During a meet, swimmers must contend with many changes from their typical practice of simply swimming in a pool. Besides the event itself, which may be longer or more intensive than their usual drills, a swim meet can wreak psychological havoc, with the potential pressure of competition and the disorientation of an unfamiliar environment, the pool area filled with onlookers. To prepare for a swim meet, attend to your psychological and your physical well-being.
As noted by Mel Goldstein and Dave Tanner, authors of "Swimming Past 50," even professional athletes are susceptible to pre-race jitters. To reduce anxiety and improve your performance, familiarize yourself with all the elements of the competition. Visit the location of the swim meet if possible. Visualize all the elements of a competition, such as standing in front of a crowd, with a positive light bathing the entire imagined scenario. Confirm with your coach that you understand all of the guidelines and expectations of the race. By settling any extraneous details ahead of time, you can focus on the event itself on the day of the meet.
Warm Up Your Body
Warming up before a swim meet has potential psychological and physiological benefits. By going through the same warm-up routine that you use during normal practice, you can focus your mind on the activity of swimming instead of the environment of a competitive swim meet. Warming up also provides a release for pre-race anxiety, which you can channel into physical movement. At the physical level, warming up helps loosen your body and prime your muscles for athletic work. A gentle warm-up can reduce the risk of injury and enhance your performance. Follow a sport-specific warm-up for best results, such as swimming for 15 minutes, only going at about 70 percent of your usual intensity.
Before your meet, eat nutritious meals, timed in accordance with the competition times. For a morning race running between 8 and 10 a.m., rise early and have a light breakfast of complex carbohydrates between 6 and 7 a.m. Likewise, if your race is in the afternoon or evening, time your mid-day meal to end about two hours before the event begins. Salads, sandwiches and carbohydrates such as rice or pasta are good meals for meet day. Pack yourself plenty of fruit, sandwiches and healthy snacks for the meet, in addition to your pre-race meal, as you'll need to eat following your events during your body's recovery.
Get Plenty of Rest
The night before the meet, get to bed early so you will wake refreshed. In some cases, it's appropriate to rest your body even more thoroughly leading up to the meet, lightening your training for multiple days before the meet. Usually your swim coach will instruct you whether this strategy, called a "taper," is appropriate. Whether tapering one's training is appropriate depends on a swimmer's age, gender, body type and fitness level. Younger swimmers may not need a true taper, simply reducing their intensity by 25 to 50 percent during a couple days before the meet.