3 Ways to Stay Focused and Calm Behind the Blocks

3 Ways to Stay Focused and Calm Behind the Blocks

The way we experience anxiety and how focused we are behind the blocks has real effects on our performance in the water. Here’s three things you can do to stay focused and control your anxiety levels.

Last week I shared with you guys and gals a simple way to help quell anxiety in the days and hours leading up to a big race or competition.

The simple tactic of writing out your anxieties and fears about an upcoming performance has been demonstrated to increase confidence and squash anxiety when researchers tried journaling with students in high-pressure exam situations.

If you missed that post, you can read it here.

While this tip is helpful for when you have time to sit down and write your feelings and thoughts out on paper or in your log book, what about when you are feeling that knot of nervousness tightening up in your belly right behind the blocks?

Or in the ready room when you don’t have time to journal out some mental porridge onto paper?

In today’s little mental training for swimmers post I’m going to drop three tips for staying focused and keeping your anxiety from going amok in the minutes and seconds leading up to the referee’s whistle popping off.

Here are three ways to stay cool as a polar bear’s cucumber behind the blocks:

1. Slow it down.

One of my favorite freestyle drills of all time is super slow swimming. It forces us to be exacting and deliberate with our stroke. And from a mental perspective, it also gives us a feeling of control.

If you find yourself getting too nervous behind the blocks, slow down your actions. We rush things when we are nervous, and this harried panic feeds our anxiety. Panic, fear, and anxiety pushes us to act, and to do so in a frenzied manner.

Don’t let your anxiety dictate your pace. Slow it down.

This kind of deliberate action gives you a sense of control, and this sense of control is what promotes confidence and focus.

2. Stare off into the distance and control your gaze.

Michael Phelps is almost as well known for his block routine as he is for his swimming prowess. That double arm backslap is as recognisable it gets for a competitive swimmer, with his patented arms swings playing on Call of Duty commercials.

A lesser talked about aspect of his behind the blocks routine—which was elaborate and went back to the moment he woke up, in a carefully orchestrated series of small wins designed to instill rising confidence—was the look on his face.

That thousand-yard stare, the vacant, focused look on his face, where he was staring at seemingly nothing, might not have been intentional, but it’s effects were profound.

3 Ways to Stay Focused and Calm Behind the Blocks

By controlling what we look at we control what we focus on.

Think about it…

If you are looking around in the moments before your race, at the competition, at your parents, at your coach, where your teammates are sitting, where do you suppose your focus goes?

Where you look is where your attention and nerves go.

3. Control your anxiety levels with power breathing.

When standing behind your lane, waiting for the race in front of you to finish, you are rarely thinking about your breathing.

Your mind is going over all the swim practices and early morning workouts that got you here. You’re thinking about how your warm-up went. How the taper went.

Our heart begins to race. Our nerves tremble and shake. Our palms get sweaty. Our breaths get short and choppy.

While some nervousness is good, the moment it turns to fear we lose the advantage of added oxygen to our muscles, elevated heart rate, and the adrenaline that comes with being the good kind of nervous.

To dial things back down, do something called “power breathing.” It’s a simple way to fool the body into believing that it is actually relaxed, and all it takes is exhaling for twice as long as you are inhaling.

For example, you would inhale through your nose for a count of three, and then expel the breath through your mouth for a count of six.

More Stuff Like This:

A Simple Way to Calm Pre-Race Anxiety for Swimmers. Swimmers all experience varying amounts of anxiety before big races. Here’s a simple tool to help calm and center yourself when it matters most.

6 Benefits of Mental Training for Swimmers. Not sold on the benefits of improving your mindset? Here are just some of the reasons to give it a look.

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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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