Rebecca Soni Explains How to Beat Pre-Race Anxiety

Have you ever experienced pre-race anxiety?

Have your nerves gotten the best of you?

Do you perform well in practice, but don’t swim up to your expectations at competition?

If so you are not alone. One of the biggest challenges that many athletes face is pre-race anxiety. It is a foe that athletes at any level face.

Pre-race anxiety is one of the most common challenges that Olympic gold medalist and former world record holder Rebecca Soni sees when working with athletes through RISE Athletes. RISE Athletes is a program that Soni and fellow American Olympian Caroline Burckle have developed to connect Olympians with athletes through individualized mentoring.

What are the Causes of Pre-Race Anxiety?

“It comes from essentially not being mentally prepared,” says Soni. “Swimming in competition and swimming in practice are pretty much the opposite.”

“Everything is different. The pool is different, the temperature is different, your suit is different, likely your cap and goggles are different and the the warm up conditions are different.”

As an athlete you have to be both mentally and physically prepared for the competition environment, “In practice you warm up for an hour and then go into your hard set. In a meet you are out of the water for two hours waiting for your race. Then have to jump in and you are supposed to feel amazing.”

You may be or know someone who is an amazing trainer. Someone who puts up fantastic times in workouts and completes incredible sets. Then when it comes time to race their performance come does not match what they have accomplished at practice.

Soni’s experience shows that this is not uncommon, “Very often you see swimmers who are so good at training, but come performance time they can’t quite figure it out. This is because they have not put themselves in that situation very often.”

“Athletes are starting to do a lot more racing as training. You begin to understand the differences between training and racing. To be more mentally prepared we have to be in a situation more often.”

“If I am stepping into a situation for the first time I am going to have anxiety to perform because I don’t know what it is like.”

Beating Pre-Race Anxiety Through Visualization

Increasing the number of competitions one goes to may not be practical for many swimmers. The question then becomes, “What can I do consistently to be more mentally prepared for competition?”

Visualization is a tool Soni teaches the athletes she works with, “It is a massively powerful tool,” explains Soni. “I will talk athletes through why visualization works and what is actually happening when you visualize. Giving them the understanding that when you visualize it is very close to the same thing as actually having the experience.”

“I explain how I did this for my exact races in 2008. How it helped and what I know.”

“We then develop a visualization practice that is right for the athlete.”

What to Visualize

One of the most common ways people visualize is by imagining their actual race. More often than not anxiety is caused by the circumstances that surround the race not the race itself.

“So many people think that visualization is just sit down and see my race. In my visualization I never got to the race. I just needed to get to the blocks because there was so much happening beforehand.”

RISE Elite has taken the experience of numerous Olympians and developed a program that not only gives athletes the chance to find incredible mentors, but they also provide practical tools and resources.

“We have a whole library of RISE exercises. Essentially we have created a journal.”

“Through all of these different processes we find that athletes become way more mentally prepared and understand what is expected. They show up having a feeling of I got this rather than a feeling of I am going to freak out now.”

Below are two of the exercises that RISE Athletes mentors share with athletes to help them relax and develop greater awareness.






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About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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