Conquering Anxiety In Swimming

I promise you, the fear you feel won’t get you anywhere. I know it’s real. I know it’s eating you up inside and dominating your thoughts. I know conquering it is much easier said than done because I’ve been there.

Ever since I missed nationals by .16 my freshman year, my swimming career has suffered tremendously. That race changed me. I quickly developed a passion for cut times that replaced my passion for the sport of swimming. I was practicing and racing with only one goal in mind: to make it to nationals. And if I didn’t achieve that, all my hard work will have gone to waste. There was no other reason for my swimming. It became a job for me. But now, looking back on the past few seasons, there is so much I know now that I wish I knew then.

I wish I could go back and tell myself that my fear of failure was illegitimate. Failure was not defined by the cut time. I failed myself by defining myself with a few numbers. The panic attacks wouldn’t benefit me at all, and the tears behind the blocks wouldn’t change the fact that I would have to swim in a few minutes, and with that attitude, I was guaranteeing myself a bad race. Cut-chasing me at 2013 State Championships almost passed out because she got so dizzy and from anxiety before her race. Not only was it one of the scariest experiences of my life, but it was the start of my fear in swimming.

I know it’s hard to remind yourself in the moment, but cuts aren’t everything. They don’t define you. They compare you.

I let it get to the point that I literally could not breathe before my races. Guess where that got me? Zero improvement and resentment for the sport.

I can guarantee you that everything in life is done better with passion in your heart. You’ll perform better if you want to swim. I’m not telling you to stop caring. Or to always be satisfied. But there needs to come a point when you say, you know what? That was a pretty damn good race I just swam. Confidence will keep your love alive. It was when I began thinking I wasn’t good at swimming when I started to actually hate how swimming made me feel.

It wasn’t until I began my college search that I realized I’m actually not bad at all. Just because I’m not the fastest swimmer on my team doesn’t mean I’m not talented.

Being from one of the best teams in New Jersey, it was so hard for me to have that confidence because I was constantly comparing myself to the fast swimmers I practiced with. I realized there are a lot of schools I can swim for- amongst them, some Division I.

My advice to you is this: Be proud of yourself. If you’re training and giving it your best, there’s nothing to beat yourself up about.

Don’t let numbers get in the way of your love of the sport. If, mentally, swimming ever makes you think negatively of yourself, reevaluate. Here I am, years later, regretting the races I’ve wasted being negative. If I had just swam because I loved it instead of swimming for a time, I would have been not only happier, but faster. I am just now starting to relinquish my love for the sport. Everyday I try to acknowledge the fact that I am a dedicated athlete and that is something, in itself, I should be immensely proud of. I desperately want to have that passion I used to have back. And everyday, I think I’m a little closer to getting there. Looking back, though, I realize it could have been avoided.

Please don’t let the fear take over. It will never benefit you in any way. I promise.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

I was playing 2 sports and my second sport just ended and now i am getting back into the water with a new coach and i am having a panic attack about going to practice. What should i do?

5 years ago

Thank you so much for this. This brought me to tears. I am currently facing some really tough swimming tasks due to life guarding requirements and I am really scared and anxious of swimming. I have to do a 500 freestyle and I get really scared because it feels like I can’t breathe, probably because of my asthma. I know for a fact that I am the slowest since I have no swim team experience. I am always down on myself because I compare myself to others too much. It is really hard because no one is in the same position I am. Thanks again.

7 years ago

This almost seemed like I wrote it.
Exactly what I needed to hear, thank you.

7 years ago

Hi I’m 13 years old and suffer anxiety. I’ve competitively swam since I was 4 years old. Just this past December I had an anxiety during one of my races at one of the most important meets of the year. I am now still continuing to suffer and receive therapy from a sports psychologist. If you have any more ideas to help me get threw the rest of my swimming carea, please feel free to email me back!
Thank you,

Reply to  Carlee
6 years ago

Hey Carlee
I did not write this article, but I saw your comment and thought I could help! I’ve been competitively swimming for 17 years, and am a six time All-American so I have some experience racing 🙂
There are three things I do before every single race. It doesn’t matter if it’s a college dual meet or the NCAA final!
1. Take three deep breaths
2. Remind myself how many length of the pool the race is (it may sound silly, but it really makes you realize that racing is literally just swimming up and down the pool)
3. Finally, when the whistle is blown I tell myself to just have fun and do… Read more »

Reply to  Carlee
4 years ago

Hey I have the same thing I suffer from severe anxiety and depersonalization especially when I am swimming it has gotten so bad that I had to get out of the pool during a race because I couldn’t breathe and I am wanting to quit swimming but at the same time I know that I want to keep going and keep fighting did you find anything helpful to stop the anxiety when swimming.

Reply to  Ryann
4 years ago

Ryan, I have competitively swam for only 9 months and at my first meet I had super anxiety. Here is how I coped with it. I told my wife and son that I was simply there to have fun and my only goal was to simply complete the 500yard race. I told myself on the block “My goal is to simply just finish the set at an even pace. Never quit”. I was swimming a 500 yard race which I ended up placing 1rst in. My son has now began competitive swimming at 7 and I tell him before practice every day; “Remember, just go out there and have fun. If you’re not having fun then its not worth doing.”

Ethan Harned
7 years ago


About Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo

Bryana Cielo Shortly after Bryana Cielo’s birth, she developed her love of water at her family beach house–and hasn’t stopped since. At the conclusion of her swim lessons at age 7, it was recommended that she try out for the local summer swim team. After her first season, she won the …

Read More »