When I was 17, I made my first National Team in the pool. I got to travel to Rome, Italy to compete in the World Championships. Up until that point, my main focus had only been open water. While lining up on a beach and getting ready to duke it out with a bunch of women over the course of a 6.2 mile race will definitely get your blood pumping, it was a very different kind of nervous compared to pool racing. There were rarely any spectators or screaming fans, so I was just focused on my performance. When I switched over to the pool, I was still nervous about the performance aspect, but there were a few variables that I wasn’t prepared for.
off guard. They were chanting her name and with every scream of “Frederica! Frederica!” I had a little voice in my head say “You don’t belong here,” and “You’re not good enough”. I clumsily removed my sweats and went up to my block. A cameraman put the lens right in my face for a moment before moving around me to put it on Frederica. We waited a few minutes for the fans to quiet before being able to hear the whistles that told me to step up. It’s a miracle that I stayed on the block with how badly I was shaking. When I went down to take my mark, the shaking only intensified. At that point, even before the beep, I was exhausted. I was physically and mentally spent. After the race, which didn’t go well, I vowed to figure out a system to never let it happen again. Here are 3 of the things that I do right before a race to control my nerves.
Have a Mantra
The right words can transform your psyche and unleash a more powerful swimmer. Mantras can center you so that you have a phrase to hold onto when your mind starts to race to keep you focused and strong. A few examples that I have used are “I can do this”, “I am a champion”, and “This is my time to shine”. Find one that works for you and begin to practice it! One fun trick I’ve also learned is to write my mantra on my foot so that when I bend down to take my mark on my start, the last thing I see before I dive in the pool is “I’m a superstar”.
Try out these techniques at your next swim meet and see how your mental process changes. The nervous energy won’t be gone; it’ll just be focused and reserved for when you actually need it in your race. Good Luck!
Chloe Sutton - Sharing my experience of 20 years of competitive swimming including 8 years on the National Team and 2 Olympic Games.