This following article was written by Kathryn Mellon for iNSPIRE Sport Online

Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

Combat Competition Nerves

By Kathryn Mellon – iNSPIRE Psychologist

You’re standing behind the beam, the free throw line or the penalty spot. The moment you have been training for, preparing for and dreamed about has finally arrived. You are physically prepared and ready for this moment, but there are doubts in the back of your mind. Your heart might be racing and you feel butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety and nerves are not your enemy. It is a normal part of competition to be nervous, otherwise you probably don’t care too much about what you are doing. However, there are times when we experience over arousal and it affects our focus and ability to perform at our peak. Pre-comp nerves can prove a challenge at times, but overcoming them is worth it. 

This blog is going to focus on those crucial thirty minutes leading up to you stepping up to your event. Quick, simple techniques that will help to calm you down and focus your mind and body on what it is about to do.


1. Find yourself a competition routine

Have a mental game plan ready to prepare you to focus in on the competition. This could be a stretch series you go through, plugging your headphones in and zoning out or having a joke around with teammates to take your mind off things. The goal is to keep it consistent, just like your body remembers how to perform a certain skill, your mind will learn and take notice of your pre-competition routine and know that this means it is time to focus and prepare for competition. 

 Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

2. Cue words

Learn to develop some cue words during practice that help focus your mind on what you are about to do. This could be something to pump you up “let’s do this”; a skill reminder “toe point”; “wrist flick” or something to lower your arousal and anxiety levels “breathe”, “just like in practice”. These should be practised beforehand in the weeks leading up to competition, with the intention for it to be a quick flip switch to bring your mind back to where it needs to become game day. 

  Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

3. Breathing

Too often when we are anxious we feel tense, sick and out of control. When this occurs, it is important to be able to bring yourself back into the present moment and do what you need to do. Grounding techniques are a great way to do this. Focusing your attention on your breathing can help to clear the mind and remove tension from your body. Take a big deep breath, inhaling through your nose. As you exhale, breathe out through your mouth and focus on relaxing one area of your body each time starting from the top (face, chest, arms, legs, whole-body). Repeat the word RELAX each time as you breathe out. 

 Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

4. Visualisation 

Hopefully, you will have learnt and developed some visualisation techniques prior to going to a competition. Visualisation is the number one mental tool to help you with any issue you may be dealing with (learning new skills, focus, tactical rehearsal within competition prep). Pre-Comp Nerves is one of the biggest problems athletes face but by running through the complete routine or skill you are about to perform in your mind exactly as you would like to perform it, will line your mind and body up for success. Make it as realistic as possible taking in your current surroundings, crowd noise and positioning of the equipment. If something disturbs you during your visualisation, rewind the tape and start again until you have completed it start to finish exactly as you would like to. 

 Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

5. Relax

This is your time to enjoy yourself and show off what you have been working so hard to achieve. This is where the early morning starts, the weekends in the gym and the late nights cramming homework after practice will all pay off. Remember WHY you are competing, who are you doing it for and what you love about the sport that you’re in. This is your time to shine. 

 Jolyn Australia Swimwear blog how to handle pre race competition nerves

“I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog, it’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I remember as an athlete I would feel this overwhelming stress hit me as I lined up on the blocks ready to dive into a 400m race. It took me a while before I realised I could actually do something about it using techniques as I discussed above. From one athlete to another, this stuff actually helps!” – Kathryn 

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