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BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 10:44 AM
I'm thinking the level of anxiety I have leading up to meets, especially championships, is telling me competition is not worth it for me. I wish I could see myself improving through a season so that I can be excited to find out how fast I'm going to race at the end of it. Unfortunately, I'm at that age where I'm only getting slower, and I don't have the technical background to draw upon that some others do. I always feel relieved just after a big meet, but in the months and weeks leading up to one, I have anxiety even going to the practice pool. I dread the fact that I'm facing work, not leisure. That almost guarantees a bad practice. 'Sounds crazy doesn't it? Is it time for me to quit competing? In re-reading my first sentence I'm considering, maybe I need a therapist to help me learn what small reward keeps me going back to something so stressful, or to figure out how to give myself permission to quit. I saw a video on USA swimming in which they mention, Ryan Murphy used to puke before big events. That was a little validating. So how do you forumites manage your anxiety? Or if you don't have any, how did you achieve that serenity?

ElaineK
July 15th, 2018, 01:47 PM
Betty, I’m sorry you are struggling with the anxiety of competition. Please know that you are not alone. You should have seen me at my first Nationals (Atlanta, 2010)! I had just joined USMS two months before, and it was only my second Masters meet. I can empathize, completely, because I was a mess!

I think the key to dealing with your anxiety is this sentence: “I dread the fact that I’m facing work, not leisure.” You’re not having any fun, and swimming should be ALL about fun! Once you figure out how to make it fun again, everything will fall into place.

My suggestions, and I am speaking from personal experience:

1. Try to not to put pressure on yourself! You are “working” the entire season leading up to one big meet—the biggest meet of the year (Nationals). That’s a lot of self-imposed pressure! Have you considered taking a pass on such a pressure-filled (for you) meet and participating in smaller, local meets instead? The more meets you participate in, the more opportunities you will have to test yourself and reap the rewards of your practices. In addition, the more you race, the more comfortable you will feel with it. Dealing with nerves, like anything else, takes practicing positive self-talk! If you decide to do smaller meets and still go to Nationals as well, forget time goals for your races and set a goal of meeting ___ new people, instead. Make it a social event!

2. How about signing up for a meet and racing all new events—even ones you don’t train in practice? Designate the meet as your “No Goals” meet, and don’t put any expectations on yourself in terms of the clock. Just try to swim each race with your best technique, and enjoy your time in the pool. If you start getting nervous in the days leading up to the meet, remind yourself that you have no goals for the meet except to just have fun!

3. Give yourself a break from competition if you would like, and volunteer as a timer instead. (Admittedly, I never got to this point by choice. The choice was made for me when I was recovering from hip surgery. I wanted to race, but I wasn’t healed yet, so I timed for the meet instead.)

4. Regarding getting slower at your age, the goal is to get slower, slower. Getting slower is inevitable for all of us at some point, so just do what you can to slow that process down. Remember, it’s different for all of us, and it can happen at a different pace for each event (or stroke). At 56, I recently swam my fastest 50 meter breaststroke since 2012; however, ALL of my other events have gotten much slower. Slowing down may happen to others at 46 or 76; we’re all different.

5. Most importantly, do whatever you need to do to keep wanting to go to the pool to practice. If quitting competition for awhile will help bring back your passion for swimming, then take the rest of the year (or longer) off from meets. Swimming is supposed to be something you do for yourself for enjoyment, not dread, so have fun by bringing new toys to the pool, training for a new event, trying some new sets, or whatever else it takes to bring back that enjoyment.

Whatever you do, just keep swimming! :cheerleader:

Allen Stark
July 15th, 2018, 01:51 PM
I tend to get increasingly anxious from when the Psych Sheets are up until my first event. After the first event of the meet I am generally OK. I try to keep the anxiety manageable by visualization, meditation and routine. There is some point before the first event where I think "never again." The thing I realize is this is just my standard negative self talk channeled in a particular direction. At the meet I get with old friends, make new friends, feel the energy of the swimmers, and get to test myself against myself and my expectations. For me, that is worth some anxiety(most of the time). I had shoulder surgery in May and missed Nats and will miss Pan Ams. I am sad about this. Overall my competition experience is positive, but again, it does not always feel so. Another thing I tell myself is that physiologically, anxiety and excitement are the same, it is just about attitude.

ElaineK
July 15th, 2018, 02:24 PM
I'm the same way, King Frog. Once I get that first event out of the way, I'm good to go. At the last meet, my first event was the 200 fly. :whiteflag:

Your last sentence nailed it. At my last few meets, when I felt those butterflies come on, I told myself, "You're not nervous, you are just excited!" It really helped to recognize that it was excitement-- to see my friends, get into a nice competition (and cool!) pool (rather than the 84-degree one I train in), and cheer on my teammates. It's all about attitude and how you mentally frame it.

BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 03:03 PM
Thanks Elaine and Allen for your input. As Allen said, I think "never again" after every 200 fly. Sometimes I say that after a really great swim I think must be a fluke - 'got to leave it alone! It is true, that anxiety drops off somewhat after the first event, especially if I'm happy with the outcome. With a bad first swim though, negative thoughts increase. Anxiety for me even drops off a bit on the block, although walking to the blocks and standing behind them waiting for the previous heat to finish can be awful. Once on the block, it is the point of no return - I'm committed at that point and just think about getting the race done. Its always best when the toughest event is first so the worry is over sooner. I know all this negative thinking and anxiety is sapping energy from my races. One thing I know I have to work on is humility - that it's not the end of the world to have a really, really bad swim or even a DQ. NOBODY else cares! As Elaine said, maybe I should try "off" events and eliminate expectations. I like to do Nationals because I think my performance improves when I am in a matched heat. I tend to over swim the front half, or give up mentally when I'm swimming next to a 26 year old guy. I also get pushed around by the waves caused by a heat of people so far ahead of me they are going the opposite way. Admittedly though, with their lower stakes, local meets provoke less anxiety.

67King
July 15th, 2018, 03:28 PM
3. Give yourself a break from competition......

This is what I would suggest. Disclaimer is I don't compete. But the reason I'm commenting is that I started swimming a little over a year ago. Laps weren't cutting it, so I started following the workouts posted here. Again, didn't really have any desire to compete. But I have enjoyed the workouts, and my fitness level has improved immensely. I've actually timed myself a couple of times, and I'm considering doing a meet at some point, maybe even this Fall, to see if I can hit a goal I have someone developed for myself.

So maybe if you step away from the meets, you'll get into a good groove enjoying the workouts, and build back up that desire to compete again after a while

JPEnge
July 15th, 2018, 03:49 PM
I get super nervous before big meets, happened all through college. A little less now that Master's doesnt have as much riding on it as NCAAs, but I had some specific goals for Masters Nats in May and was definitely feeling the pressure I put on myself until I made them.

But for me, that feeling - and the other feelings associated with challenging yourself and then after rising to that challenge - is why I love competing so much. You just dont get those kinds of feelings in every day life.

BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 03:51 PM
Yes, 67King, that's what I was thinking - keep practicing, and work on my weaknesses with no pressure or time limits - if I can do that

ElaineK
July 15th, 2018, 03:51 PM
So maybe if you step away from the meets, you'll get into a good groove enjoying the workouts, and build back up that desire to compete again after a while

I agree. Betty, if you do step away from the meets, don't step completely away, though! Go to the meets, volunteer to time (or count laps, or both), cheer on your friends, make new friends, watch the stroke technique of the best swimmers, take pictures for your LMSC's newsletter, shoot video for other swimmers, or anything else that comes to mind. Just stay involved! Whatever you choose to do at the meet, I promise you will feel better after the meet than you did when you woke up that morning. Not only will you be appreciated for your efforts, but you will find as a spectator that swim meets are such uplifting, positive environments, and the excitement and energy is contagious! You may even find that you leave the meet wishing you had signed up to compete in it!


!

BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 03:54 PM
You may even find that you leave the meet wishing you had signed up to compete in it!
!
I suspect that will happen!

ElaineK
July 15th, 2018, 04:11 PM
But for me, that feeling - and the other feelings associated with challenging yourself and then after rising to that challenge - is why I love competing so much. You just dont get those kinds of feelings in every day life.

So true! There is nothing like that feeling of satisfaction after a meet, when you know you did your best in your races (even if it didn't show on the clock). After I hit the wall at the end of my last race, I always let out a WOOHOO!

I always enjoy the conversation around the ribbon table (and in the locker room) at the end of the meet, too. It's so funny! We all have tons of ribbons from the races we have swum over the years at the local meets, but it's a ritual to pick up the ribbon from each race, find the correct sticker for it, and stick it on the back. My husband just laughs at my insistence on doing so, but I pointed out to him that even the best swimmers with tons of medals do it, too! At my last meet, as we walked up the stairs of the UGA pool, I watched a FINA Top Ten swimmer huddled around the table with her friend, looking for her stickers to put on her ribbons. Those ribbons probably just got thrown in a drawer (mine go in a bamboo box that looks like a treasure chest) when she got home, but it's all part of the swim meet ritual. It completes the cycle of training hard, testing your training, and getting rewarded for your accomplishments. That cycle shouldn't end just because you're not a kid anymore!

BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 04:37 PM
I get super nervous before big meets, happened all through college. A little less now that Master's doesnt have as much riding on it as NCAAs, but I had some specific goals for Masters Nats in May and was definitely feeling the pressure I put on myself until I made them.

But for me, that feeling - and the other feelings associated with challenging yourself and then after rising to that challenge - is why I love competing so much. You just dont get those kinds of feelings in every day life.
I never competed in anything in grade school, high school or college. Never played any sports. So Masters is it for me and I don't have experience with performance anxiety or accepting failures. At first it was just let me see what I can do.. then it became about trying to better my times... at first that was easy, now it is soooooo difficult just to make an old seed time. I set moderate goals and stretch goals for myself. I never make the stretch goals. Maybe the goals are where the pressure comes from. Sometimes they are personal records, sometimes just to medal, sometimes just to even split or, just not make errors. It depends on the circumstance. Regardless, I think I'm chasing unicorns. It does help to know I'm not the only one that experiences anxiety.

BettyL
July 15th, 2018, 04:39 PM
I see there are some other older related threads I need to read through

orca1946
July 16th, 2018, 01:02 AM
Local meets not so much but, state and National meets much more so. There are times I wonder why I do this to my old body and brain at 72 years of age.

ssumargo
July 16th, 2018, 10:58 AM
I have only done local meets, and I have tons of anxiety. It starts the minute I sign up for an event, which is why I tend to sign up a few minutes before the meet online cut-off. I get so much anxiety, I'm thinking about it at work, I'm thinking about it during practice, I'm thinking about it when I should be sleeping. So days before the event, I don't get much sleep, when its most probably the most important thing to do. My coach tries to get me to taper, but I freak out and feel the need to keep practicing. I get so nervous during the warmups that I drink too much water. On the blocks of my first event, my heart is pounding so hard and loud, I can't hear anything else. But once I hit the water, my anxiety suddenly disappears and is replaced by adrenaline.

I wonder the same thing, whether it is worth doing these meets when I am such a mess weeks before. But I keep going back for more. I tell myself that even olympians get anxiety, and to remind myself of that adrenaline and sense of accomplishment feeling. The meet is supposed to be fun, friends will be there. And man oh man, the relay! I'm definitely not racing to be in the olympics. There is no pressure. Why do I need to feel this way? This is my "do something outside my comfort zone" of the year. Just do it and have fun!

BettyL
July 16th, 2018, 11:39 AM
I have only done local meets, and I have tons of anxiety. It starts the minute I sign up for an event, which is why I tend to sign up a few minutes before the meet online cut-off. I get so much anxiety, I'm thinking about it at work, I'm thinking about it during practice, I'm thinking about it when I should be sleeping. So days before the event, I don't get much sleep, when its most probably the most important thing to do. My coach tries to get me to taper, but I freak out and feel the need to keep practicing. I get so nervous during the warmups that I drink too much water. On the blocks of my first event, my heart is pounding so hard and loud, I can't hear anything else. But once I hit the water, my anxiety suddenly disappears and is replaced by adrenaline.

I wonder the same thing, whether it is worth doing these meets when I am such a mess weeks before. But I keep going back for more. I tell myself that even olympians get anxiety, and to remind myself of that adrenaline and sense of accomplishment feeling. The meet is supposed to be fun, friends will be there. And man oh man, the relay! I'm definitely not racing to be in the olympics. There is no pressure. Why do I need to feel this way? This is my "do something outside my comfort zone" of the year. Just do it and have fun!
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I wrote this myself. You described me perfectly even down to signing up at the last minute and then becoming a basket case until I hit the water. Yet I keep repeating that pattern. Surely we fit the description of the insane.

ElaineK
July 16th, 2018, 11:48 AM
Oh, how I can relate! 'Margo, I felt exactly the same way about ALL of the meets I competed in over the first few years I was in Masters. It wasn't really until after my 2014 hip surgery that I came to terms with my new post-hip-repair reality and put it all in perspective.

I still get butterflies (especially before the 200 butterfly!), but I choose to interpret it as excitement and tell myself it's normal, and I'll be ok. Past experience has always proven that I'm fine once I hit the water and get that first race out of the way. I also remind myself of how good all feel when I finish that last race!

I think it's great that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That is how you grow as a person, prove to yourself what you are capable of accomplishing, and gain self-confidence. The more you do it, the greater the benefits. I look back on who and how I was as a person in 2010 when I first started competing in Masters, and where I am now. I may be a lot slower due to my physical limitations; however, I am definitely more comfortable and more confident It has been well worth it!

FindingMyInnerFish
July 17th, 2018, 02:19 PM
It varies. If it's a local meet, not much, b/c I just see that as an extension of swim practice. I rarely go to regional meets and have never been to a national meet. (Saving travel $!). I do sometimes get pretty nervous before longer open water events, especially if I travel to them--so many logistics to think about, so many things to have to remember. But once I'm swimming, I'm good, especially if I'm in the water for a while.

There was a meet earlier this year where everything that could go wrong on the way (local meet too!) went wrong, so I got there totally a wreck. I'd missed one of my events. The next one was the 500 free. I think that was the saving of the meet for me. A sprint is over too soon, and then I'm still keyed up. The 500 allowed me to find my way into my pace, then pick up as I went along. Just the act of swimming helped me calm down so the rest of the meet went fine. To my surprise the 500 equaled my best time. So short answer: swimming itself helps cure the anxiety, but I need some distance for that to happen. I enjoy sprints, actually, but I need to be relaxed before I can start them. Not as much with longer distances.

MartinK
July 18th, 2018, 02:25 AM
If I am starting in a meet I just try to relax and not thinking about anything than swimming my race fast.My mindset is in a "competition-mode". I try to focus on just few things: breathing, technique, speed, turnover..Not going to a meet doesn't help much fighting against your problems So my suggestion is you have to compete over and over again and one day you just get the right mindset for the competition..
I would try out breath-yoga. Maybe it helps to fight against the demons in you.
You have nothing to lose and what you are doing is just sport so relax.

BettyL
July 18th, 2018, 07:32 AM
If I am starting in a meet I just try to relax and not thinking about anything than swimming my race fast.My mindset is in a "competition-mode". I try to focus on just few things: breathing, technique, speed, turnover..Not going to a meet doesn't help much fighting against your problems So my suggestion is you have to compete over and over again and one day you just get the right mindset for the competition..
I would try out breath-yoga. Maybe it helps to fight against the demons in you.
You have nothing to lose and what you are doing is just sport so relax.
Thanks for your insight and suggestions. I’m finding everyone’s responses on this thread helpful in some way. For sure I need an attitude adjustment.

Old Grey Horse
July 18th, 2018, 08:26 PM
The answer is no more suffering. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).All anxiety is easily released as you tap on meridian points while bringing up the negative followed by a positive statement. "Even though I get nervous and anxious before competition, I don't want it, I don't need it and I choose to let it go." Or even though I have this fear ( false evidence appearing real)... and whatever the fear is, I don't want it , I don't need it and I hoose to let it go." Positive statement ts can be, "I choose to be confident, calm and in control." or " I choose for my stroke to be strong, powerful with my antagonistic muscles relaxed.", "I choose to block out all external and internal thoughts." , this is the Zome (Flow) so many try for and never achieve. Check out my web site www.tommeade.com

BettyL
July 18th, 2018, 08:54 PM
The answer is no more suffering. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).All anxiety is easily released as you tap on meridian points while bringing up the negative followed by a positive statement. "Even though I get nervous and anxious before competition, I don't want it, I don't need it and I choose to let it go." Or even though I have this fear ( false evidence appearing real)... and whatever the fear is, I don't want it , I don't need it and I hoose to let it go." Positive statement ts can be, "I choose to be confident, calm and in control." or " I choose for my stroke to be strong, powerful with my antagonistic muscles relaxed.", "I choose to block out all external and internal thoughts." , this is the Zome (Flow) so many try for and never achieve. Check out my web site www.tommeade.com (http://www.tommeade.com)
Sounds awesome! certainly worth a try!

Allen Stark
July 18th, 2018, 11:47 PM
I meditate and use various mindfulness techniques. They are useful and relaxing, but I can never truly quiet my mind with them. Similarly in workouts. I actually do some of my best thinking in workouts. Sometimes,not often, in a major meet I can get into a flow state where there is no thought while having heightened awareness. Achieving that state is worth any pre- meet jitters for me.

pwb
July 19th, 2018, 01:31 AM
First off, Betty, I can absolutely relate. I have been a competitive swimmer practically my whole life from age 5 to now 51, with a fairly substantial (but not complete) break from age 22 to 34. I blew a lot of races in college as I let my anxiety get the better of me.

When I first came back to Masters swimming and went to my first Nationals in 2001, I went in with no expectations and just looking to have fun. I loved it. I got a little edgy behind the blocks, but nothing too distracting.

At my second Nationals in 2002, though, I went into the meet with GOALS for each race. I totally let my anxious monkey mind get the better of me in the very first race ... and then did even worse in the second race with my performance completely a function of my mind. The night before my last race, I completely took my mind off the meet with a nice meal with my family. I removed any expectations of what I wanted to achieve, had no thoughts about what I needed to achieve ... I just got on the blocks and let my body do what it knew how to do. My third race went smashingly well!

Though I can't say I always do this, I have found that the best way for me to swim well and fast is to swim relaxed. The single best way to do that is to try, in the heat of the moment of the meet, to not be attached to the outcome. Let your mind go and focus on the fundamentals.

One of the ways I practice this is completely counter to everything my coaches told me when I was growing up. I was always told to "swim my own race" and to "keep my blinders on" so as not to pay attention to the others in the pool. Now, though, I find that actually concentrating on racing the others in the pool helps keep my mind clear and far away from any expectations that otherwise might spin me into anxiety.

I will also echo that taking time away from racing can help ... especially if you are forced to take time away. I missed essentially all of 2017 due to shoulder issues, but was back at Nationals in Indianapolis this year. I soooooooo missed racing by that point that I was just happy to be there. In addition, that break also allowed me a little more mental distance from prior years' results, so I was pretty detached from comparisons.

BettyL
July 19th, 2018, 08:07 AM
When I first came back to Masters swimming and went to my first Nationals in 2001, I went in with no expectations and just looking to have fun. I loved it. I got a little edgy behind the blocks, but nothing too distracting.

At my second Nationals in 2002, though, I went into the meet with GOALS for each race. I totally let my anxious monkey mind get the better of me in the very first race ... and then did even worse in the second race with my performance completely a function of my mind.

This is my problem exactly. For me, goals = anxiety. Goals lead to self-induced pressure and therefore anxiety. It may also be that my goals are unrealistic. The better I do in a meet, the higher I set the bar for the next one. Or, I think, ugh! I now have to train that hard again next season just to hold that time? So, more pressure!

I also find that racing in a reasonably matched heat helps because my focus shifts away from everything in my head to the simplicity of the racing. Sometimes that still leads to panic when I find I am trailing, but it only lasts as slow as I swim.

flystorms
July 19th, 2018, 10:43 AM
You know, if you train well, the outcomes will show what progress you've made with it. Up until the point you get on the blocks, you've set your goals, trained to your goals, you've done the work. There is nothing more you can do than relax and enjoy the ride of the labor you've put in. If you are true to yourself and the work you've put towards your goals, it will show, so why not have fun with it? That said, you still get butterflies, but that's the body's way of telling you, "I'm amped up and ready to race!!" :) You can do this, Betty. Just have fun.

Sojerz
July 19th, 2018, 04:29 PM
I was nervous before my first usms meet and think I dehydrated myself emptying my bladder multiple times. But after a few more meets they become more of a routine, less nerves and lots of fun. Keep telling yourself nobody cares except you, and you are there to have fun. A couple of other thoughts.

If you can, swim in meets with separate male and female heats (especially for longer stuff like 100+ , that way you won't be "waked" as badly. Swim the short races 25s and 50s in meets with both male and female seeded in the same heats (you won't be repeatedly hitting wake after wake in a 25 or 50).

Swim some meets as "experimental swims" or learning experiences without thinking about best times - try different udk, kick beats, breathing patterns, pull, recovery, strokes, etc. so you are focused on what you are doing and not on how you are doing. An internal focus on what you want to do can go a long way towards eliminating the other thoughts that make one nervous (like how did I do or look). From the learning experiences become focused on what it is you want to do with each swim in the meet.

For longer events, don't be quite as aggressive with your seed times, so you aren't seeded into heats with much faster swimmers and will have competition along side. This is harder to do at smaller sized meets.

Getting older does mean getting slower, eventually everyone does get slower and the national qualifying times reflect this (although I think my age group only has a bunch of really fast swimmers left and me - haha).

Don't give up - meets can be a lot of fun.

BettyL
July 19th, 2018, 06:12 PM
Thanks Sojerz!

Swimspire
July 19th, 2018, 10:52 PM
Besides doing your homework in practices and preparing for the races you have set out to compete in, I would advise that you create a pre-race routine for yourself. It's a great coping tool that athletes can use to steady their nerves and increase control over their thoughts before races. Here's an article by sports psychologist Jennifer Lager that gives further insight into the pre-race routine: https://www.swimspire.com/reign-nerves-improve-performance-pre-race-routine/

Good luck!