USA Swimming News

Monday, February 12, 2018

Controlling Your Concentration Before and During the Race


As your championship meets approach and your hard, physical training winds down, the mental side of your swimming takes on an added importance. In fact, at those big meets, your success in the water is almost entirely dependent upon your pre-race and during race focus of concentration.

Concentration is THE most important mental skill in your mental toughness toolbox. What you focus on will determine how calm and composed you are pre-race, your level of self-confidence, how successful you are in managing your last minute negative thinking and doubts and ultimately, how fast you swim. Focus on the right things, and you’ll stay loose and excited, and race to your potential. Focus on the wrong things, and you’ll end up getting too nervous, dreading your events and swimming tighter and far slower than you’ve been in practice.

You can break down the right and wrong ways to focus, both before and during your races in the following two easy-to-understand ways:


  1. Disappointingly slow swims are almost always a product of focusing “internally” on your thoughts. That is, before and during the race, your focus is on over-thinking. You can be over-thinking about times, who you have to swim against, stroke mechanics, any of the “what-ifs,” (‘What if I lose, swim slow, die on the last 75, don’t final,’ etc.), other people’s expectations, etc. Over-thinking before and during your races will make you nervous and distract your focus from going fast.


  2. Fast swims are always a product of focusing on the FEEL of what you are DOING. That is, you focus on the feel of your pre-race ritual when you’re behind the blocks: Your jumping up and down, shaking your arms and legs out, your stretching, etc. During the race, your focus is on the FEEL of how your body is moving through the water. That is, your pace, turn-over rate, kick, breathing pattern, under-waters, how much water you’re pulling, staying long, etc. When you focus on feel, you stay loose and calm and go fast. Keep in mind that focusing on feel does NOT involve a lot of thinking, if any. You may tell yourself, “stay long,” but immediately after that, your focus is on that long, stretched out feeling each stroke.

If you want to swim fast during the high-pressured time of Championships, then you need to get in the habit of distracting yourself from your thinking by focusing on the feel of what you are doing. When you notice that your focus drifts to your thoughts, then quickly bring your focus back to feel. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you drift to thinking a lot. It only matters that EVERY TIME that you do, you quickly return your focus back to feel.   

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