Pre Race Techniques for Swimmers

We’ve all been there – sitting behind the blocks, stomach full of Butterflies, thinking about all the potential things that could go wrong in the race ahead. It’s normal. Yep, that’s right. To be nervous, is normal.


Because that means you care. Most swimmers who have big goals for themselves don’t go to practice everyday, hoping – not to get better. We all want to, but the cue is to stay in your own lane.

There’s something called Optimal Arousal level, where each swimmer has different amounts of pre race anxiety they can tolerate. Think of it like an inverted U curve, where too little pre race nerves or too much pre race nerves impede your ability to perform. Your sweet spot is right in the middle, and everyone’s sweet spot is different.

Some swimmers may be able to deal with more Butterflies in their stomach than others, but going back to what we said at the beginning – everyone has Butterflies!

How Do I Get Rid of My Butterflies?

The goal is NOT to get rid of your Butterflies, but learning how to work with them. Here’s a few techniques to help you manage the Butterflies you’re feeling:

1.) Listen to Music

This was my personal go-to, as I needed to keep my mind off my race in front of me and reflect inward to get ready to race. You can choose upbeat or soft music – whatever gets you to relaxed and ready for your race!

2.) Chat with Friends or Coaches

Some of my teammates LOVED to do this one – you’d see them almost missing their heat chatting with one of their friends or coaches, then running up behind the blocks. This technique helps keep swimmers distracted and not internally focusing too much at the task at hand, until it’s time to do so.

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3.) Stretch/Move (or Dance)!

I will always remember when Sierra Schmidt’s pre-dance routine went viral. I had seen her race multiple times before it hit the interwebs, and it was hilarious to see the responses.

Sierra choses to dance, because it helps calm her nerves and put her in a state/place where she was having fun. While you don’t have to go to this extreme, you can do some light stretches, jumps, or chest slaps to get yourself ready to go!

4.) Visualize

This is one of the more commonly used techniques by swimmers of all ages, as it’s scientifically proven to work if done intentionally.

Find a quiet spot at the pool or even the night before, and go through step-by-step the race(s) you’re about to perform. You want to visualize the largest to the smallest of details.

Include thoughts of what the pool looks like, smells like, feels like, and how you see yourself warming up, performing, and warming down. Don’t cut this process short!

5.) Breath

There’s a few different breathing techniques out there that work wonders for many swimmers. Just like in yoga, focusing on your breath helps take your brain away from thinking how “hard” the movement is. It’s the same argument here for pre meet anxiety.

Use the breath count of inhaling for 5, holding for 5, and then exhaling for 5 – doing as many rounds as you need, until you feel your brain and heart rate start to calm down.

Swim Meet Anxiety is Personal

Some of you may love everything on this list, and some of you may only like 1-2 techniques. The key is to pick what works for YOU. Getting to know yourself and the conversation you have between your ears everyday is a very important tool you’ll take beyond the pool. Anxiety and doubt never go away. We all have to learn to work with it.

I would advise you try a few of these techniques before your races, test exams, and/or other key areas of your life where you need to “perform” to figure out what works best for you.

Once you find your thing, make it your best friend and master it.

For more information on how to improve your pre race anxiety before swim meets, click here to enroll in our free course.

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

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