At meets, many swimmers make the mental mistake of attaching far too much importance to how they feel in warm-up or during their race. They mistakenly believe that if you feel like garbage pre-race (tired, sore or tight) or while you’re swimming, then you will always put up slow times. This belief is not an etched-in-stone fact, but instead, is a BIG myth!
Here’s today’s KEY lesson: You can still have the race of your life even if you don’t feel great in warm-up or during your race!
When I travel to clubs around the country, I’ll frequently ask swimmers, “How many of you have had the experience of feeling really terrible in warm up and then during your race, yet you still had a great performance?” When I do, almost every hand in the room goes up!
Here’s the problem that swimmers run into when they think that if they don’t feel good before or during their event, then they won’t swim fast: If you believe this myth, then you will continuously overthink about how bad how you feel! When you do this, you’ll start feeling even worse. This kind of focus where you evaluate how you’re feeling in a negative way will do two things that will sabotage your race.
First, focusing on how badly you think you feel will make you nervous. When that happens, your muscles will get tight and your breathing will get faster and shallower. By themselves, those two physical changes will insure that you DO have a bad race.
Second, thinking about how you feel or how slow you think you’re going will distract you from paying attention to what helps you go fast in the first place. That is, focusing on the feel of your movement through the water. Speed in swimming is always generated by concentrating on things like staying long, how much water you’re pulling, your tempo, kick, etc.
Evaluating how you’re feeling before or during a race will always set you up to fail. Instead, you want to get in the habit of keeping your pre-race and during-race focus on the feel of what you’re doing! That is, before your event, you want to focus on your pre-race routine and the feel of what you’re doing behind the blocks, whether that is stretching, shaking out your arms and legs, jumping up and down, slapping your chest, arms or legs, etc., and then during the race, your focus needs to be on the feel of your movement through the water.
Keep in mind that in the face of last-minute negative thinking and self-doubts, staying focused on feel and away from your thoughts is far easier said than done! Whenever those thoughts pop up which evaluate how you’re feeling, your job is to quickly recognize that your concentration has drifted to thinking and immediately bring your focus back to the feel doing! Drifting to your thoughts won’t hurt you as long as you do not allow those thoughts to have extended “air time” in your head! The elite level skill here is to allow your thoughts to pass by without entertaining them. Thinking about and evaluating how you feel is normal! The trick here is that whenever those kinds of thoughts pop up, you want to immediately change the channel.