By Chandler Brandes, Swimming World College Intern
So you had a bad race or two. Or three. Or four. Or maybe even a lot more.
You can cry, you can mope, you can let one bad race effect the rest of the meet or the rest of your season. Or you can learn how to bounce back from a bad race to make yourself a more successful swimmer.
Here are four steps to help you recover from a bad race…
1. Take a few minutes to yourself.
It’s okay to be upset with a bad race after you’ve put so much time and effort into training. No one likes getting out-touched or missing a cut time by .01, adding 10 seconds in your favorite event, or getting disqualified at a championship meet. After a bad race, take a few moments for yourself. Walk a lap around the pool deck, go to the locker room and scream, put your goggles on and cry.
While it’s okay to be upset with your own performance, do not take it out on others. Continue to be a good sport and a good teammate, and do not dwell on a bad race for too long. No matter how frustrated and angry you may be, do not make a scene. You represent yourself, your team, your university, and your community. Throwing your cap and goggles and stomping off the pool deck does not make a good name for yourself, and handling a bad performance with maturity and class is an important skill to develop.
After a bad race, do not make excuses; no one wants to hear it or be around a sore loser. Spending too much time thinking about past results will prevent you from focusing on future races. The bad race already happened, and there’s nothing you can say or do to try and change its outcome. You can, however, take what you learned in that race to make sure it doesn’t happen in the next one.
If you felt like you weren’t warmed up enough, spend more time in the warmup pool before your next event. If you felt fatigued early on in the race, pay more attention to your sleeping and eating habits. Talk to your coach to see what he or she thought about the race and areas for improvement as well. After taking a few moments to collect yourself, accept that the race wasn’t your best, and realize that it’s not the end of the world.
3. Find at least one thing that went well.
Whether it’s the best or worst race of your life, every time you compete should be looked at as a learning opportunity. Always try to find at least one positive thing in each of your races, even if you are dissatisfied with the end result. In order to be successful, swimmers need to know what they could have done better, but also acknowledge elements of their races that went well. Maybe you had a great start, dolphin kicked past the flags off of every wall, or your time was faster in the event than what it was last year. Whatever it may be, find something to be proud of, and use that to build your confidence going into your next race.
4. Move on.
Once you’ve taken a few moments to be upset about a bad race, reflected on the swim, and found something you did well, let it go. A few bad races here and there are not the end of the world, and they happen to everyone, including the best of the best. Do not let one bad race dictate the rest of your meet or season. Remember that success is a process, and a few bad performances are just small bumps in the road and are a natural part of the journey. Channel your frustration over a bad performance into motivation. No one wants to experience failure more than once, and successful swimmers use bad swims to motivate themselves during training and to make their next race even better.
It’s totally okay to be upset after a bad race. In fact, it’s normal—no one should ever settle for mediocrity. But one bad race, meet, or even a whole season does not define who you are as a swimmer, and how you handle yourself after a bad race says a lot about you as an athlete and as a person. A poor performance certainly doesn’t feel too good in the moment, but the next time you step up on the blocks is another chance to do something great.