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Managing Pressure at Major Meets

Competition time can be stressful for all swimmers no matter your age or skill level. Recall a typical morning on deck at a major meet and how you generally feel:

Following your warm-up nervousness may start to set-in, and you feel your breathing getting faster and a heaviness in your chest.  You have been making some good times in training and you want to do well in this meet.  You look around to see many of your opponents acting quite confident and relaxed, while others look dazed and unsure.  When you sit in the marshaling area the swimmers next to you talk about their best times for the event and you begin to feel intimidated.

This scenario is very familiar in swimming.  High-pressure situations are an integral part of swimming.  Major competitions always have pivotal moments where great performances can carry you into higher-level international meets.

High-pressure situations do not have to be perceived as unpleasant.  The best swimmers in the world perceive pressure as positive energy that can enhance motivation, and create a readiness to rise to the challenge.  It is important that you learn to embrace the pressure of competition so that you can fully enjoy the experience of racing.

In this article, I will provide you tips on how to respond well in high-pressure situations.  I will introduce the factors that you should draw your attention to that will help you feel more in control of your performance, confident, and less stressed at a meet.

What do you focus on at a meet? 

Many athlete are not aware that what you choose to focus on at a meet can either help you to feel confident and in control or increase the feeling of pressure.

What factors should you ignore right before you race? 

A focus on the following factor can increase the feelings of pressure:

– Other people (opponents, parents, coaches).

– Your previous performance in the same event.

– The outcome of your race, the time, and making PB’s in particular.

– Focus on avoiding mistakes or NOT getting disqualified.

To understand what you should direct your focus toward that will help you feel more in control and more confident, let’s take a look at what the best swimmers in the past and present focus on during competitions.

“I swam the race like I trained to swim it.  It is not mathematical.  I just let my body do it.  It is a lot easier if you let your body do what it is trained for.”  – Ian Thorpe

When Ian was at his peak, he focused on replicating his performances in training.  He competed like he trained.  You can not expect magic in competitions, you can only expect the “out-put” of what you “put-in” at training.  Strong effort in training will ensure you feel ready to imitate that feeling in competition.

“I’m not thinking about the money or medals or anything else; I’m just having fun racing.  Right after that, I get out of the pool, I’m back to being relaxed Ryan.”   – Ryan Lochte

Ryan loves racing.  He is NOT focused on anything else but enjoying the feeling of pushing his limits and challenging himself.

“I concentrate on preparing to swim my race and let the other swimmers think about me, not me about them.”  – Amanda Beard

Amanda does NOT allow herself to be distracted by how her opponents look on deck or how they perform, she focuses on herself and her race plan.

What should I focus on?

A focus on the following factors at a meet will help you to feel more in control of your performance:

– Focus on yourself and your strengths

– Thinking about your race plan, focus in the moment.

– Competing like you train.

– Focus on effort and pushing your limits, not holding back.

Remember that you have the power to reduce the feeling of pressure and anxiety by re-directing your thoughts to what you can control; yourself and your race plan.

Dr Jay-Lee Longbottom PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment with our Singapore-based psychologist Jay-Lee to help enhance your focus for race day at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.