It’s championship weekend here in the Southeastern swimming region, and our team is gathered for a weekend of racing and excitement. But a championship meet can be bitter-sweet, especially for seniors moving on to college and experiencing this with their team for the last time, so excitement isn’t the only feeling all of these swimmers are feeling. It’s important to understand the emotions your swimmer may be going through on the weekend of the big meet – excitement yes, but also anxiety, pressure, and even sadness – and how to help them through. Here are some of the common emotions I’ve seen (and experienced) and tips to help them process.
Sadness. You know that feeling when you get on the plane or in the car after a nice long relaxing vacation when it’s time to head home? It’s a sense of nostalgia coupled with a hint of dread – happy time is over, back to the real world. Swimmers go through this same experience at the end of a long season. They’ve bonded with their teammates day in and day out in practice, worked tirelessly all for that one weekend of racing and now, it’s over. Even if they crushed every race, you my have a swimmer cry all the way home. It’s hard when fun things are over, and also a lot of emotion to process. Help them focus on the excitement of what’s to come… long course season, summer league, or brand new friends and teammates in college.
Pressure. Just stepping into the facility itself can be overwhelming for swimmers, particularly if this is your swimmers first time at a big meet. The stands are packed, the warm-up pool is crowded, and the competition is tough. This is also the meet where they are expecting to see their best times of the season. It’s a lot. Do your best to stick to all the usual routines and treat it like any other swim meet. Does your swimmer have a special breakfast or snack or routine for getting the racing suit on? Help keep a sense of normalcy so they feel grounded among all the hype. Remind them that no matter where they are or how big the pool seems, it’s the same length they always race in.
Disappointment. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about times not being everything, but at a meet like this, their times will feel like everything to your swimmer. If the excitement and anticipation get to your swimmer and they don’t swim their best, focus on the other positive things about their race. Remind them that they’ve made it, they already have the times and got to this moment. Advise them to focus on racing and beating the person next to them, or winning their heat and their times will follow. If not, they can be proud that they raced as hard as they could and gave it everything. A best time is not the only thing that makes a successful race.
Anxiety/nervousness. This is a big one, especially for the younger age group swimmers. At a big meet, it’s common for a swimmer to draw energy from the room around them, and chances are everyone around them is nervous. I saw this yesterday during our first meet session… tears EVERYWHERE. If your swimmer is nervous about their race, encourage them to do something other than just sit on the pool deck and worry, like loosen up in the warm up/warm down pool. Cheering for their teammates is a great way to get them moving, excited, and focused on something other than their pre-race anxiety.
Of course, not every feeling will be negative! Hopefully your swimmer will also feel a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment for making it to such a milestone meet. Above all, the meet should be fun. They should spend the weekend bonding as a team, cheering each other on, and helping each other through ups and downs. Good luck to all the fierce competitors out there…swim FAST!