How to Not Lose Your Head During Taper Time

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

By Chris Balbo, Swimming World College Intern

For most college teams the main season is coming to a close. It’s the most wonderful time of the year aside from “Nike Christmas”. Yardage is decreasing, practices are getting shorter, and finally the coaches let you sleep past 5 a.m. Tapers come in all shapes and forms: the drop taper, the two-day taper, the two-week taper, and many other types of resting strategies. At this time of year, across the pool there are generally more smiles, more energy and for some, greater anxiety with anticipation.

You can feel more energy, more excitement and maybe increased feel for the water. Some might call this the “taper jitters”. Others might feel worse, sluggish and unprepared for the impending meet. The real difference between these two feelings are mindset.

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Photo Courtesy: Matt Rubel of Rubel Photography

One critical point of this time of year is that regardless of feel, your mind is your greatest weapon. Swimmers would like to believe that their performance arsenal is driven by their work in the pool, in the weight room, or on deck. Unfortunately, mindset drives success. Without a proper mindset, it is more likely swimmers will not preform to their full potential. Swimmers tend to either be confident in their work, holding their head high with positive self-talk, or they demean themselves, stress and distrust their training.

If you fall into the latter camp, there are many strategies to change your mindset. Talking to coaches or teammates can help assert your training and capabilities in the water. Many athletic departments have sports psychologists who specialize in controlling nerves, anxiety, and preparation for competition.

Using the resources may not seem easy at times, but these people want to help make you better. Listening to calming (or hardcore) music before a race helps many swimmers deal with nerves and anxiety. Steady your breathing and change your thoughts to positive statements to bolster confidence before stepping up to the block. Staying in your lane and not focusing on your competitors helps alleviate pressure to perform.

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It is also important to note that taper may not always feel great. It is called rest time for a reason. Countless weeks have been spent breaking down your muscles. Taper is the time to repair the muscles for peak performance. Healing is a process, therefore it may take some time to feel “good” but sometimes even the best performances do not feel amazing.

For those that are more optimistic about their end of season outlook, keep your head on straight. It has been said that “confidence is the best performance enhancing drug”. Not everyone is the naturally confident, but believing in yourself, your team, and your coaches should give a sense of comfort behind the blocks. Swimmers must accept the only way to better yourself is being able to accept failure and learn from it. The best swimmers forget their bad races, get back on the blocks and swim their hearts out with a refined mindset.

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Photo Courtesy: Jason Tillotson

Swimming is a mentally demanding sport. It comes with pressure to perform, score points, and win. Taper heightens these pressures, but a mentally sound state can prepare the mind and body for amazing performances. The proof is in the pudding. The work has been done. Let your races showcase your hard work.

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

12 Comments

12 comments

Author: Chris Balbo

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Chris Balbo is a sophomore distance freestyler/ IMer at the College of William and Mary. He is the reigning CAA champion in the 400 IM and runner up in the 1650 Freestyle. At W&M he is a Kinesiology and Health Sciences major with a minor in Psychology. He is an alumnus of Cougar Aquatic Team (CAT) in Montclair, NJ. Balbo qualified for the 2017 US Open and Open Water Nationals.

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