Race Prep 101
Your primary focus (before stepping up on the block to race) is to turn down the conscious instructional side of your brain so your automatic subconscious side can take over.
The majority of swimmers spend most of their practice time before a competition focused on physical and technical preparation, while a wise few add additional time for mental prep.
The physical side of race preparation involves improving endurance, strength, and flexibility in practice weeks or months before the competition. The more swimmers improve these three physical requirements, the greater the chance of swimming one’s best in competition. To aid in pre-race preparation, swimmers must have a basic understanding of the physical requirements necessary for each race to prepare adequately—for example, the physical demands of a 50-freestyle compared to a 500-freestyle.
The technical side of race preparation involves automating all of the required racing skills for each event. Automating involves three steps; first, learning to perform the correct skills in practice. Second, executing them correctly in training without thought. Third, performing them correctly in competition without thought. Swimmers who cannot repeat the required technical skills in practice (while thinking) will be unable to do so in competition, where skill thinking is counterproductive.
The mental side of race preparation involves dramatically reducing the amount of “in-the-moment thinking” occurring in the brain so that the physical and technical parts of the race remain unrestricted. Thinking anxious, doubtful, or fearful thoughts (before competing) significantly weakens a race’s physical and technical sides. It’s like pouring mud into a sink’s drain and then wondering why the drain is clogged!
There are several things that swimmers can do to reduce the mind’s interference before competing. First, turn off the “instructional mind” or the part that gives instructions. It’s highly beneficial in the practice setting as it helps develop the skills needed to compete, but it’s the enemy on race day. Why? Because the instruction phase of training should end at least 48 hours before competing, otherwise known as the “chill period.” That’s because much of a racing strategy needs to be automated, requiring weeks of preparation. Any thoughts conjured up during the chill period are impossible to automate due to a lack of time.