10 Ways Swimmers Can Ease Race Day Nerves and Anxiety

swimming nerves blog

Your big race day has finally arrived, and weeks of training have prepared you for what will hopefully be the performance of your life. Unfortunately, there’s still one more obstacle to overcome — your nerves.

Swimmers often put a lot of pressure on themselves during race days, because that is when you're going to be able to really see the results of your hard work and the progress you've made.

A good result on race day 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.

Because of this, competitions can be a nerve-wracking and stressful experience - particularly when you've got a lot of time on your hands between races.

Swimmers will often face lengthy waits at poolside or in the changing room on race day, which means there's even more time to become restless and dwell on the performance ahead.

One thing is very important to remember, though — race-day anxiety is perfectly normal.

Whether you're taking part in team or individual sports, nerves and anxiety can affect all athletes. From entry level to elite level, everyone can get the pre-race jitters.

Acknowledging these feelings, learning how to handle them and then overcoming them, is the important part.

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.

So how do swimmers overcome these pre-race nerves? With the help of our friends and followers on social media, we've put together a list of essential tips to help you feel relaxed and ready to take on your race day with a confident smile.

Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Race Day Anxiety

1) Prepare your kit bag in advance

mental swimming preparation

You want to avoid any unnecessary panic on the morning your race at all costs.

Suddenly realising you're missing some important kit would be a disastrous start to the day, and will leave you feeling flustered and stressed as you frantically search for replacements.

Check your race kit essentials a few days in advance. If you do need to replace anything, you've got plenty of time to do it.

It's also a good idea to make sure your race day swimming kit bag is fully packed with everything you need the day before an event. That should include any paperwork or information you need to take.

Knowing all this is ready will be one less thing to worry about when you go to bed the night before your race.

swimming race

2) Plan your journey to arrive in good time

Your race day preparation should also include a carefully considered journey plan.

Make sure you know exactly where the venue is, and how to get there. Print off directions if needed, or programme the location into your sat-nav system in advance.

As soon as you wake up on the morning of the race, check Google Maps or other traffic bulletins for any incidents or roadworks that may delay your journey.

Being stuck in traffic, and worrying about arriving late, will be a hugely stressful and frustrating experience which you must avoid at all costs.

Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the pool nice and early.

3) Be comfortable in your swimwear and clothes

Feeling comfortable both in and out of the pool plays an essential part in keeping you relaxed on race day.

As we mentioned above, competitions can be very long days so the last thing you'll want is to feel fidgety in your attire.

For racing, whenever possible we advise you to take a familiar race suit that you're used to wearing. If you've just bought a new race suit, make sure you've tried it on and, if possible, swam in it so your body can familiarise itself with any different feelings or sensations.

Most of your day will be spent poolside, so it's equally important to take comfortable clothing to warm you up or cool you down. Many top brands such as Arena have excellent ranges of poolside clothing designed specifically for swimmers.

swimming anxiety blog

4) Familiarise yourself with the venue and schedule

Your competition may be at a pool you've never visited before.

If that's the case, aim to arrive there in plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the surroundings.

Find out where the toilets are, where the changing rooms and lockers are, and the route you'll need to take to get to the starting blocks.

It's also a good idea to find out where the start lists are pinned up as soon as possible, so you can check your start times and lanes. Always check this with your own eyes — don't rely on being told by someone else!

5) Focus on your own performance and goals

Swimmers love to be in control. The feeling of lack of control has been the cause of many anxiety issues among athletes.

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 only. There's nothing you can do about the person in the next lane, so don't even waste the time thinking about it.

Instead, just concentrate on your own swim stroke. Are your extensions correct? How's your body position? Your pacing? Think about the things that can benefit your performance.

6) Listen to music

While it's good to think about your own performance, try not to over-think it! To remove unnecessary worries or distractions, listening to your favourite music is a great way to clear your mind.

You'll see many of the world's best swimmers wearing headphones before a big race, often with their eyes closed. Plenty will even build their own pre-race playlist, selecting a mixture of songs that will help you relax and also motivate you.

Even in your warm-up, you could continue to listen with a waterproof MP3 player if it is permitted. Just be sure to listen out for any announcements from the race officials!

7) Take a book to read

Much like listening to your iPod, taking a good book to read will also help to clear your mind of any worries about the race.

Become absorbed in the book you're currently reading, it will also help pass the time if you have a long wait between events.

Just remember not to lose track of time and leave yourself with too little time to warm up properly! The same goes for listening to music.

We recommend setting an alarm on your phone, to let you know when it's time to start preparing for your race.

8) Take a game or hobby with you

As well as music and books, games and hobbies can also be used to take your mind off things during race day.

Our friends on Facebook gave us several suggestions of things they do to relax and stay occupied before a race. We had suggestions ranging from playing Pokémon Go to iPad artwork.

9) Socialise with your club mates

swimming anxiety blog

Being a member of a swim team is an extremely socialable experience, so be sure to make the most of it on race day!

You'll make a lot of friends in your club who you don't see in your day-to-day work or school life, so take time to socialise with them and have fun.

Remember, you're all in the same situation and probably all feeling the same sense of nerves and anxiety. By being friendly and having a laugh, you'll help and support each other through the day.

It's also important not to worry if you overhear club mates discussing how they've trained or prepared differently to you.

Remember that we are all unique. We all train and prepare in different ways. If you were feeling happy and confident about your preparation on the way to the pool, then nothing has changed since you arrived and started chatting to people. Reassure yourself that you're ready!

10) Try some relaxation exercises

Sometimes, you just need to take a minute to relax! Take some breaths, step back for a bit and get some perspective.

You may find it useful to practice some breathing techniques that you can use before a race.

Inhale slowly through your nose, hold your breath for about five seconds, then release it slowly. Focus purely on this one breath and, as you exhale, imagine that you're ridding your body of any anxiety or nerves.

To put it simply... 'energy in' while inhaling, 'anxiety out' while exhaling.