How much anxiety do you have before a meet?

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?
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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! !
  • You may even find that you leave the meet wishing you had signed up to compete in it! ! I suspect that will happen!
  • 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!