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Mental Preparation - Competitions

Updated on November 3, 2013

This article exists to...

  • Give you a clear set of preparation ideas
  • Raise awareness of the importance of mental attitude
  • Establish why physical preparation leads to mental preparation
  • And to be fun... because who doesn't love fun?

Swimmer's Perspective

As some of you know, I'm a college swimmer and so many of the things I talk about in my articles are biased towards swimming. That doesn't mean that athletes of all sports can't benefit from the tips found in articles like this one.

All swimmers need to understand that mental preparation for a swimming competition begins with a well-rested night. It is important to get enough sleep the night before, while understanding not to get too much sleep; this can make you overly tired and lazy. Preparing before a competition requires a lot of physical preparation; however, mental stability can have a strong factor before a meet. Below, a simple guideline will explain the basics of mental preparation.

Okay, so what should I do?

Step 1: Get into the pool and stretch. It's important that you get a feel for the water and understanding your strength in it. Do not overexert yourself, simply stretch your limbs and comfortably swim back and forth. This gradual exercise will allow the blood in your body to flow and help you to have a better understanding of your strokes. Quick drills with intervals for breaks will help you to keep your body conditioned while still conserving necessary energy.

Step 2: Having a healthy meal inside of you will give you an incredible boost of energy. The body will need the calories to burn off during your competition. If there is no energy to burn, your body can slow down and wear out early in the race. The night before your swimming competition, eat plenty of carbohydrates and proteins.

Step 3: As aforementioned, go to bed early the night before. Especially if you are having to wake up at an earlier time. Nothing will slow you down like an exhausted body and a mind that is befuddled due to the lack of sleep. Sleep is an incredibly important aspect of preparing before a competition.

Step 4: If you have a morning swimming competition, keep in mind that is beneficial that you eat a light breakfast one to two hours before. If it is an afternoon competition is taking place; eat a large breakfast and keep your lunch small but full of enough carbs. Eating too early before the swimming race will leave your body cleaning out the energy you need before you even begin.

Step 5: If you have an afternoon or evening meet, do not exert yourself through-out the day. Do not rush by running around and tiring yourself out. Rushing will have too many things running through your mind and can badly affect any mental preparation.

Step 6: Be sure you have everything that you are going to need packed away in a backpack or bag the night before. Trying to find things shortly before the meet can become excruciatingly stressful if you accidentally misplaced an item. That stress will be an ill effect when mentally preparing before competition.

Physical preparation is also important to be mentally stable during competition.

Step 7: Drink plenty of liquids! Along with sleep and food, this is incredibly important. A dehydrated body is an ineffective body and any mental preparation without hydration will simply be useless. The best liquid intake is water and fruit juices. Keep in mind that Gatorade can help; however, it is full of sugar. Drink this no later than 5 minutes before a game. You would not want to get a sugar rush and then become drained. Also, realize, your body can be affected by the lack of liquids long before you begin to feel thirsty. So, drink water all day long.

Step 8: If you are in an outside location, put sunscreen on. It will not be a pleasant experience to get a painful burn. UV rays can be seriously damaging to the skin, especially if you are a lighter tone. Be conscious of the fact that it generally takes 30 minutes for the sunscreen to soak in. If you jump in the pool before, the sunscreen may wash off and become ineffective.

Step 9: Listening to upbeat music has been scientifically proven to affect the emotions of a person. Listening to your favorite music that has a fun tune can really get you excited and energized for the competition. Dancing can really get you pumped up as well, just be sure not to wear yourself out.

Step 10: Visualization has proven to be mentally effective. So, too, has positive thinking. Place yourself in a quiet place, close your eyes, and imagine that you are already in the race. Think of the time you would like to see on the board and imagine yourself hitting that time. The more positive thoughts you create, and the more you visualize winning or simply doing a good job, can greatly boost your confidence.

Step 11: Always remain drug free. Many organizations will do a drug screening before a competition and being disqualified can be an unfortunate thing for talented athletes. Even if the organization holding the event does not do drug screening, being under the influence of drugs can alter a person's perception and cause you to lose the competition. This includes steroids. Although steroids can give you a boost before a race, it is incredibly damaging in the long run. Do not forget that being under the influence can also be effected by the consumption of booze.

These basic steps, for the most part, can be applied to preparing before competition for almost any sport. This psychological preparation can be affective in the possibility of winning the game. Swimmers and all athletes need to continuously keep in shape. While working on the facets of a daily training regimen, include technique, strength, and nutrition with your mental preparation. Following this general guideline can make a difference in your performance.

Which method comes to mind first when you want to get mentally ready?

See results

How do you prepare?

Obviously if you're a strong athlete you prepare in many ways. Check out the survey to the right and tell me what makes you mentally ready to take on the competition.

One of my favorite videos when I'm sick of swimming

What do you think?

Obviously there are aspects of mental preparation that weren't covered here since all people and sports are different.

  • What makes your sport difficult or easy to prepare for?
  • How is your personality different than other athletes?
  • How do you know when you're prepared for a competition/game?
  • What's more important physical or mental preparation? Both equal?

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