A Guide to Surviving the Ready Room

The ready room: a daunting location where swimmers congregate before their race. Together, they must wait in a sheltered hideaway with their fellow competitors for that moment when they will walk out in front of the roaring crowd. It’s the calm before the storm.

The culture inside a ready room varies depending on the level of meet and the personalities in the final. But one thing is certain: trapping a group of competitors in a space right before they race each other breeds tension.

Swimmers respond in different ways when placed in this unique situation. However, specific archetypes are constantly adopted in ready rooms around the world. Next time you have a big raceand you’re dreading the pressure of the ready room, be prepared. Check out this guide to surviving the ready room: a list of the most common characters you’ll encounter and how to handle them while you’re preparing to beat them in the pool:

The Chatterbox

There’s always one swimmer who makes it his or her mission to turn the uncomfortable silence of the ready room into something even more uncomfortable. Enter The Chatterbox, who refuses to believe that anybody could be content sitting quietly before their race, thus endeavoring to engage the entire group in the painful small talk.

“Remember that time you got the flu and threw up all over the pool deck?” The Chatterbox might announce with a shrill laugh to a fellow competitor, selecting topics that nobody wants to discuss before the race. After being brushed off by a few different swimmers, The Chatterbox will lock onto the person that is least resistant to his or her jokes and start dishing out reminiscences from the previous big meet, spliced with obnoxious bouts of laughter. “Look at how great we get along even though we’re about to compete!” is the message that is he or she is desperately trying to convey.

But The Chatterbox’s obvious attempts to write “I am not nervous for this race” across his or her forehead will fall short. The key is to deflect, deflect, deflect, and not give The Chatterbox any response that could be perceived as validation for the verbal assault. He or she will eventually be relegated to making small talk with the volunteer parent marshal, the most willing conversation participant in the ready room.

The Aggressor

Never has there been a swimmer who is angrier about their race than The Aggressor. This swimmer will do anything but sit patiently in the ready room – he or she would rather jump up and down, violently swing limbs from side to side, and forcefully smack his or her own muscles, all while blasting heavy metal from the oversized headphones resting on his or her shoulders. If The Aggressor has a teammate in the ready room, they will roar in each other’s faces to demonstrate their support for each other and their readiness for battle.

The Aggressor behaves like this for one of two reasons: to try to unsettle other swimmers in the ready room, or because he or she just enjoys releasing “the animal” before races. Either way it can be distracting – especially if he or she is invading your space.

The best way to deal with The Aggressor is to avoid engagement. Sit far away with music in your ears and try not to pay any attention to his or her performance. The last thing you want to do is provoke The Aggressor, who might take it as a challenge; leave the competition for the pool and prove yourself there.

The Nervous Nellie

There is not much to be said about The Nervous Nellie, besides the fact that he or she is absolutely terrified of the upcoming race and is making no effort to hide it. The reason behind The Nervous Nellie’s anxious behavior is not always clear – it could be self-imposed pressure, external pressure from a coach or parent, or the simple dread of the swim itself (long course 200 fly?). Regardless, his or her fear is only further compounded by The Aggressor’s over-the-top antics.

The Nervous Nellie is easy to identify – he or she often alternates between trembling in a chair and pacing nervously, sometimes doing a few half-hearted arm swings, often checking the scoreboard to see how near his or her impending doom really is.

Usually, The Nervous Nellie is not a threat to your race preparation and can be easily ignored. Just make sure the nervous energy doesn’t rub off on you!

The Self-Deprecator

“I’ve barely been swimming for the past two months because of my injured shoulder, and I think I have mono. My training has been such a joke! Oh, and I couldn’t sleep because people were screaming in my hotel all night. Also, my dog died.”

Do not be fooled by the clever tactics of The Self-Deprecator. No matter how many different ways they try to tell you they’re going to swim slowly in the upcoming race, ignore them. All too often The Self-Deprecator presents him or herself as a nonthreat in the ready room, then drops the hammer after diving into the pool.

The reason Self-Deprecators use this strategy is because they perceive it as a win-win. If they preemptively make a bunch of excuses and then have a bad race, they can reinforce their complaints. If they end up swimming really fast (in spite of the fact that the world is against them!) they can pat themselves on the back.

Dealing with The Self-Deprecator can be tricky. The simplest strategy is to acknowledge their excuses with slight nods but ultimately ignore them. If you want to take a more hostile approach, you could one-up everything they say (“Your dog died? I know how you feel – my entire extended family was just killed in a plane crash on their way to come watch me swim.”) If you maintain a straight face and craft responses that are absurd as possible, The Self-Deprecator will likely leave you alone.

The Intimidator

At first, you might not notice The Intimidator, who prefers to sit back without saying a word and without making a movement. As all of the other personalities in the ready room play out their roles with predictable theatrics, The Intimidator holds back like a crouching tiger ready to pounce. He or she doesn’t need to scream in anyone’s face – the focused stare, deep breathing, and determined expression are intimidating enough.

As other personas begin to crack, the aura that surrounds The Intimidator will swell until it dominates the ready room. All the while, he or she will sit firmly in place, headphones in, brow furrowed, occasionally shaking a muscle or glancing up at the scoreboard with intense focus. The Intimidator doesn’t make eye contact with anyone else in the ready room – who has time to acknowledge competitors? He or she is there for one purpose and one purpose only: to execute a swim as flawless as humanly possible.

Beware The Intimidator. It’s easy to become consumed by his or her strong presence and forget that you’re prepared to swim this race, too. The best strategy is to simply avoid paying too much attention to any of your competitors. Remember: you’re swimming in your own lane. Once you exit the ready room to take your place behind the blocks, the only thing you have to face is the water.

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