By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Every Monday online at USASwimming.org and inside each issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What should I do to calm my nerves before a race? I feel jittery and can’t get myself in the zone. Also, what do I do to calm my constant paranoia of my goggles slipping down my face or something bad happening off my start?
Jittery & Paranoid
Hey Jittery & Paranoid,
My answer, for both questions:
First, nerves. Nerves are part of the swimmer’s meet experience. That “boulder” feeling — like you’ve got a boulder inside your stomach. I had that, too. That boulder living inside your stomach just means you care.
How do you confront that boulder?
Be bold, Jittery and Paranoid! Life passes too quickly to avert one’s eyes and not take a look. Defeat that boulder with boldness.
Speaking of looks…as you’re looking around, being bold, listening to pump-up music, giving yourself mini-10-second motivational talks, the last thing you should be thinking about is worrying about your goggles.
To prevent that goggle slippage — or at least feel confident in your dives — try this trick: Wear a cap over your goggles. For me, it was that simple. I used to wear goggles outside my cap. Every time I dove into the water, my goggles slipped, flipped, or filled. Instead, throw your cap over your goggles, so the cap is like a goggle adhesive pressing the bands and straps to your head. For me, that cap trick worked.
But if that doesn’t work for you (make sure to try several dives before determining its success or failure), try a “goggle sandwich.” Wear one cap, then put on your goggles, then put a cap on top of that. Goggle Sandwiches aren’t that comfortable, but I’ve heard they work wonders with preventing goggle slippage.
But also, Jittery & Paranoid? Practice! Practice your dives, every single day, until you are so confident with experience behind the blocks, you’ll never live in goggle slippage fear ever again. Practice five dives after practice, ten dives every day, every practice, until you have it down, and your goggles don’t slip, flip, or fall anymore. (Practice, also, cap placement, goggle placement, etc.)
Practice your starts, practice your goggle placement, but also (and more importantly) practice boldness.
When you feel those nerves and jitters arise, acknowledge them. Don’t hide from them. Stare them down. Say hello to them. Then use them to your advantage. Nerves and jitters can be like a super power, if you use them correctly. Harnessing your jitters and nerves into a swimming super power takes practice (hence the theme of this article). But over time, if you mentally practice acknowledging your nerves, and if you practice saying to yourself, “I’ll just use these nerves to help me swim faster,” eventually, you will.
And one day, when you’re nearing the end of your competitive age group career, you’ll feel those jitters and nerves again — and instead of hiding, fighting, or fleeing them, you’ll use that energy to your advantage, step on those blocks, and perfectly execute a flawless, goggle-leakage-free dive…
I hope this helps.