Competitions are without a doubt one of the most difficult times a swimmer (or any athlete) has to cope with. Athletes use a variety of techniques to help overcome the nerves and anxiety that are almost inevitable on race-day. We're going to explore a few of these techniques today.
"...a disappointing outcome brings with it a whole new set of mental challenges."
Competitions are always going to be nerve-wracking experiences. Athletes put a lot of pressure on race days because that is when they're going to be able to really see the results of their hard work and the leaps forwards in their progress. A good result at competition will put a spring in your step and a smile on your face, but a disappointing outcome brings with it a whole new set of mental challenges.
Whether you're taking part in team or individual sports, nerves and anxiety are something that affects all athletes. From the entry-level to elite-level, everyone gets a little bit shaky pre-race.
When a swimmer is sat on poolside, or in the changing rooms before a big competition and anxiety strikes, the swimmer can react in two ways:
- Ignore the feelings, pushing them down and potentially letting them interfere with performance.
- Be mindful of the feelings, acknowledge them, learn how to handle it, and eventually overcome it!
There's a bit of science coming up so hold on tight. Anxiety is known to affect performance because of its close relation to some of the physiological ways of conveying energy from the muscles and cardiovascular system to the brain. In cases of an athlete with anxiety, the brain requires more oxygen to cope with the higher levels of anxiety being experienced.
Causes of Race-Day Anxiety
One of the biggest causes of anxiety amongst swimmers at competitions comes from setting sights too high or having unrealistic expectations for personal performance. This puts extra pressure and stress on the swimmer when setting a more realistic goal would probably result in a better performance. If stress and pressure levels are not so high, it leaves more mental and physical energy to focus on the race.
In setting unobtainable goals swimmers risk setting themselves up for an unnecessary fall, and even negatively affecting their performance. Look closely and you can spot the anxious swimmer on poolside. They'll be the ones who seem nervous, perhaps sweating, accompanied by an accelerated heart rate and a bit of a grumpy mood.
Does this sound like someone you know? Perhaps you suffer from race-day anxiety yourself. Well here's a few tips to relieve the pressure and have you competing with confidence and a smile.
Tips for Dealing With Race-Day Anxiety
take a minute to relax! Take some breaths, step back for a bit and get some perspective. Running yourself around in circles with anxious thoughts is not a good path to follow. Practice some breathing techniques, or find a relaxation method that works for you. The aim of this is to lower your heart rate and control your breathing.
2. Think about Something Else!
That sounds simple, right? But those anxious thoughts have a funny way of creeping back in where they're not wanted. Some athletes find it useful to keep themselves occupied with other tasks on race-day, giving them less chance to focus on heir negative anxious thoughts. It sounds paradoxical, but some swear by it.
3. Concentrate on What is in Your Control.
Humans like it when we can control our lives and our surroundings. It brings us great comfort to think that we're in control. A feeling of lack of control has been associated with many anxiety disorders and is one of the largest contributors to anxious feelings for all of us.
One way to overcome (or at least side-step) these feelings is to only focus on what is within your control and dismiss any worries about things that are out of your control. Focus on your lane, there's nothing you can do about the person in the next lane, so don't even waste the mental energy on it.
Instead of using that mental energy thinking about other competitors, use it to focus on your own swim stroke. Are your extensions correct? How's your body position? Your Pacing? All things you could be thinking about which could be of benefit to your performance.
4. Focus on Your Goals.
Not all of your races are equally important, some will have a greater weight placed on them than others. Learning to monitor your levels of fitness throughout the year will help you to manage your expectations. If you know that you're not quite at your peak, and you have a bigger race coming up, you can acknowledge this to yourself and manage your expectations of result from this competition. Being aware of your personal fitness and taking responsibility for it is a great step towards conquering anxiety.
5. Look the Part.
Now, this is going to sound like a plug (and it is) coming from Europe's largest competitive swimwear store, but having the right look can make all the difference on race day. Confidence is anxiety's polar opposite and for a lot of competitors, how they look and feel will make all the difference to their confidence levels and performance.
Imagine turning up to your first race or competition, and everyone else on poolside turns up in the latest racing suit with the latest fabric technologies designed to make them cut through the water like a flash of lightning. They're looking sleek and professional, like top athletes with their minds on their performance.
If you're not wearing the same (or similar) outfit to them then you're going to start asking yourself, well why is everyone else wearing those suits? Should I be wearing a better suit? What if my suit is secretly made from lead? Of course, your swimsuit, goggles, and cap aren't magically going to turn you from a beginner to Michael Phelps but they can make marginal differences to your times. The feeling of being kitted out head-to-toe in professional kit brings a whole new level of confidence on poolside!
The Arena competitive swimwear range offers suits, caps and goggles for all abilities and budgets. The latest and greatest versions of their much-loved highly popular racing suits are now available!
Top tip: Try mirrored racing goggles to hide your eyes from other competitors for that ultra-confident look and to gain a psychological edge over the competition.