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Relaxation for Swimmers - Mind Training Tips for Swimmers

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One of the popular questions I get asked by swimmers is "what’s the best way to handle nerves?" The answer is, of course, is relaxation.

But before we talk about that, it’s firstly important not to panic if you find nerves affecting you before a swimming race, it’s perfectly normal and actually a very good sign that you are psyched up and ready to go. Every great swimmer, in fact, any athlete or performer, feels nervous every time they go out there, and very often if they don’t feel nervous, they’ll actually worry about not being psyched up enough to perform well!

Of course, extreme nervousness is a totally different matter, as this has often caused swimmers to feel sick or even vomit before races, and this is definitely something that needs to be overcome.

One easy way is through a simple but powerful relaxation technique, which takes between 5-10 minutes, depending on how much time you have. This technique works like magic, and becomes more effective each time you use it. One of it’s best qualities is that it takes your mind completely off swimming during this short time, leaving you feeling completely refreshed and ready to go. Because it only goes for ten minutes, this exercise doesn’t take away the ‘necessary’ nervous energy a swimmer requires to perform well, it simply takes the edge off any extreme nervousness they may be feeling. Here’s how to do it.

Firstly (if you can) try and find a relatively quiet place where you won’t be interrupted – this is not always easy at the pool, so if you have time, go outside or even go to your car to get some peace and quiet.

Sit down in a comfortable position (it’s best not to lie down, or you might go to sleep) and close your eyes lightly. Then you take 2 slow, deep breaths, releasing tension with each outbreath. Then, with each breath you exhale, slowly count backwards from 20 down to zero.

When you reach zero, mentally imagine yourself being in a place we’ll call your ‘sanctuary’. This is a place you can invent in your mind (either real or imagined) that you can go to for total relaxation, a beautiful paradise where you can escape the world for a 10 minute holiday. This place could be anywhere - a rainforest, a beach, an island, or anywhere else you can think of tha makes you feel relaxed.

You simply imagine yourself in this perfect, tranquil place for up to 10 minutes (no longer), being at total peace with the world, where there is no pressure, no time, and you do not have to do anything at all.

Make this place as realistic as possible, noticing the colours, sounds and feelings of your sanctuary. Soak up the feelings of tranquility, knowing there are no expectations upon you, and that you have all the time in the world (even though you are only going to be there for ten minutes).

When the ten minutes are up, it’s time to come out of your sanctuary (you might need to set your watch-alarm to go off to remind you it’s time to finish), and so you begin to slowly count up from one to ten, feeling the awareness of the ‘normal’ world coming back more and more with each number – and when you reach 10, you open your eyes, take a deep breath, and sit quietly for a moment before getting up.

By this time, you will generally feel much calmer, more relaxed, rejuvenated, and energised – a much better state-of mind to swim in!

Try this technique whenever you experience extreme nervousness, it’s a fabulous way to overcome the fear and create new feelings of being clear, calm and in control.

An extra note which is very handy - a good way to ensure you are not interrupted by other people so you can do this exercise properly is to put headphones over your ears, so that other people will simply think you’re listening to music, instead of doing a relaxation exercise. For those of you who are even keener, you might even wish to do this exercise to music from a ‘relaxation’ CD or audio tape, as these can often help you to visualise your sanctuary more easily. Experiment with relaxation – you’ll find it helpful in more ways than you will ever know.

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