, focusing on what you can control is the only way to really deal with issues that may arise around you. There is no way that you are going to be able to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Things outside of your control are constantly going to get in the way of your vision of a perfect day preparing for a perfect race. Instead of envisioning this perfection and building a platform that demands perfection around you, you can instead focus on what you can control that will get you ready to swim your best no matter what is going on around you.

One suggestion I would make is that when you visualize your races, don’t forget to account for things that may go wrong. Instead of imagining a world where everything is perfect, and believing that this is the only place you will be able to swim fast, allow yourself to encounter the obstacles and envision conquering them, so that when they inevitably occur you will already know how to handle it.

3. Focus on the process.

Nathan Adrian

Photo Courtesy: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

When hiccups happen in your training or performance use these obstacles to your advantage instead of seeing them as end all moments that make or break your swimming career. Michael Phelps once said that his coach, Bob Bowman, deliberately broke his goggles in a meet leading up to the Olympics just to get him ready to respond if something should happen in a high pressure situation like the Games. Each time a situation arises, assess how it can make you better rather than deeming it something that cannot be fixed. Envisioning the long game in relation to difficulties is a sure-fire way to make something that may have seemed devastating a learning experience that will allow you to become an even better prepared athlete.

4. Lean into the unforeseeable obstacles.

Jan 16, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Missy Franklin before competing in the women's 200 meter free final during the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Things are going to happen that you don’t expect or plan for during your swimming career. These may be little moments, such as a ripped cap or a broken counter mid-500 freestyle, and they also may be big moments, such as an unexpected injury or sickness that keeps you from races you’ve been preparing for. Whether big or small, recognizing that these moments shape you is an important lesson in this sport. Swimming is not fair. Neither is life. Sometimes things happen that are uncontrollable, and as a swimmer, and a person, you are required to either roll with it or give up. Leaning into these moments and choosing to make the best of them won’t only keep you on a path of success, it will also make you a much stronger athlete and human being.

5. Embrace the struggle.


Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

More than anything, your attitude is what will influence whether a situation throws your focus or ultimately makes you a better swimmer. Whether you are facing a race you aren’t used to swimming, or a fire alarm at 3 a.m. when warmups are starting in a few hours, you ultimately decide if the situation will make or break you. Embracing the moments that challenge you, and using them for your continued success is the mark of a successful athlete. By making the most of the struggles you encounter, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to let the things that don’t matter go on the path to chasing your goals.