View Full Version : Starting block phobia!

January 26th, 2005, 04:36 PM
Some people are afraid of the dark...some are afraid to go outside....

I'm afraid of the starting blocks!

Yes, sad and pathetic but true - the blocks scare the beejeezus outa me. Why, I don't know. When I swam in high school I had no fear (and no cap and goggles either - we're talkin' WAY back in the day...)

Well...flash forward several years to my now Masters career and my coach talks me in to competing. So we have a start clinic. From then on (and it's gotten worse) I developed a really strange phobia of actually getting on the blocks and jumping off.

Part of it has to do with the fact that my starts are terrible. I have practiced and I cannot seem to get my brain to wrap around the information of what I'm suppose to do, and to get my body to follow.

Lately it just so happens that I've been competing in really long races (i.e., 1650, 1000, etc.) and I start from the wall. But when I compete in the shorter distances I know I cannot get away with that. And, I'd really like to get over the irrational fear of diving into the water...AND I'd really like to have a decent, competitive start.

Suggestions? Thoughts? Therapy of any kind...?

PS: we do have a diving pool where we work out, so I have no excuse!


January 26th, 2005, 05:18 PM
A couple of summers ago, there was a woman at our pool who was afraid to go off the low diving board...she was an excellent swimmer, but just afraid to dive from the diving board. I watched her working on her fear. She was at the pood during the times I was working with my coach and the pools were closed except for us and the kids in the children's pool taking lessons. This took place over the course of several weeks. The first thing she did was just climbing up onto the board... and immediately got down. She did that several times then next time she got up there she stayed for maybe 30 seconds. Each trip up she stayed a little longer until she felt comfortable enough to walk a little way out onto the board. She repeated waking onto the board trying to go a little further and staying a little longer each time. It seemed to get really rough when she got on the part of the board that was out over the water. She almost ran back off, but got back on and went back out a little further and stayed there a little bit longer. Well she kept that up until she got to the end of the board. Then she just stood, it seemed like forever and finally turned around and walked off. Her next try she sat down on the end of the board and sat and sat and sat and sat, got up walked off. Then got back on, sat on the end of the board, held her nose and slipped into the water. She repeated that numerous times. Her next progression was taking a step off the board. I watched her for about a week trying to get up the courage, she would just walk to the end of the board and stand forever,looking down at the water and then turn and walk off. She finally did take a step one day, but the next she was back to standing on the end of the board. To make a long story short, it took her well over two months to get to the point she could jump off the low dive. By that time my summer vacation was over and I never saw her again. I hope she learned to dive off the board. One day on the way out, she stopped to talk to me and my coach. During our chat she said she had made up her mind that she, not her fear was in control.

So my points are. 1) don't rush it, but do work on it in small steps. And 2) don't mentally rehearse your fear of going off the block, but do mentally rehearse yourself going off with confidence, without fear, and with good form. Imagine what you will look like going off the blocks with confidence and good form. 3) start practicing your starts from the wall. Try different starts to find out which one works best for you... track, grab, power all have different aspects to them that people like, maybe you are using one that doesn't fit you.

January 26th, 2005, 05:19 PM
I think you may be best with not going straight to the diving pool. Work from an in-water start (pushing off the wall) to a sitting start, to a starting dive from the deck, to a small block, up to a higher block until you can start from the competition block.

Have you identified what exactly you are scared of? Is it the height of the block or the (lack of) depth of the pool? I was going to put an anecdotal starting-related "horror story" here, but then deleted it, because I don't want to contribute to your fear.

Once you've identified what makes you afraid, then try to address that. Hopefully, you can overcome it. Good luck.

Kae (who hasn't dived off a starting block in years, so don't feel obligated to take this advice)

Rob Copeland
January 27th, 2005, 08:07 AM
Excellent/professional advice from laineybug.

Another suggestion, donít be afraid to ask for a shoulder to lean on, literally. I know of a few swimmers who ask another swimmer if they can hold on to a shoulder as they get up on the block. The physical contact helps to stabilize any wobbly steps and the human contact helps with the mental wobbles.

January 27th, 2005, 11:11 AM
i used to coach age-group swimming where i grew up (south-central PA) and i had lots of 8&unders that were petrified of the blocks. rob's suggestion of leaning on someone's shoulder is an excellent idea- my fellow coach and i would help the kids up on the block. many times, once they were up there, they had no problems. so once you can get yourself to stand on the block, you might find that you're not as afraid as you thought. but once that happens, don't go right to doing a dive. just try stepping off or even jumping off the block, feet first.

the key is taking it a little at a time. if you can convince yourself that you're not afraid anymore, a start will be a piece of cake. trust me- i was terrified of jumping off the 10-meter platform, but the day i told myself i wasn't afraid was the day that i jumped off and realized that it's almost kinda fun!

best of luck!

January 27th, 2005, 11:26 AM
what wonderful caring coaches. When I was learning who to go off of hte blocks, my fahter had my oldest brother stand on the blocks holding me. then he threw me into the water.

January 27th, 2005, 01:04 PM
Wow. I wouldn't recommend having someone actually throw you off the block, Kari (sorry Craig!), but there's some point to that.

If you can get up onto the block (if you went to a start clinic, I'm assuming you can make it that far, and that your actual fear lies in getting off the block the way they want you to), do what everyone else is telling to and GO SLOW.

I used to love doing block starts when I was an age grouper, until i went to a meet when I was 12, and I slipped off the block and landed funny in the water. After that, I was petrified of falling off the block, or going off it at all. It still makes me shudder thinking about it (I'm sure that helped you, but here's my point, promise)

My coach spend an entire two weeks with me working on this. He understood my fear, and suggested that we just work on getting back on the blocks first. Once I spent some time standing on them, looking around, getting comfortable with the height again, we worked on curling my toes around the edge of the block. That was is, just toe curling, for three hours, two days. My coach was a very patient man. He should have gotten a medal.

After the toe curling, he suggested that I literally just jump into the pool. Walk off the block, jump, whatever. Just make the connection from block to water, feet first. Do that until you're tired of doing it. Then do some standing dives. If they freak you out too much, go back to jumping feet first for awhile. Once you get comfortable doing standing dives, lean over and dangle your arms down, just a little, and do the dive thing again. Or the jump thing, whichever. Just slowly get comfortable doing the little motions that turn a dive from the wall into a start off the blocks.

It sounds really tough, but I swear, if you get somebody there with you, to encourage you (and having them hold onto the block helps, if you have the blocks that move, like we do), it will all seem like child's play to you. Promise.

So, to review: Stand. Curl. Jump. Dive. lean and jump. Lean and Dive. You can do it!

January 27th, 2005, 01:50 PM
Thanks for all the awesome suggestions and for helping me to not feel "stupid." I told one guy I swim with that I had this phobia and he looked at me like I had two heads....

Anyway...your encouragement is so helpful and I am actually looking forward to trying your suggestions. The idea of just getting near the blocks, jumping off feet first, starting slowly, taking my time, etc. makes sense and has calmed me down a great deal.

It really is strange...as I mentioned in my first post I was fine as a teenager, and when I started swimming masters and decided to compete I felt confident about the blocks. But when our coach had a start clinic and I got near them, I just froze. The first thing he had us do was just stand on the side of the pool and slowly bend at the waist and go in head first, which seems like an easy thing to do (and it was for most of the group). But somehow the idea of going into the water head first freaked me out. A few months later he had another clinic and this time I actually got on the blocks. We were doing a drill where he had a pole extended in front of the block - again, a great way to concentrate on keeping your hips up and diving properly, but the idea of trying to jump over a pole and into the water was worse! In fact, I made him remove the pool or I wouldn't go off the block!

And...I've had bad experiences in meets where my goggles fall off...etc. Those dang blocks just seem so high...

Whew (wiping sweat from brow...). OK. In with the positive...out with the negative....

New mantra: start slow, feet first, take your time, it's just water.

Again - thanks to you all for your encouraging posts.

I have a meet in March, where I'll be swimming short events and diving confidently from the blocks!

January 27th, 2005, 01:55 PM
I meant...."....I made him remove the POLE..." not the pool!

Freudian slip.

January 27th, 2005, 02:13 PM
Originally posted by Fishgrrl
I meant...."....I made him remove the POLE..." not the pool!

Freudian slip.

I'm sure many a frustrated swimmer has told their coach to remove the pole from their... pool. :D

When I was learning to dive (young age group), my initial problem was getting my head down. I wanted to see where I was going, didn't trust tucking my head. Gave myself a lot of nose-bleeds that way, before I got comfortable diving. (I also had trouble doing forward rolls in gym class, for much the same reason.)

January 27th, 2005, 02:34 PM
Originally posted by Fishgrrl

In fact, I made him remove the pool or I wouldn't go off the block!

I think I rather try it with the pool. It would be a lot scarier to dive off the block without it.:D

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Don't feel so bad. I hate diving off the blocks. I am a little scared myself and refuse to dive anymore then I have to. Which means I only do it in a meet.

January 27th, 2005, 03:11 PM
Some thoughts:

When I was in high school swimming, some blocks were flat (top surface was level) and others were tipped toward the pool. I found it easier to stand and feel comfortable on the flat ones, but I always got a better start off the slanted ones.

Maybe it's just a matter of comfort for you, standing on a surface that seems like it is trying to throw you into the pool.

If this is the case, then maybe the previous suggestion of simply having a shoulder to lean on as you get situated would do the trick.

They still cause me to struggle, BTW, but I manage to fight through it.

Can you do a dive start from the edge of the pool instead of from up on the block? If not, then you should work through that first, and then maybe the block will no longer be an issue. Learn to do it from the edge first so that you don't have the added complication of suddenly feeling like you are on a high dive while standing up on the block...

Karen Duggan
January 27th, 2005, 04:03 PM
I love doing starts :) I remember putting a kickboard out in front of the block, not a pole. The other thing we did was to dive into a hula hoop... but I digress 'cause you're not there yet.
My son, who is four, started "swimming" last year, started diving off the side on his knees. I might suggest the same for you.
Get someone to help you like I helped him.
He would get on one knee and curl his toes over the edge, the other knee he was leaning on (or he'd fall over!). He would get into a streamline above his head, tuck his chin, and I would help him roll into the water by holding his hips. He loved it, and because of his streamline his goggles stayed on. Of course we did this in the deep end 'cause he'd go down pretty far :)
From there, once you're comfy, go to diving off the side or rolling to begin with (just lean over and roll in), then eventually the blocks.
For what it's worth... I learned to swim when I was 10. One day diving into the 3 ft. end I hit my head, braces in mouth, not good. I got out and got cleaned up and then my coach made me do another start. Probably a good thing.
Also, as an adult, I would get dizzy for awhile up on the block, don't know why. To overcome this I would just stand on the block, move around and get comfortable, nowhere near the front of it. Over time I was comfortable again. I still, however, can't tuck my chin because I do get dizzy.
Do try though what I was doing with my son, it really worked for him. Hope this helps. You can do it :)

January 27th, 2005, 04:50 PM
Hey Karen - do you swim with Walnut Creek Masters?! I'll probably see you in the near future! I'm going to try one of your scheduled Sat. workouts and I'm also signed up for the Training Camp in March. And..thanks for the starting block ideas...!

Guvnuh, Mattson and SWinkleblech - thanks for the words of encouragement and starting block thoughts. As I mentioned earlier, I'm looking forward to trying out these great ideas - uh....with a pool :-) vs. a pole...


Karen Duggan
January 28th, 2005, 10:23 PM
I do swim with Walnut Creek. We'd love to have you come for practice. For Saturday mornings call ahead of time though. Sometimes they're at 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, you get the idea. That's a pretty long drive to be an hour late or early :) The workout on Sat usually 4,000-4,500y and about an hour to an hour and a half. It's about 4 to a lane, which isn't bad. The pool's number is (925) 943-5856 and ask for Kerry O'Brien. He's not there on Wednesdays though.
I am doing the training camp. They're great. Can't wait to meet you. You'll probably get to meet Patrick the diver!

Sonic Swimmer78
January 30th, 2005, 01:15 AM

I too was once in your shoes, I too had a fear of the blocks and as an added bonus, the low dive. Reason: When I was eight, I had swim lessons in the summer and our swim instructor forced us to jump off the high dive, which scared the pants off of me.

Later, when I was in high school, taking a phys ed Swim class, we had to jump off the low dive (since that's what we had in the pool) as an added assessment in the class.

Although it wasn't easy getting off the board, I faced my fears one day when I jumped off the low dive. It didn't take me as long as the lady that Laneybug meantioned in her story, but I faced my fear with a little encouragement and a reassurance that nothing bad was going to happen to me.

A year later, when I was a member of the swim team, we had the privilege of working on starts with the small, white starting blocks. Boy were they small! I felt like I was going to fall and kill myself, but again, I faced my fear.

Now I LOOK FORWARD to getting on that starting block!

It's like what I say in my song "Swimmer's Ballad": (See The Meaning of Swimming thread****)

"...Getting on that starting block is a feeling that is never the same..."

So, hang in there, you're not alone. With a little courage and perseverence, you'll be starting off that block in a meet in the not-so-distant future, I know it!


January 31st, 2005, 11:36 AM
Hi Karen!

That's great - then I'll probably see you on a Sat. in the very near future. Who is Patrick the diver??!

Looking forward to meeting you!

January 31st, 2005, 11:38 AM
Thanks for the encouragement Sonic. I know as an adult it sounds irrational, but when I step on the blocks I am "afraid" something bad (or painful!) will happen!

The only way I'm going to get past this is to just take it slow and do it!!


January 31st, 2005, 03:19 PM
I can't relate to the starting block phobia as this is my favorite part of competing. I do have a few things to add however... First, I find I feel much more stable doing a track start. I also have much better starts with the track start. I also close my eyes until I'm all the way in the water. This is a weird habit that I started in gymnastics (not a good habit either). However for dives it is ok.

And I had a massive back tumbling fear when I was a gymnast. I would crappily front tumble for days. Some days I would be able to back tumble well other days I wouldn't back tumble AT ALL! A very strange mental block I found a few others along the way shared. The coaches that were the most successful in working me through this problem were the ones that were patient and let me take things slow and easy. We started back to the lovely level 5 drills and worked our way up. This must have proved to be extremely frustrating to my coaches as this was a very common occurrence.

The last bit of advice is picture the worst thing that could happen. Block now HAVE to be in deep water so you aren't going to hit the bottom (barring some miracle of physics). The worst thing really is that your goggles could come off. (Big deal happens to someone every meet - even happend to Amanda Beard in a big meet). Even if you have a terrible start and smack the water the blocks are low enough that a mild sting would be the absolute worst case senario.

I always visualize myself going through my whole race (block start and all) as I'm getting ready for my heat. I think visualization is key. Positive thoughts!

Julie Fody (I think it might be another woman's soccer player) has this quote along the lines of ..."Your mind can only hold one thought at a time, it's up to whether it's a positive one or a negative one."

January 31st, 2005, 04:42 PM
Hey Heather!

Wow - I can totally relate to the back tumbling fear - never was a gymnast but I can sense from your description that the concept is very similar. My fear really is a mental block. And it's kind of a relief to know that even Amanda Beard's goggles have fallen off!

I once swam a 50 fly with my goggles around my neck (had to pull 'em outa my mouth! - yikes!).

I have a tape on starts that was put together by Richard Quick and he has the swimmer demonstrating a track start, and to me it actually looks more stable, though I've never tried it.

Well, my excuses are over. I've gotten so much good advice and it's not cold anymore (mid 60's for a while!) so I can't use the "excuse" that it's too cold outside to practice my starts!

Thanks for the positive input!


January 31st, 2005, 04:51 PM

just a quick tip about your goggles... if you're worried about them falling off on your starts, try putting them on under your cap... when your goggles are under your cap, there's not usually enough slack in the straps for them to fall off. i've been doing this since i switched age group teams (which was a long long time ago) nearly all of my college teammates (at both colleges!) also did this, and i've seen many top level swimmers do the same thing. and i know most of my masters teammates that compete also do it... i even will put my goggles under my cap if we practice starts.

good luck with everything!

January 31st, 2005, 04:53 PM
Mollie - cool idea!! Makes sense too. I'll give it a try....


'Cause let me tell ya, a 50 fly is not pleasant with goggles in your mouth...!

February 1st, 2005, 03:12 PM
I don't like the whole goggles under the cap thing. I find that scarier for some reason. (see we all have our quirks). I do however pull the bottom of my cap down over the top of my goggles if I'm really worried. I also really do believe that the keeping your chin tucked toward your chest thing works. Also your goggle strap (I think goggles with a double strap stay on better) should be tighter when you are racing (and going off of blocks) than it should be in practice.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes!

Bob McAdams
February 1st, 2005, 05:13 PM
Originally posted by mattson
When I was learning to dive (young age group), my initial problem was getting my head down. I wanted to see where I was going, didn't trust tucking my head. Gave myself a lot of nose-bleeds that way, before I got comfortable diving.

When I was trained in forward starts, they did it by demonstrating a forward start and then having me get up on the blocks and try it, with the idea that they could correct whatever I did wrong.

My first attempt looked so pathetic that the lifeguard burst out laughing (I think I went in sort of like an inverted V). They gradually got me straightened out, but I was aware of a stinging sensation around my eyes whenever I hit the water. They told me that I had my head too high, and that I should try to look down at my belly button.

That took care of the stinging sensation, but I later realized that it had already taken its toll: The impact of the water had given me black eyes!