Regardless of how hard you’ve trained, none of it will matter if you’re not mentally prepared to translate your hard work into results. That’s why it’s so important to get your mind ready to race, so that you can swim up to your full potential. Check out these five tips for getting mentally tough before competition:
1. Stick to your own process
From the moment you wake up in the morning on race day, you need to stick to your own process. Eat the food you usually eat for breakfast, follow the same schedule when arriving at the pool, and do the same warmup you’ve practiced time after time. If you have a specific routine you’ve been doing all season, don’t change it last minute.
It’s important to focus on yourself and keep confidence in your own process. There’s always a temptation to watch fast swimmers from the corner of your eye and copy some of the things they’re doing in their preparation. However, you shouldn’t allow your competitors to influence the decisions you make leading up to your race, as this will only introduce doubt to your preparation; you need to stick to what’s comfortable and to what you know.
2. Have a pre-race routine
If you get a chance to watch some of the fastest swimmers in the world before their race, you’ll notice they often have a very specific routine or ritual that they follow behind the blocks. Often it’s exactly the same, race-after-race.
There are a number of reasons you should consider creating your own pre-race routine, but the most important is for consistency. When you go to a meet, the pool, seating area, bathrooms, blocks, officials, and competitors will always vary. To help “ground” you, count on the familiarity of a pre-race routine to keep you comfortable and help manage distractions by giving you something to focus on.
The most important part of the pre-race routine is not what you’re doing physically, but what you’re doing mentally. Have a set of positive thoughts to repeat in your head and tie them to your physical routine so that you have a pattern you can count on to get both your mind and body prepared for the race.
3. Stay calm in the “now”
One of the biggest mistakes you can make before a race is allowing your mind to leave the present and begin drifting to the past or future. When your mind wanders and becomes crowded with thoughts that have no bearing on the upcoming race, it will interfere with your concentration and cause your focus to slip.
Of course it’s normal to momentarily lose focus when there are so many distractions around: teammates swimming their races, competitors making conversation, and spectators roaring from the stands. However, you need to train yourself to instantly detect moments when your focus starts drifting, so that you can quickly bring it back to the present and return your concentration to your upcoming race. If it helps, you might need to find a quiet place away from all the action to give yourself a chance to breathe and collect your thoughts.
4. Focus on things you can control
There are many things that happen at meets that might impact your results and are completely outside your control. There could be a road accident that blocks traffic on the way to the pool, a delay in the meet timeline, or a last minute change to your event lineup. You also can’t control when you race, who’s in your heat, what lane you’re racing in, or how fast your competitors swim.
That last one is especially important to remember – worrying about how fast your competitors will swim is a waste of mental energy and will increase your stress levels. Before competition, focus only on the things you can control. Remember that regardless of what’s happening in your surroundings, you need to swim your own race. Executing the best race you possibly can is one thing that is within your control and should be the center of your focus.
5. Let go and have fun
Don’t hold back and let go of any fears or reservations. You’ll swim fastest when you’re relaxed and confident about the upcoming race. All the preparation you’ve done up to the point you step on the blocks is in the past and can’t be changed, so trust in your training and get excited about racing. Don’t forget to have fun – that’s the reason you’re swimming!