Fear of swimming competitively
I have worked with so many swimmers at a variety of ages and a variety of levels. What I’ve seen is that swimming brings with it all the mental challenges prevalent in other sports: focus, confidence and negative thinking but some that are not so prevalent in other sports: comparison to others and needing to drop times every meet.
Every single athlete I work with wants to win and is dealing with the stress and pressure to compete so that they do win. That’s a given. I think swimming is slightly different. The fear of competing is above and beyond what most of my other individual athletes deal with. There are few sports where you are semi blind to what your competitor is doing and are competing right next to them. It’s similar for some of my track athletes but not the same. In a pool there’s no way to see what anyone else is doing unless you stop or pull your head up out of the water. You can see swimmers to the left and right but only if they are within peripheral range. This really limits a swimmers ability to experience a broad, external focus and leaves many of them wondering, where the heck are my opponents. The ability to experience a broad, external focus is limited in track but not as completely.
Because swimming is a semi blind sport it unfortunately lends itself well to issues having to do with ‘time’ – comparing one’s time to another’s and dropping time. Usually these are tied together. You compare your time to other’s to ‘see if you are good enough’ or ‘better than X’. If you aren’t, then you probably aren’t dropping time or enough time. And, if you aren’t dropping time every meet then you definitely don’t feel good enough. A swimmers entire state of being is tied to the time, a number, the outcome and it can’t be. When many of my swimmers have let go of what everyone else is doing and needing to continually drop times, guess what? They’ve felt better and dropped time. 🙂
Most swimmer’s have a terrible fear of competing and that’s largely because of what other swimmers are doing and being tied only to an outcome that is out of their control. We talk about how they don’t have control over what other swimmers do but to beat another swimmer they have to take control of themselves: show up mentally & physically prepared, focus on their process and don’t worry about dropping time they can swim their race. Alongside this, we talk about how getting caught up in these external, uncontrollables raise heart rate, decrease the capacity to breath, tighten muscles, etc. all of which is not conducive to swimming.