By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Standing on the blocks is an exercise in Zen: You try, desperately, to shut the non-stop waterfall of thoughts off, and turn off your racing, whirling mind. You try to focus. To push back all the thoughts about eternal glory and victory and expectations and pressure, and instead, stay in the moment.
Easier said than done.
Swimming is a tricky sport: For entire seasons—months and months of training—the mind is numb during long, monotonous freestyle sets. I remember pretty much blacking out during entire morning practices, finishing up at 7:30am and thinking, “What just happened?” I remember entire practices when my mind was thinking virtually nothing else besides, “stroke stroke stroke breath flip stroke stroke.”
Yet, on the blocks, it’s like the mind has a sudden realization: “AHHHHHH!TIMETORACEAHHHHHH!” Perhaps it’s because we spend so long just thinking of one moment, one minute of racing, that once we arrive at that moment, we almost can’t even process it.
Here are typical thoughts swimmers experience on the blocks, and what to do when you think them:
1. I’m in a swimsuit on a block and everyone can see me and I hope I don’t mess up or DQ or…
Yep. Get over it.
2. Where’s my family?
Every swimmer has that fleeting moment looking towards the stands for someone watching them. Some say it can be a source of strength, but honestly, there’s nothing more deflating than expecting to see your parent in the stands watching you but instead seeing that parent with a copy of US Weekly, completely forgetting to watch.
Focus on yourself.
3. Are my teammates standing poolside for me?
Same thing as #2. Can be great when they are, but if they aren’t? Again, don’t worry about who is cheering for you. Worry about the lane in front of you.
4. Are my goggles tight?
Every swimmer fears the horrible feeling: Diving in and feeling your goggles fly off your face. Or flip up. Or even worse, the “slow leak” throughout a race. You want to check them on the blocks, over and over, but there comes a point when you just need to trust your goggles.
5. Am I about to fall in?
It’s like stepping on a ladder. Trust the ladder, but go slow.
6. How cold is that pool?
Honestly, if you’re thinking about how cold the pool is, you really shouldn’t even be racing.
7. I’m so nervous I’m gonna barf.
You won’t. But if you feel like you might, take a deep breath. Rather than thinking how scared you are, think what an amazing opportunity this is. Sounds silly, but it works.
8. Will my suit split in half when I bend over?
Maybe. But honestly who really cares? We are the same species, here.
9. How fast will the guy next to me go?
The person next to you will not make you swim faster or slower. Only you make you swim faster or slower. So stop thinking about that person next to you, and look ahead rather than sideways. (You can’t win a race looking sideways.)
10. I got this.
After going through the typical thoughts on the blocks, eventually, if you’ve trained, prepared, and readied yourself, you will think, “I got this.” Embrace the moment. Embrace the opportunity. Say to yourself, “I got this,” then go get it.
And if your suit splits?
Well, at least you put on a performance, one way or another.
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