5 Ways Swimmers Can Overcome Pre-Race Jitters


5 Ways Swimmers Can Overcome Pre-Race Jitters

Whether it’s your first time or 100th time standing behind the starting blocks before your race, there is always going to be room for nerves. The question any swimmer would ask themselves, though, is how to curb these jitters. Doubts regarding your readiness or abilities can certainly creep in as it’s easy to envision the worst case scenario before diving in. There are many reasons for confidence levels to not be at a desired level before a race. But, given these five tips, you can hopefully lessen some of those negative emotions behind the blocks to pave the way for results that make all of your hard work worth it.

1. Determine the Source of Your Nerves

When dealing with pre-race nerves, it can be helpful to begin by figuring out what is making you nervous in the first place. Knowing not only how you’re feeling but why you’re feeling it is a good way to identify how to squash these concerns. Say you’re worried about your goggles filling up when you dive in or throughout the race for example. Unless your goggles are failing you frequently, you really should not worry about it, but rather reassure yourself of all the times your goggles did their job. 

For more serious causes of concerns, such as fear that you will lose to your opponent, it is most beneficial to realize that there is nothing you can do to hold your opponents back. At the same time, though, there is nothing they can do to hold you back either. Being able to recognize your fear of losing and also why you’re feeling this fear can really help you to understand how to conquer it. Just know that you have done everything in your power to prepare for this race, which is something to be proud of no matter the outcome of the race. 

2. Breathe


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Any athlete who competes enough can agree that intense nervousness frequently comes with an increasingly rapid heartbeat and even a sick feeling in your stomach. Among the most effective ways to come down to earth in these instances is not only to breathe, but to do so properly. According to Bonnie Marks, Psy.D., a senior psychologist at NYU Langone Health, we have a tendency to take short breaths from the chest, while it’s actually ideal to breathe deeper from the abdomen.

To do this, you need to place your hands on your stomach, count to four as you inhale, hold for four seconds, and then exhale for another count to four. With this technique, your hands should expand and release. Marks says this creates a relaxation response, which decreases anxiety. If possible, it can be even more beneficial to do this in a quiet, less hectic environment. Once you go through this process, you should be better off mentally and feel refreshed and ready to go as if it’s just another day in the pool.

3. Remember Your Training

Reminiscing about your training is something that frequently crosses the mind when you’re about to perform. It’s easy to question whether you put in enough work, or even the right kind of work throughout your preparation period. Rather than worrying too much about whether you put in adequate work, it is a great idea to think back to all of the sets you did well, the times you went far out of your comfort zone, the little things you’ve done, etc. Every swimmer is going to have slip-ups with their training and this is something that we can’t always avoid. Being able to realize that no one’s training is going to be perfect is a good reminder that your training isn’t inferior to your opponents’. 

In order to help you to remember your training during stressful situations, keeping a training log can be an excellent tool. Tracking the work you put in, noting what went well and what didn’t, and keeping track of ways to improve can give you confidence before a race and remind you that you have invested way too much time and effort in training to justify your concerns. 

4. Find Ways to Pump Yourself Up

Pre-race jitters are almost always fueled by negative self-talk. This self-talk includes thoughts such as “this is going to suck,” “I can’t do this because I got no sleep last night,” “I always come up short,” and an endless amount of other negative thoughts. If you really want to succeed in your upcoming race, it is crucial that you shut out this internal noise as it does you absolutely no favors. Simple phrases or mantras such as “I can do this” or “focus” can be encouraging, but what’s important is to find out what works for you. Anything that motivates you and relaxes you is going to give you a much greater chance at success than to harp upon past struggles.

5. Visualize Your Race Going Well

Swimmers will typically hear this piece of advice on numerous occasions throughout their swimming careers. Being able to take your time and picture your race from start to finish going exactly as it should can be a powerful method. Envisioning these images can serve as a reminder that you are ready and can instill confidence in yourself. However you can achieve this sense of confidence doesn’t matter, but at the end of a day as long as you’re confident that you will succeed, your pre-race nerves will be quickly forgotten.

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

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