Harness your pre-race jitters to improve performance

Harness your pre-race jitters to improve performance

Some high-performing athletes can overcome pre-race anxiety to improve performance. One of the tricks is to reappraise anxiety as excitement. Another trick is to change your perception of racing. 

Feeling nervous before a race is normal and common. For my last race, I was stressed and anxious for a whole week. I thought about all the ways that I could mess up. I compared myself to other swimmers and felt like an impostor. Could I swim fast? 

I told Anna, my swim coach, that I was nervous. Anna is a 20-year-old Varsity swimmer who is an Individual Medley specialist.

She responded calmly but compassionately, “Hey, I get it, but it’s not a bad thing. The flip side of nervousness is excitement. It means that you’re excited to race.”

She made me think. I had never interpreted the awful feelings in my gut as something positive.

Instead of trying to calm down, her strategy is to reappraise anxiety as excitement.

She gazed at pool and her face lit up. “Racing is one of the best things about swimming.” 

To me, racing was stressful like performing or giving an important speech. If I messed up, I would embarrass myself and let others down. Losing wasn’t an option. 

I aspire to have the positive attitude and growth mindset of an athlete. One of my reasons for swimming is to learn to handle my pre-performance anxiety and build confidence.

If I could change my perception of racing, I might be able to enjoy it. Racing is one of the best things about swimming because:

  • It’s fun and exhilarating to swim as hard as you can.
  • Swimming next to other swimmers pushes you to go harder!
  • You gain experience and confidence.
  • If you win a medal, it’s a bonus.
  • If you mess up, you'll learn from it and figure out how to improve. Your coach, your friends and family will still love you. It might be embarrassing but no one will remember it, because nobody cares that much about you. It’s the truth.

By seeing the benefits of racing, you can appreciate the opportunity to race and enjoy it.

By reappraising anxiety as excitement, you can harness your emotions to be ready for the race instead of being consumed by them.

Good coaching is impactful. I appreciate Anna and all the coaches out there!

At the next meet when your heart's racing and your stomach's turning, trying saying this out loud: I'm excited.

Good luck. You got this. Stay warm and comfortable in The Original sPARKA | Swim Parka.


Do you experience pre-race anxiety? Let me know how you deal with it in the comments section below.

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