March 3, 2018
Swimmers are often asked," what your biggest mental hang up is in the pool?".
The most popular answer?
Not performing up to expectation when it came to stepping up on the block:
I get too anxious when racing and end up cracking under pressure.
I get caught up overthinking before the big race.
I get so nervous that I feel like I am out of control and don’t swim as fast as I should.
And so on.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this kind of thing happening is that it feels like it’s out of your control.
Your coach tells you to relax and have fun and clear your mind, but trying to not think about something only makes you think about it even more.
Which makes things even more infuriating.
And leaves ya feeling even more hopeless.
The power of going slow
I’m gonna give you one of my favorite tips for managing pre-race anxiety.
You can even use this little technique to help bounce back when things fall off the rails in the middle of practice.
It’s a simple thing.
It’s taking things more slowly.
When we are experiencing stress (whether it’s that crushing pre-race doubt and anxiety, or the main set is defeating you) our first instinct is to rush.
To power through whatever situation we are in as fast as we possibly can.
Which is a perfectly normal and natural reaction.
We are experiencing un-good feelings, and the fastest route is through it is at top speed.
But the problem with this is that we rush. We get frantic. We move focus from the things that work for us in the pool towards panicking over how badly it’s going.
The next time you are feeling your thoughts running away from you, slow things down.
Be deliberate about what you are doing.
Why slow works:
Gives you a sense of control.
Swim meets can be stressful—there are people in the stands, our teammates watching from the side of the pool, the big, bad competition in the next lane.
There are countless things that we can’t control in the pool, from temperature, to how busy the warm-up tank is, to how the swimmers a block over are going to swim.
It’s no wonder racing can sometimes feel like more stress than it’s worth!
Slowing things down a gear or three redirects your attention onto the things you can control.
From the simple things, like how you are breathing, to the pace and tempo that you are swinging your arms and pumping your legs, to how deliberately you step up on the block for that last moment of silence before the start.
Forces you to be present.
When we are harried and rushed, our eyes and focus are directed at the result and outcome.
And by focusing on the outcome, the uncertainty that is naturally associated with it makes us feel anxious and nervous.
What if we don’t swim as fast as we hope? What if we lose the race? What if we swim our fastest and still don’t take a chip out of our PB?
Slowing things down is a way to keep you present on what’s happening right now.
The benefit of this is hard to overstate.
Our brains, for all their unbelievable ability and processing power, can only truly focus on one thing at a time.
It’s the equivalent of having a computer or a phone that crashes if you open two browser windows.
Which is kinda good news: This means you can choose what’s gonna load up in that one browser window.
Slowing things down, and being present boxes out the fears, doubts, and excess anxieties that tend to send our performance cratering.
Swimming fast starts with swimming well.
I understand the appeal of the bull-headed approach to trying to turn things around in the water.
It’s an expectation that if we just try harder or hurl more effort at our swimming that we will hit those peak levels of speed.
If only I try harder.
But swimming fast starts with swimming well.
Slowing things down helps you break down your swimming into its most fundamental aspects.
Your technique. Your preparation. Your focus.
The next time you are feeling stressed out, anxious, or things aren’t going your way in the water…
Bring it back down to basics.
Slow it down.
Getting a grip on managing stress is one of the biggest things swimming will teach you.
Over the course of your career in the water you should be able to look back and see what helps promote those epic swims, while being self-aware enough to note what doesn’t help you swim fast.
It’s a process.
A journey of discovery where you learn what it takes for you to hit that zone or emotional state where you perform at your most awesome.