How to Manage Distractions on Race Day

3 Ways Swimmers Can Manage Distractions on Race Day

There’s lots going on when you step up on the blocks. Here is how to manage internal and external distractions so that you can swim fast when it matters most.

A huge part of success in the water is the ability to not get distracted.

On race day, the process of swimming your best is relatively simple:

  1. Show up to the pool
  2. Warm-up properly
  3. Step up to the blocks
  4. Give a 100% effort in the water
  5. Smash PB

The process is simple.

But in reality, there is an avalanche of distractions, both internal and external, that are flowing your way.

External distractions come from the environment around you. Stuff like: competitors smack-talking, crowd noise, the piercing whistles from a swim coach cheering on their swimmer.

And then there are the internal distractions, which are even harder to manage. Things like fears, worries, and overthinking.

Distractions include:

  • A swimmer in the heat before you smashes the state record, surprising you and giving you a sudden shot of doubt and uncertainty.
  • You worry that your swim at finals will go poorly because you didn’t feel that great in the water during prelims.
  • The pool is super busy during warm-up, making you doubt your race readiness because you didn’t do your usual warm-up.
  • A super-fast competitor shows up at the last minute and will be swimming in the lane next to you.
  • The announcer completely butchers your name as the finalists’ names are being read out.
  • You worry that your parents will be mad if you don’t swim a personal best time.
  • A competitor tells you how easy they went in the morning heat to make you think how much faster they are going to go at finals.

And on and on and on.

The more we focus on distractions instead of executing that “simple” race plan, the more anxious we get, the more tired we feel, and the less attention we are paying to performance cues that will help us swim our best.

While there are a lot of different ways you can keep yourself dialed in and manage distractions, here are three of my favorites.

1. Build a plan for success on race day.

What routines and habits do you have on race day?

Often swimmers will get side-tracked by distractions when they show up on the pool deck without a clear plan for their mindset and swimming.

Instead of purposefully going through the steps they need to be successful, they are reacting to what is happening around them, and allowing their mindset and focus to be dictated by the performance of others and the environment.

How Swimmers Can Manage Internal and External Distractions

Build a plan for race day.

  • What are you going to do when you get to the pool?
  • How do you want your stroke to feel on the first lap of your big race?
  • What’s your pre-race routine?
  • What kind of self-talk are you going to use to keep you centered and focused?
  • What’s the self-talk you are going to use when you catch yourself distracted by the performance of others?

When you have a plan for race day, a couple of powerful things happen.

You feel the rising tide of confidence from executing each step of your plan to the best of your ability.

And it gives you something controllable that you can focus on that keeps distractions at bay.

2. “Be water, my friend.”

The good news about distractions is that they are an equal-opportunity force.

Every swimmer on the pool deck is experiencing the same thoughts, worries, lapses in focus and concentration.

Adversity, surprises, and distractions happen to us all.

Goggles leak. Competitors shine. Coaches drop us from the relay.

But the swimmer who is able to push through and succeed in the face of pressure and distractions is the one who handles distractions properly.

Have a disciplined approach to your preparation and game plan, but don’t be so anchored to them that the slightest deviation causes your concentration and confidence to implode.

How to Manage Distractions in the Pool

3. Pay attention to your senses.

When you manage your senses, you manage distractions.

Ever notice how some swimmers have a completely blank look on their faces behind the blocks?

You can see that they are amped up by the body movements—arms swinging, legs pumping, fidgeting—but they are staring off into the distance, doing that thousand-yard stare.

This is a way of keeping their focus where they want it.

Instead of looking around and getting overwhelmed by what’s happening around them—the crowd, other swimmers, your coach pacing nervously up and down the pool deck—they are locked down into their own thoughts.

The same effect can be accomplished with music.

Listening to music before our race, both in the hours leading up to the start of the race and standing behind the blocks as our heat approaches, keeps our thoughts and focus from running away.

If you find yourself getting distracted or overwhelmed, take control of your senses.

Pick a visual anchor to look at while you are waiting for your event. Put together a playlist that helps you stay within your positive self-talk and thoughts.

The Next Step

Most often, it’s not the most talented or the hardest worker who wins on race day.

It’s the swimmer who has mastered the process of racing at the peak of their abilities.

The swimmer who properly frames pre-race nerves, has a routine for success and manages distractions, both internal and external, freeing them up to swim fast.

Be that swimmer.

Mental Training for Swimmers (FINALLY) Made Simple

Whether you are tired of choking on race day, want to finally conquer your mindset so that you can give your PB’s the beating they deserve, or want to develop a killer game plan for your mindset, Conquer the Pool is your ticket to faster swimming.

“This is the best book I’ve ever seen concerning mental training.” — Ray Benecki, Head Coach, the FISH Swim Team

Used and trusted by some of the top clubs and swimmers on the planet and written with the feedback of 200+ head coaches, Olympians, former world record holders, and NCAA champions.

Learn More

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

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