How I learned to deal with pressure in swimming

As far back as I can remember, swimming has been part of my life. From galas to swimming birthday parties, it has always been there. However, like every sport, it has had its ups and downs! In this article, I will be speaking about pressure in swimming from a swimmers point of view, but also looking at pressure put on children from parents.

claire young Rewind back about 20 years or maybe more, when I was knee high to a grasshopper. I absolutely loved swimming and it didn’t bother me that I was attending swimming lessons with boys and girls who were a lot older and taller than I was. I was a fairly handy swimmer for my age and so it was no surprise that I entered the club at a young age too! Throughout the next few years, I shot up through the swimming grades with ease, thoroughly enjoying training and galas. However, something changed when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

Now, I wasn’t as happy at training, and galas were a nightmare for me. I would get so nervous about galas weeks before the gala event happened. I wouldn’t be able to sleep properly the night before and on the day of the gala, I would be physically sick. This would happen anywhere, from the line up section, to right behind the blocks. Embarrassing, I know! I couldn’t help it! I would get so nervous, I wouldn’t even be able to think properly.

My times suffered, but my parents were also very concerned about me. I remember both my parents and coaches chatting to me about the whole situation. They spoke about pulling me out of all competitions and possibly swimming in general because they felt that I didn’t enjoy it anymore. It was a chat with my oldest brother Mike that basically kept me in the sport. One day, he spoke to me about what happens at galas. He suggested that I try not to think about the swim until I was literally on top of the starting block. He also said I should concentrate just on my swim and nobody else in the pool. If I didn’t improve in my times, not to worry about it, that there will always be next time. For some reason, this chat that still stands out as an important time in my life as a young swimmer.After that chat with Mike, I no longer got so nervous that I would be getting sick and my times/overall attitude changed in swimming.

blocksLooking back, there were some reasons as to why I was getting so nervous. As I said earlier, I was quite handy at swimming from a young age. It was sorta easy for me to improve on times and to get times for new swimming grades. I guess it was when I had realised this, that I hit a “wall”, especially when I didn’t knock seconds off my time. My parents never put pressure on me, it was me that pressure on myself. I would be thinking so much about my swims, that it would make me extremely nervous! However, this wasn’t the only contribution to the nerves! There was another swimmer in my age group at the time who was equally as good as I was. She was always very interested in my swims and would tease me when she did better than I did. It seems quite minor now, but at the time, it had an impact on me and it was definitely a contributing factor to my nerves at galas.

One of my nieces is now in the local swimming club. She is competitive and is always very eager to check what times she is close to. This is not a bad thing of course, but I find myself reminding her to try and enjoy swimming,try her best and the times will follow. However, I feel she is a tougher cookie than I was, so she may not crumble to self inflicted pressure in the same way that I did!

As I am a qualified swim teacher and high school teacher, I have seen many examples of pushy parents. I’ve had meetings with parents of children in a school setting, where the parents put extreme pressure on their child to achieve certain grades when the child is physically not able to. I have also seen this pressure from parents in swimming. On one occasion, I had to deal with parents who insisted their child be moved up a level in swimming, even though the child had not reached the standards for the level above. When I refused to move the child, I saw those same parents bring their child in every day and force her to swim lengths of the pool. In my opinion, putting pressure on a young child could not only be bad for their health and overall behaviour, but also could cause them to hate the sport. I feel like some parents don’t even realise that they are doing it. But, with others, it’s an obsession. I guess, it’s an area that parents need to be aware of. Yes, your child may be a good swimmer, but that doesn’t mean, they will be the next Michael Phelps! It’s easy to get wrapped up in sports when your child shows potential, but it is important to think of the effects it can have on your child both mentally and physically. If they are good enough, pressure from parents is certainly not going to get them to the Olympics!

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