We’ve reached the end of the long course season and you may be one of the many swimmers who finished their season feeling disappointed that you didn't produce the way you felt like you should have. You worked your butt off all season, consistently held some really fast times in practice and yet, when the pressure of that BIG meet was turned up high, your times were mediocre at best! It's both confusing and frustrating and leaves you feeling discouraged. How could this have happened? Or maybe you're asking yourself, “How could this have happened again?
Swimmers who consistently underperform when it counts the most, often do so because they have made a mental mistake that has allowed their nervous system to get too revved up the days, hours and minutes leading up to their BIG races. They get themselves too nervous and over-think about the importance of the meet, the times they need to go and all of the “what ifs.” (“What if I don't make finals?” “What if I die the last 50?” “What if 'IT' happens again?” “What if Sam/Jenna beat me?”). In this way, they build “their” races up in their mind so that by the time they get behind the blocks, they are dreading the race and flooded by negativity and doubts! The end-result is that by race time, they are mentally exhausted, physically tight and inadvertently set up so that they won't swim to their potential.
So what is this performance-disrupting mental mistake?
Allowing your pre- and during-race focus of concentration to go to outcome!
Your seasons are set up so that by the time you get to taper, the expectations are already high that you'll swim fast and achieve your time goals. The problem here is that if you focus on your times, place or who you need to beat at this big meet, then you will make yourself too nervous to swim fast. This kind of focus will always make your race too important in your mind. At race time, you need to be excited AND loose! You need to be looking forward to your race, NOT dreading it! If you focus on outcome before or during your race, then you will send your nervous system into the “Red Zone” and leave the meet terribly disappointed!
Instead, you need to understand that when you really want to swim fast, your focus must be on what YOU are DOING, specifically the FEEL of both your pre-race ritual and your race. When you focus on this “feel of doing,” you'll stay loose and excited. This means that for the days leading up to your taper meet, you must practice staying aware of your focus and whenever it leaves the FEEL of your swimming and goes to your thoughts/worries about outcome, you must quickly and gently (without getting upset or frustrated with yourself) bring yourself back to feel!
Keep in mind that it doesn't matter if you drift a lot and have to continually bring yourself back! Losing your focus won't make you nervous or hurt your racing! What will hurt you is when you drift to these outcome thoughts and you allow yourself to mentally stay there!
So get in the habit of letting your goals and expectations go at race time! Train yourself to stay focused on what you are doing and when outcome thinking creeps in, quickly “change the channel” back to focusing on feel!
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