How can I get focused and ready to race?

by Katrina Radke 3

May 30th, 2012 News

Dear Katrina, I get so distracted at meets! What can I do to stay focused?

First, know that this is normal. Even champions get distracted. So, start by being kind to yourself and glad that you are noticing this. It is vital to not get too hard on yourself!

The key is to know that you are distracted. So, in order to be refocused from distraction, I encourage you to start training your mind to know how to focus first. By paying attention to what is going on for you, you can refocus more easily.

Here are some beginning steps to help you focus:

  1. Start with your breathing. As you go to sleep at night, or when you first wake up, go ahead and take 10 slow deep breaths. Let your belly rise as you inhale and let it fall as you exhale. Breathe in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.
  2. Then, count from one to twenty – count one as you inhale, count two as you exhale and so on – very slowly. Pay attention to how you do this – do you say it to yourself in your mind, do you see it? Do you imagine writing it down? Do you have a certain feeling associated with it? This exercise is meant to help you become more aware of how you do things, and what patterns exist for you. I.e. is it hard for you to get past number three without another thought coming in your mind? Know that this is okay. The key is to just stick with the exercise. It will get easier as long as you do this consistently. Be patient with yourself.
  3. Over time, you will notice that you will feel calmer from breathing and doing this. You’ll notice that you feel more alert and aware throughout your day. You are gaining more focus!

Before a meet, you can remain calm and focused by establishing a race day routine.

When we have a routine, we automatically feel calmer as we don’t have to think about what comes next. This frees us up to be in the moment and enjoy seeing what unfolds on that given day.

Here is a piece of what a routine might be like:

Write down how you want your perfect race day to go: what time do you want to wake up? What do you do when you wake up? What do you eat? Whom do you spend time with? Do you prefer to be alone? What do you like to do when you are at the meet? This will vary.

For me, at the meet: if I was nervous, I handled it in various ways:

  1. I am normally an outgoing person, but if I needed to be in my own space, I go somewhere quiet, put my feet up against a wall, close my eyes, listen to my music, and just breathe and relax – feeling the air go in my nose and out my mouth, and just totally get into the experience of listening to music and letting the body relax.
  2. Or, if I was super nervous and having fear-based thoughts, I would talk to someone who would inspire me, calm me down, remind me that I am okay just as I am, and that I will be okay. Then, from here, I could just be in my body and “go”. My favorite person was US National Team masseuse, Dianne Limerick, who was always laughing and telling me my body is ready. I could share my concerns, and have them alleviated. Then, we would laugh, and I would go race.
  3. Also, sometimes a form of distraction helps. This could be purposely talking to friends about something unrelated to swimming. For me, sometimes I played tic-tac-toe with my coach, Richard Shoulberg.

Then, how would your ideal race go? Imagine yourself doing it right now. Notice how you feel – some parts will be effortless and fun. Other parts might be where you tend to get stuck in your mind– that is likely where you also get stuck in a race (i.e. “Here comes the wall – I don’t want to mess up my turn!!” As anxiety builds inside.) It is okay to have these feelings. In fact, it is better to acknowledge them so you can let them go, vs. pretend you are totally perfect, or fine, and then you carry the resistance of hiding this deep within.

Once you know how you feel and how you process your ideal race, you can change what you don’t like, to something you do like (such as: “I know I can go into the wall, keep my eyes looking at the black line, because the wall will be there, and my feet will land firmly on the wall. I torpedo off of it, and use my great underwater kicks to propel me to the surface. YES! I love this feeling.”). The ultimate goal is to be able to imagine your full race just as you want it to go.

By having an idea of what you want, you often feel calmer, and more confident.

Now, you can go to the meet, and trust that your body knows what to do. In this place, you are focused and calm. So, now all you have to do is feel good about being you, doing something you enjoy, and letting go of the rest!

For more in-depth information on how to focus, refocus, and train the subconscious to create what you want, check out my book, where I provide detailed steps to get yourself ready to perform your best.

In addition to being an Olympian, and Cal Berkeley alum, Katrina is an author and a therapist. Her inspiring peak potential and wellness book, “Be Your Best Without the Stress” is available June 4, 2012. ORDER IT NOW on amazon, and win special free gifts (note free gifts at

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Katrina, I understand your frustrations and concerns you are having. I feel like most athletes go experience these discouraging thoughts at least one point in their careers. What you need to learn is how to rebound when you are feeling down about your performances, and you can use it as life lessons, not just in swimming. I’m not sure of your age, but it sounds like you have developed severe performance anxiety, which in return has lead to low self esteem issues. The book suggested by the author here may be a good start. I would also highly recommend “Feeling Good” by David Burns. The thoughts that you have about yourself and your perception of others’ opinions of you will… Read more »


I apologize,
My recent in post was intended to be on Katrina Radke’s previous aricle “Confidence. & Belief in Yourself”. But can still be useful if you are doubting your ability or if you are struggling with self esteem issues!


Thank you for your response, for the confidence article.



About Katrina Radke

Katrina Radke, MFT, is an internationally recognized Olympian, therapist, college psychology instructor, and a peak performance and health coach for many fields, including business, sport psychology, fitness, wellness and nutrition. She is a motivational speaker for corporate, educational and public events, and works with top physicians and health professionals. She …

Read More »

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