Swim Faster by Freaking Out Less—6 Tips for Keeping Your Cool

Championship season is right around the corner, and with it brings those big meets that you have been fantasizing about since last fall. With those meets comes an opportunity to unleash all of the hard work, time and energy you have invested into your swimming.

Here are 6 tips for swimmers to keep cool as a cucumber when you step up on the blocks at that big meet–

1. Focus on you.

Comparing yourself to other swimmers and getting bent out of shape over the competition is taking your success, your preparation, and your mental approach out of your hands. Short of putting Tiger Balm in their racing suit there is nothing you can do to alter the path they are on. There are things you can control. How your competition performs later that night at finals after blasting out a massive prelims swim is not one of them. Focus on your preparation, your stroke, your breathing and strive to put yourself in the best position to achieve success and the results will generate themselves.

2. Dismiss the WPO’s.

We tend to rush to make everything a catastrophe. If I don’t win this race my swimming career is over. We tend ot get a little over dramatic when it comes to thinking about what’s going to happen, constantly creating worst possible outcomes (WPO’s). Strike down those negative thoughts and trust yourself to be okay. You can do this by thinking aback to other “worst possible outcome” scenarios that came to fruition – but you came through quite fine. We tend to imagine things will go terribly for us, that we will never bounce back, but you should have the personal experience that dictates otherwise. Source that history when you find your brain running away to bad-bad land.

3. Still plagued by WPO’s? Fine. Let them have their day.

Want to remove the potency of your WPO’s in a hurry? Write them down. Seriously. Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down in graphic detail the WPO’s. Write out how they will make you feel, what you will do in the aftermath of that bad swim you keep imagining, and how utterly devastated you will feel. A funny thing will happen when you begin to put pen to paper. The WPO’s will begin to seem silly, even ridiculous. Rob them of their power by shining a bright light on them.

4. Choose how you are going to react.

This one is my favorite. Getting to choose how you are going to react is the best. Why? Because no matter how helpless you may feel about the result, you will always have control over how you react.

While that is easy to say and hope for ahead of time, I find that making an actual checklist of things to do after a bad race can help me stay calm pre-race time, and also speed up the bounce back process. Having a checklist makes the dumping of the negative emotions subjective, nearly an out–of-body experience. It detaches you from the negativity and ensures that you can move on faster.

List the 5 things you are going to do after a bad swim: Warm down exactly 500m. Listen to a pre-made pump up list. Read a set of affirmations, and so on. Once the last thing on the list is completed you should be mentally reset and re-focused on the next race.

5. Breathe, bro!

When you feel anxiety beginning to rear its head, take a few big, hearty breaths. Deep abdominal breathing is helpful for a couple powerful reasons.

Firstly, by thinking and focusing on your breathing your brain is forced to take a breather (pun intended!) from stressing out and getting all worked up thinking about the race at hand. Mindful distraction is good in this case.

Secondly, this type of breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, meaning all the blood vessels at the bottom of the lungs – which typically get overlooked when we are taking shallow breaths – are getting oxygenated as well. This results in a decreased heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

6. Your next opportunity is on the horizon.

No matter what happens today, tomorrow will come. And with it, a whole new set of opportunities and challenges for you and your swimming. This swim is not a doomsday race; the world will not end if you don’t perform well.

The next time you step up on the blocks take a couple deep breaths, get in the moment, and enjoy the process of unleashing all of your hard work!

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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