How to Avoid Choking at the Championship Swim Meet

How to Avoid Choking at the Championship Swim Meet

admin Alan Goldberg, Blog, Competition, Psychology Leave a Comment

So how well do you stay calm and composed under the pressure of championship swim meet competition? Your ability to stay relaxed under stress is absolutely critical for fast swims because THE SECRET to swimming fast when it counts the most is that you have to stay LOOSE! If you get too nervous, it becomes physiologically impossible for you to swim to your potential because runaway nerves leave your muscles tight and speed up and constrict your breathing. When these two changes happen, your stroke shortens, your endurance gets compromised and you’ll swim way below your potential!In this article, I’d like to identify the major cause of performance disrupting nervousness for you, the mental trap that so many swimmers fall into. If you know ahead of time what causes your nervousness to spike and wreck your performance, then you are in a position to be able to consistently avoid falling into that trap! Awareness of this trap is the absolute key to staying out of it!

How to Avoid Choking at the Championship Swim Meet

So many swimmers ask me:

“How come I get so nervous before all my important races?”

“Why do I tend to choke at my championship swim meet?”

“Why do I get so psyched out by certain other swimmers?”

The answers to these questions lie in a very simple concentration mistake that far too many swimmers make, both before and even during their races. When you make this FOCUSING mistake, it will ALWAYS result in excessive nervousness and disappointing swims!

The mistake has to do with allowing your pre-race or during race focus to go to a group of things that I call the UCs, which I will translate for you in just a few moments.When you are getting ready for a race or meet, if either before or during your race you are concentrating on one of these UCs, then you will set into motion inside a series of performance-disrupting events.

First, your level of NERVOUSNESS will INCREASE. Second, when you get nervous, your MUSCLE TENSION will automatically INCREASE. Third, the amount of NEGATIVE THINKING and SELF-DOUBTS bopping around inside your cranium will increase. And Fourth, when you’re flooded with negativity and doubts, your SELF-CONFIDENCE will DO A NOSE DIVE!!!! And finally, and a result of all of these above, your RACE PERFORMANCE will go down the proverbial tubes!!!!So what are the UCs? The UCs stand for a group of things that I call the UNCONTROLLABLES. An uncontrollable is anything that you don’t have DIRECT CONTROL OVER right now. DIRECT is the key word here. If you go into a race and either before or during that event you’re focusing on things that you don’t have direct control over, then you will start to get nervous, physically tighten up, lose your confidence and perform way below your potential!I recently had a first session with a 16-year-old swimmer who hasn’t gone fast in her best event, in breaststroke for over 9 months. Her problem seemed to be related to overwhelming nervousness, the nights before and the day of the meet. By the time race time rolled around, this swimmer claimed that she was a “9.5” on the 0 – 10 scale of nervousness where 0 is your cool, calm and collected and 10 is you’re so stressed out, you’re having a complete meltdown! Her pre-race focus of concentration the week of the meet and right up until the race’s start was totally on UNCONTROLLABLES! She kept thinking of the Nationals she went to 9 months previous when she completely fell apart. She worried, “what if it happens again?!!” She focused on all of the other swimmers in her heat and how good and fast she thought they were. She thought about the extended consequences for having another bad meet,…that is, her coaches would be disappointed in her, her parents might be upset, her friends will think she’s just not that good anymore….She worried that unless she could break out of this prolonged slump, her chances of swimming at a decent college would be compromised!So what UC’s did this athlete get hung up on? The PAST and previous bad performances, (last Nationals); The FUTURE and what’s going to happen next; Everything about the OTHER SWIMMERS, (i.e. size, strength, reputation, skill level; attitude, etc.); OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS, (i.e. disappointing coach, parents or friends); What COLLEGE COACHES might think and therefore her chances of getting a scholarship, (the future!)

What else is also out of your direct control? Everything about the pool, (water temperature, air quality, water temperature, depth, blocks, lighting, etc.), the weather, (outdoor meets), how championship the race is, whether you make finals or not (future), how you feel that day, the starter and meet officials, who’s in your heat, lane assignment, the unexpected happening, (i.e. you get called down from the blocks and have to wait 15 minutes for the touch pads to be fixed), etc.

Understand that the UNCONTROLLABLES ARE MENTAL TRAPS [learn how to beat swimming dejection]! They are lying in wait for you and every other swimmer at that meet. How do you avoid a trap? FIRST, you have to see it! You have to be able to identify it! You have to be aware! Without knowing what the traps are, without being aware of them, then you are much more vulnerable to falling into them, over and over again! So I would suggest that you sit down right now and list all of the UCs that in the past, have knocked you off track. Think back to a time when you choked, got intimidated or otherwise swam way below your potential and I can guarantee that what you were focusing on either before and/or during that event were UCs! Write them down on a piece of paper and then post that list in your room in a highly visible place! One of the very first steps in mastering the UCs is KNOWING exactly what they are!

So how should you handle the UCs? Whenever you find yourself thinking about or focusing on something that you have no control over, you want to quickly recognize that your focus is off, and then just as quickly, return your focus to something that you can control, (i.e. your pre-race ritual behind the blocks, stretching, talking to a friend, etc.).

Remember while there are a lot of things you can’t directly control at that championship swim meet, the one thing that you can always LEARN to control is HOW YOU REACT to all of the UCs! The uncontrollables won’t hurt you as long as you don’t allow them extended airtime in your head! The instant you become aware that you’re “entertaining” a UC in your head, quickly bring yourself back!

Want to win your next 100-m race? Follow these 4 steps!

By Alan Goldberg of Competitive Advantage. Dr. Goldberg was the sport psychology consultant to the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion University of Connecticut Huskies, and the 2000 men’s soccer NCAA champions. He specializes in helping athletes overcome fears & blocks, snap out of slumps, and perform to their potential. His book, Sports Slump Busting (LLumina Press), is based on his extensive experience getting teams and individual athletes unstuck and back on track. 
Originally posted 2013. 

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