Advice on coping with common worries when returning to swimming

It’s the moment swimmers up and down the country have been waiting for… the pools to reopen and swimming to resume. Although your pool reopening may be a huge relief, it may also bring some worries. Don’t fret, fears and doubts are a natural consequence of time out of the water.

Here are our top tips for returning to the pool developed with Helen Davis, a chartered Sport Psychologist who works with athletes, coaches, and teams to enhance performance, including Team GB.

  • Your fitness levels

It’s normal to worry that your fitness levels may not be the same as pre-lockdown. Be reassured that your fitness levels can return. You may have heard the expression – ‘Been there, done that?’ This expression is a belief and it sends a powerful message to our brains to reassure ourselves that we have experience of something.  Experience is a big source of confidence. Try focusing on this belief- knowing you have reached a certain level of fitness before means that you can get there again. Be mindful that patience may be another resource you will need to tap into at this time. We don’t just improve and get quicker overnight, it comes from all the things you did pre-lockdown- like effort, dedication, and hard work.

  • Your rivals

If you swim competitively, you may be nervous about how much training time your rivals have had above and beyond what you’ve been able to do. Remember, there is such a wide range of differing training circumstances for swimmers at the moment. It can be very easy to try and compare without knowing all of the details.  However, spending time comparing will just make you worry more and is taking the focus away from the person that matters – you! Avoid wasting precious energy on focusing on others as everyone will have their own journey to returning to swimming, and it will be different to yours. If you find yourself worrying about it, remind yourself that it is stealing time and energy away from your goals, your focus, and your swimming. Remember, everyone will be experiencing their own doubts and uncertainties, even the best athletes in the world.

  • Comparing yourself

Instead of comparing yourself to teammates, aim to take an individualised approach- one that is unique to you, paying attention to what you are doing, listening to the advice from your coaches and making your own way. We all have an inner critic and comparing yourself to your teammates or rivals could mean thinking becomes full of worry and anxiety. Just as you have an inner critic, you also have an inner champion which might be harder to connect with at this time. Remember to give yourself credit for your successes, even if they feel small as you return to the pool.  Channel your inner champion by focusing on what you are doing well, what you are making progress with and what you are grateful for. Small successes can be building blocks to great things!

  • Getting back into a routine

Worrying you may struggle to get back into your old routine of 5am early starts? During lockdown 5am starts probably became a distant memory. With pools reopening you may feel pressure to engage straightaway.  Take your time, there is no need to rush by doing everything at once as it may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Ease yourself back in, in your own time and discuss this with those you rely on to take you swimming– early starts might be a shock again for them too!  Planning together can be helpful as it helps you feel more in control, prepared, and reassured.  This might take the form of getting your kit ready the night before, discussing your morning routine with a parent or carer or going to bed early so it’s easier to get up. 

  • Frustration with your times

When you first get back into the pool, your times are not what they previously were. Trying to ‘be positive’ about this is difficult when you are frustrated! Instead, try to be an ‘effective thinker’ rather than trying to ‘be positive’. Recognise you have frustration but choose to reflect and think about your situation in the best way possible for you. This will enable you to move you forwards and take action to give yourself the best possible chance of swimming the way that you want next time. Applying an effective self-talk strategy can help with this. Try putting the word ‘yet’ at the end of a sentence, for example ‘I haven’t got to the times that I want to yet.’ It is a small, simple word but can help us in times of challenge.  ‘Yet’ reminds us that things take time, ‘yet’ gives us the time and opportunity to develop, ’yet’ can encourage us when things feel hard and ‘yet’ can give us hope.

  • Qualifying for tournaments

Handling stress around swim times is difficult and even more so due to different training schedules, differing environments and uncertainty around competitions.  We are still in a period of uncertainty, and this uncertainty is hard for all swimmers at all levels. To cope with uncertainty many of us use worrying and stressing as a tool to try and predict the future to avoid nasty surprises. This is tiring as you are stressing about things outside of your control. The following tips can help you:

  • Focus on controlling what you can control – for example your effort, your training attendance, your nutrition, and your listening skills
  • Challenge your need for certainty- you will not know the outcome of your swims until you do them, the result will always be uncertain before the event.  Focus on process goals, and what you can do with certainty during training to give you the best possible chance of success.
  • Relaxation skills can be helpful for managing stress. Focus on the present moment and your breathing.  Take a few moments to notice the world around you. One of my favourites is the 5,4,3,2,1 technique.  Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. This can help keep your thinking present.

Find out more about Helen Davis and her work as Director of think.believe.perform. https://www.thinkbelieveperform.co.uk/