If you get pre-race jitters and anxiety, you definitely are not alone! It’s a tendency for many athletes to envision the worst-case scenario of their race and suffer from pre-race stress as a result. Compare the typical Age Group athlete who is busy preparing for every possible problem before the race has even begun to the professional athletes who are typically calm and collected before their races. There’s more at stake for them, such as a place on the podium or a hefty paycheck, and yet they often look like they haven’t a care in the world before a race. What’s the difference?
As a former US Navy rescue swimmer, I was taught in my training to always prepare for the absolute worst-case scenario, but never to overthink it. Realistically, no two situations are ever 100% alike, so it was deemed best to prepare for general situations and then adapt and overcome accordingly. This is exactly the approach taken by elite endurance athletes. So I ask again, why is it that Age Group athletes think that preparing for every little thing will ensure success?
As a coach, I spend a lot of times talking athletes out of pre-race jitters, race-day anxiety, and the continuous over thinking that Type-A athletes have. So how do I get athletes to change their thought process and have more positive thoughts? I use the advice my father first gave me as a kid, and continues to say to me today: Plant A Seed.
These three little words can make all the difference in your race performance. It simply means that you should focus on the things that will have the most value and impact in your overall performance. Plant a seed of confidence in your performance by building a solid training foundation and taking moderate precautions to ensure that race day will go smoothly, and then stop thinking about it.
I had an athlete recently who couldn’t sleep well while his wife was traveling. As a solution to him, I worked him harder than ever while his wife was gone so he would redirect his nervous, worrying energy into something positive, such as building on his physical performance.
Let’s face it, there are tons of things that can go wrong on race day, such as having a flat tire on the way to the starting line, getting kicked in the face while swimming, dropping a water bottle, or losing a bike in transition. Rather than worry about all of these disasters happening during your race, take a few necessary precautions, such as leaving your house a little early or making your bike stand out, but don’t stress. Appreciate the small victories and the finer things at the race, and realize that all little mistakes or mishaps don’t mean it’s the end of the world.