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Tips for dealing with anxiety in young competitive swimmers

Swimmers & Parents

Dealing with anxiety in young swimmers is something swim parents should learn about. Feeling nerves and anxiety leading up to a competition is completely normal. The problem is when those feelings inhibit performance and hold a young athlete back.

Anxiety is a state consisting of psychological and physical symptoms brought about by a sense of apprehension of a perceived threat. The threat will differ according to the situation and the individual.

With coaches and parents both understanding what performance anxiety is, they can help a young swimmer conquer this anxiety and continue to enjoy their sport.

1. Dealing with anxiety: the warning signs

It may be that your young swimmer is aware that they are suffering from feelings of anxiety and will speak to you, but if not it might be worth looking out for some of the following:

  • A sudden reluctance to compete or go to training
  • A lack of interest in swimming, despite previous enjoyment
  • Complaints of not feeling well around training or competition
  • A fear of competing
  • Not sleeping well, extreme tiredness, or even feeling depressed.

2. Dealing with anxiety: what parents can do

As a parent there are a number of things can you do to help your swimmer tackle those pre-competition nerves, before, during , and after the event.

Before the event

  1. Make sure that they recognise that pre-event anxiety is completely normal and that many of their fellow swimmers will be feeling the same.
  2. Their coach will make sure they are physically prepared for the competition, so where you can help is making sure they are mentally prepared too.
  3. Encourage your child to visualise their entire performance, concentrating on doing everything they do right, from arriving in the call room before the race, executing good stroke technique, to touching at the finish. The key here is that they are thinking about what they do, not about their fellow competitors.

During the event

  1. Make sure they focus on the task at hand, rather than the outcome. If they are thinking about winning, this will only add to pressure and stress, so it’s better to concentrate on the things they can control.
  2. Encourage them to enjoy the event!
  3. Work on the body language. Just smiling, standing tall and putting the shoulders back can help change their attitude and give them a sense of confidence.

After the event

  1. Encourage them to discuss the things that went well and even suggest that they note these things down. This should be their thoughts on the competition, with you just there to prompt when necessary and be a listening ear.
  2. If anything didn’t go so well help them to recognise what and why, and work out how these things can improve. This could be something they talk about with their coach.
  3. Make sure you as a parent show affection, support and encouragement regardless of their performance, so that they don’t feel any external pressure from you to do well.

For information about dealing with anxiety head to the NHS website here