How to Stay Calm in the Middle of the Big Meet

You have trained your butt off all year, killed it over the holidays, and declined your friends invitations to go out on the weekend so that you could hibernate and recover. Now comes the fun part – unleashing all of that hard work at your year-end meet.

This experience, the culmination of your dedication and commitment, should be a rewarding and exciting one, where you push your personal limits and set yourself some scorching new PB’s. For some swimmers though, the high expectations and pressure cause a breakdown in the days, hours and moments leading up to the big race.

Here are three of the most common reasons that these breakdowns happen, so that you can identify them the next time they poke their head up:

  • We expect a flawless performance. With all of that hard work stocked up behind us, a great swim taper, an injury-free shavedown, we expect things to go absolutely perfectly. When things don’t go perfect, when our swimming and meet prep doesn’t go as planned, we get rattled and frustrated. Remember that there will always be a heap of things you cannot control, including the competition, the pool conditions, even the sleeping arrangements. This stuff shouldn’t have any influence on the things you do control, so turn your energy and focus inwards.
  • Getting caught up in what others think. Again, there are the things that you can control, and the things that you cannot. You have no power over the thoughts and feelings of others, and your big meet of the year is the worst time and place to start trying. Besides, even though we like to think that people are focused on us, the likelihood of them giving us a second-thought is next to nil. Don’t allow your focus and composure to be rattled by what you think (a.k.a. wildly guess) other people may be thinking or saying about you.
  • Focusing on the negative. Our taper didn’t end spectacularly well. Our stroke didn’t feel that great in warm-up. The test set that you did three weeks ago went disastrously. Focusing on mistakes and dwelling them puts you on the defensive, in a state where you find yourself explaining and rationalizing these errors/performances.

Here are three tips for resetting yourself mentally so that you can get back to performing at your best:

1. You have options. No matter how frustrated or worked up you get, take a breath (or 10 if you have to), and remember that you always have options. We tend to get freaked out when we feel the window of options closing in on us.

2. View the upcoming swim in the context of your long term goals. Getting caught up in the moment is natural. So much has gone into this swim that we put ourselves in a do-or-die mental state. Even if you don’t swim according to your expectations, it’s not the end of the world. Your life will go on, and so will your swimming career. Where does this swim rank on the ladder of your swimming career? Take a moment to appreciate that this swim is just a stepping-stone in a greater journey.

3. Take a breather. I swore by this tactic at big meets. When we are cooped up in the aquatic centre for a full weekend we tend to get a bit stir crazy. All we have on the brain is swimming-swimming-swimming. Whether it is our own performances, watching our teammates, or getting fixated on the competition, we completely envelop ourselves in all aspects of the meet. You’ll notice that after a day or two of this you’ve become fully tense and locked up. Take a breather and go for a walk. Leave the pool, the deck, and the sound of cheers and the starter’s gun and refresh yourself mentally.

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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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