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There are many stories over my years as a coach that include swimmers that perform really well in training, but then struggle to get the same performance on race day. Swimmers who don’t enjoy competition and can find themselves crippled by anxiety. What can we do as swimmers, coaches and parents to make sure that the environment on race day is one that young swimmers enjoy and look forward to?

Enjoying the process

It’s a common phrase that you see in many places these days. But when swimmers and parents focus purely on the outcome, it can become a dangerous and stressful approach to what is a FUN sport. Everybody involved obviously wants to see swimmers improving and swimming fast, but the bottom line is that will not always be the case. If swimmers are purely competing based on the outcome of their events, then that will lead to a loss of motivation and a loss of confidence in their own ability. If swimmers are enjoying the struggle and the challenge of trying to improve and therefore seeing the plateaus that occur as a bump in the road, then that will help to INCREASE motivation and also take some of the pressure off them when they are approaching competitions. Pressure comes from expectations that swimmers should ALWAYS improve, this is unrealistic and sets swimmers up for a no win scenario. Enjoy the process, enjoy the setbacks and keep a glass half full, optimistic approach to competition.

Stress and Anxiety is contagious

Many times I have seen parents, coaches and swimmers end up passing on their own anxieties and stress on to the people around them. It is very easy to do! Young swimmers in particularly are very impressionable and the way that the people around them react to competitions will have a direct impact on how they approach them. Young swimmers are extremely robust and are much more capable than a lot of people will give them credit for. Many times during my coaching career I have seen young swimmers have a fear of certain events (200 fly, 400 IM etc.) simply due to people around them making a big deal out of it. I have also seen swimmers who were fine after a disappointing race, suddenly become distraught with their performance due to the reaction of people around them. If we want to make the best possible environment for swimmers on race day, we should ensure that we are not passing on our own stresses and anxiety on to them. Swimmers will react the same way as the most important people around them – parents, coaches, teammates. Take everything one step at a time, keep everything in perspective and smile!

Surround yourself with like-minded people

In a similar way to the above tip, it is important to surround yourself with people who are approaching the competitions in a fun and focused way. We can all think of people that have a problem for every solution and who are the first people to have something to say when things aren’t going well – they are the last people you want to spend time around at competitions! People who are relaxed, enjoy the day and are taking things in their stride are great to have in your team. If you find that you are an over thinker, or somebody who struggles to relax on race day – then think of the people who make you laugh, who can make you smile? Go and find the people on your team that you enjoy talking to and are positive influences on your mood. There is a saying that you are the sum personality of the five people you spend the most time with, I think this is definitely true and even more so when you are in a competitive environment.

Be excited! Don’t take it too seriously

Finally, as swimmers progress through their swimming careers it is very easy to see each next step up on the ladder as the most important thing ever. At the end of the day, it is a swimming race! If you make it a life and death moment, then the pressure will be overriding and will make it almost impossible to perform. Adrenaline and excitement are important, but they will be there no matter what – swimmers don’t need to add any extra stress to the situation. Even when swimmers make it to the Olympic games, it is still just water in a pool with somebody timing how long it takes to get to the end of the race. Laugh, smile, enjoy the moments as they will not last forever. You don’t want to look back on your swimming career and realise that you spent more time worrying, than you did smiling and enjoying it.


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