The Invisible Villain: Facing Pre-Meet Anxiety

Swimming can be one of the most gratifying sports to participate in. Nothing beats the thrill of touching that wall first. But it can also be one of the more anxiety-inducing sports, as swimmers face pressure to drop just a hundredth of a second.

Out of all the sports, swimming can sometimes be one of the toughest to mentally approach. A swimmer who reaches competitive levels, collegiate swimming, and especially pro or Olympic swimming, has to have incredible mental strength to get there. Unlike team sports, swimming is primarily made up of the swimmer and the lane. This kind of individuality can have wonderful benefits, as it allows the athlete to feel a certain pride in achieving their goals. The thrill of swimming fast and swimming successfully is pretty much unparalleled when you’ve put in so much personal effort.

However, being in a more solo environment also allows room for stress, fears, and anxieties to creep in. Swimmers face a lot of pressure from coaches, parents, and especially themselves to constantly race faster. These pressures can often lead to a concept called “Meet Nerves,” in which the athlete feels nervous or even scared before they compete. Nerves are a very common, and sometimes welcome, feeling before a race. In fact, feeling nervous often provides the same adrenaline as being excited, so this can allow an athlete to swim faster. But, on the other hand, too many nerves can easily lead to anxiety, which can feel paralyzing at times.

Many swimmers face anxieties before meets, races, and even practices. This is not uncommon and honestly, pretty expected. Putting in months or years of training before a race that lasts a few minutes (or seconds!) is stressful. However, there are several ways in which athletes can help reduce their anxiety, or even help to reshape it into excitement or adrenaline!

Seeing a Sports Psychiatrist

As is true for stress outside of the pool, seeing a psychiatrist is an excellent way to get professional help for anxiety. Psychiatrists, specifically, focus on mental health and working through fears, so this can be extremely useful. Unlike talking with a parent or friend, psychiatrists are professionals and are trained to help you. They can help teach de-stress methods, mental strength activities, and pre-race nerve relief. Collegiate athletes may be more inclined to take this route. Most programs provide a sports psychiatrist on campus. Even if you are not a collegiate swimmer, finding a professional to talk with can be a simple and beneficial way to work through those inescapable nerves.

Talking with Coaches and Teammates

If finding a sports ssychiatrist is too pricey or uncomfortable, talking about your stress to a coach or teammate is a great replacement. Your teammates often know exactly what you’re going through, from hard practices to big meets. Coaches, as well, have a lot of insight to how you are feeling. It can take a big weight off of your chest to talk about your worries, or to simply listen to their words of advice.



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Yoga has numerous benefits. It not only gives you physical strength and flexibility, but also breathing techniques to utilize. These techniques can be used to relieve your stress before your race. Slow, controlled, timed, and mouth/nose breathing styles can relax your body and mind. Learning yoga meditation is also a wonderful way to calm those nerves before you head onto the deck.


A very up-and-coming technique used by professional swimmers is the art of visualization. This involves mentally imagining the race before it happens. Most athletes will do this in bed the night before, or even the day of. This art focuses on imagining how you will swim your race and how it will feel. This might be a great way to relieve stress, as you are more prepared for the race and know what to expect!

Encouraging Motto

It can be very calming to have a grounding sentence or phrase. This can be used before or during a race to keep your mind focused. Something as simple as, “Trust your kick,” or, “Last one, fast one,” can help channel the fear into adrenaline. It can feel comforting, like a security blanket, to have that motto with you. This is yet another way in which anxieties can be controlled and made for the better!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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