5 Ways to Calm Your Nerves at Championships

Photo Courtesy: Catherine Ladd

By Andy Ross, Swimming World College Intern

There is no swimmer on Earth who has never had nerves before a big meet. And if there is a swimmer who has never gotten nervous, then I want to meet him/her. Nerves are typical at any meet. Championship meets are where the nerves are most prevalent because of added team pressure, and it is the only meet that really matters in any given season. Everyone gets nervous, but some people handle the nerves better than others.

Here are some 5 tips to help calm those nerves before your big race…

1. Deep Breathing

Photo Courtesy: Azaria Basile

Photo Courtesy: Azaria Basile

I saw a sports psychologist over the summer and this was the main takeaway I got from visiting him. Any time I would start to feel myself getting nervous before a swim, I would pause, take a deep breath and continue on. It helped alleviate the tension I had in my stomach and relax.

2. Don’t Thinking About Swimming


Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

It’s weird to say, but having your mind in a different place helps. Thinking about swimming can make you excited, but it can also lead to overthinking, and overthinking can lead to poor performance. When I was in high school, I spent way too much time looking at other swimmers’ times and they got in my head. I would score out my championship meet and it put too much pressure on me when the actual meet came around. I would have countdowns to my championship meet 100 days out– I was too preoccupied counting the days, that I didn’t make the days count. It’s cliche but that’s how I lived my swimming career back in the past.

Recently, I would think more to what I would be cooking for dinner, who I would hang out with on the weekends, and how I was going to get my homework done during a practice. In between sessions of a meet, I would sometimes take a nap, read a book and/or watch a movie to get my mind off of swimming. This is all in hopes that I won’t put too much pressure on myself and realize that swimming is just something I do for fun. It shouldn’t be about winning and dropping time. I want to have fun the last two years of my career and enjoy the process, because it will be over before I know it.

3. Reflect

Marco Koch Germany 200m Breaststroke Men Swimming 32nd LEN European Championships Berlin, Germany 2014 Aug.13 th - Aug. 24 th Day08 - Aug. 20 Photo Andrea Staccioli/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli Insidefoto

What can get me through a 200 breast or a 400 IM is to remember a hard set I did during the season. Whether it was 6x200s off the blocks, 6x600s or 4x400s, I would remember these sets and then think, ‘wow, one 200 isn’t going to be that bad.’ It would relieve my anxiety enough to not make me afraid. If you do enough training for a specific event, you know what the pain is supposed to feel like and can train your mind how to react to it. Warming up is also a good idea. A lot of times, I have this irrational fear that I’m going to forget how to swim a 200 breast. But getting in before my race and warming up actually helps me get rid of that fear because it gives me a feel for the water that I am afraid of losing.

4. Dance

sierra-schmidt-2015-fina-world-juniors-1 (1)

Photo Courtesy: Singapore Swimming Federation

Listen to a song that isn’t necessarily about beating your competition. Listen to a song that is more fun, upbeat and out of the ordinary. This will help alleviate the stress and help you relax before the big race.

5. Laugh

This ties into the ‘not thinking about swimming’ point earlier. Joking around with your teammates either behind the blocks, during warm-up or during breakfast can help relieve the stress you have before a race. Joking around before swims can make it seem like you aren’t nervous at all.

All of these should help you relax and get rid of the pre-race nerves. That way you can do what you have trained to do all season long: crush your competition.

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