Fear is like a fire. It can burn your house down or it can cook your dinner. What starts off as a small spark can end up a raging fire come race week. People often look for side doors to exit the expectation they feel about their performance- a sore throat on a Monday becomes Covid by Friday. Everyone tries to protect their ego from disappointment. When fear takes hold you may doubt your training, your readiness, your body- so you need to be on the alert. You need to control how you think, how you direct your attention, and what thoughts you are feeding.
Fear of the outcome and internal and external expectations (peer pressure) is what drives most stress about performance. Not doing well enough. Not PBing. Having a melter. Believe me, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, especially when I was in the single scull. The optimum state of mind for performance is a relaxed, focused attention. Not distracted, but not too amped either- somewhere in the middle.
How to achieve that state is to take the result off the table. Concentrate on the small moments of execution that will help you maximise your performance, without the pressure of the result weighing too heavily. Just think, “all I need to do is go as fast as I can from A to B, and I don’t care what anyone else does. Other competitors are irrelevant”.
Strong rhythms and routines that you’ve developed in your training can anchor you into the small moments of execution needed at competition. Find what works for you. It could be listening to music, it could be stretching, it could be preparing your equipment, it could be visualising how you’ll execute the perfect technique for the first 5 strokes. Who you are around on race day matters too. So select your company. It’s good to surround yourself with people who keep you relaxed. Don’t get distracted by the buzz of race day- all the noise, all the atmosphere, all the competitors around you. Stay focused. Look at everything external to performance as a distraction.
Remember, fast is fun and pressure is a privilege. These are moments that will help you grow both inside and outside of the sport. So embrace it all.