When it goes wrong. Dealing with competitions upsets :(

Stressful situations that you to deal with effectively at competition.

From experience!.

Stressful Situation

Remedy and Outcome

Rumour that a swimmer who was competing in a national triathlon event the next day wanted the other swimmers in this national schools relay competition to swim badly so that they would fail to get through to the final and could therefore leave the event early.

Spoke with the swimmer’s mother who turned out to be the cause of the problem. Spoke with all the swimmers, two who would be competing the next day and it was agreed that the level of exertion required, even swimming at race pace, could not effect their event the following day. Splits show that all but one swimmer put in a maximum effort. In this instance those responsible for swimming at this school must decide whether its current policy on competitors competing in school events is sustainable or appropriate with young athletes who are competing successfully at the national level. Talking it through with all concerned, coaches, parents & athletes is the way forward. A compromise being found where events don’t clash and/or don’t impact in other ways. I have learnt to keep my ear to the ground, to try to be sympathetic to what is going on and alert to the environment and people. Answers, especially once poolside, need to come from the athletes and in this case without the intrinsic motivation to do well, they or one of them, was going go slow. Given the circumstances the one swimmer who posted an abysmal time looked like she had even contemplated committing a DQ. It’s hard to feel positive about this individual’s future sporting career – the real problem here may be a child kicking against a pushy parent.

Injury and in one case a swimmer being mugged left a relay team in doubt about their ability to retain their national title in an event from the year before. Whilst THREE out of the four were ‘up for it,’ the FOURTH, and the fastest swimmer with National Qualifying Times to prove his ability, was in a decidedly down mood.

Having met a parent from a competing team who happened to be the parent of an old friend of our stressed out swimmer from a club they both shared six years earlier I got the swimmers together – their meeting provide highly positive for the swimmer in question who suddenly found pride and purpose again and wished to prove to himself and his friends that he was just as good as he used to be. He took nearly 2 seconds of his previous PB and as the first swimmer had his splits up on the electronic board – 53.4 for 100m at the age of 16 being a great result for an athlete whose training at best could have been described as ‘part-time.’ After a year of self-doubt this swimmer has returned to full-club competitive swimming. This has taught me the role of serendipity and having an intuitive response to circumstances, in this case knowing the psychology of the swimmer who can be switched out of a ‘down mood’ with the right triggers … usually being able to share his love for swimming with others of a similar mindset and background, so who could be better than a mate from his old club.

At a day long event with the warm up followed by heats well before the event a number of swimmers were prone to the various deleterious effects including: cooling down, getting dehydrated in the heat/humidity or getting flustered/wound up by the times being posted by other teams and their coaches reading too much into this! Not helped by poor trial times they had posted this week which suggested all might be 2 seconds or more of PBs.

They played one-on-one game of basketball that kept them ready for their heats and drank energy drinks. Still warm up and ready to go they all achieved PB -2 and went on to come second in the final by 2/100ths of a second. If I don’t know the venue it makes sense if someone from the coaching team turns up early, even ahead of the team, so that they can get the lay of the land, find the best seats and spot any other opportunities!

Things I monitor during competition and why

Everything and anything.

Finish time, splits, stroke rates & stroke count, quality of starts, turns and handover (videoed).

Heart Rate.


Intake of food & drink.

Medications (if they have any).

Competition Data

Type of Data


Everything can be measured, assessed and improved … and then compared like for like until the athlete executes a skill, such as their turn, at a speed that is equivalent to good club, county, regional, national or international standards. Measured in the reasonably repeatable and similar conditions of a competition, i.e. in quasi-scientific conditions. This pre-amble applies to each of the following responses.

Race Pace

Does this achieve what the swimmer and coach planned for. If so, well done, if not, why not? And what bearing did this have on the way the race played out and its outcome?

Critical Speed

Was it achieved? If so when, too early or too late. What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race. How did it compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. Why is it right, wrong or the desired figure? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

Critical Stroke Rates

Were they achieved? If so when, too early or too late. From break-out then held, dropping off during the middle of the race, then picking up for the last 25m or 50m. As planned or not? What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race? How was stroke rate affected by other competitors? And the lane swum in. How did stroke rates compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. What worked and what didn’t? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

Start Reaction Times

Good, better or worse than usual. If so why so? How did this competitor compare to the rest of the field? How will this affect skills training poolside and land-based exercises? Does the swimmer compare well or badly with his or her peers? At what stage are they risking DQ?

Turn Times

The turn times produced will tell the coach, the coaching team and the swimmer a great deal: are they performing as planned, or not? If not why not? Is their a component of the turn that is letting them down and needs to be improved? What bearing does their turn have on the outcome of their race?

Stroke Counts

Up, down, spot on. Paced during the race. If not as planned what influenced a change and what effect did this have on the outcome of the race?

Heart Rates

Degree to which Max HRT is reached and speed of recovery to suggest fitness.

Split Times

Strategy during the race – how it was raced and whether it achieved the desire result. i.e. Did the swimmer set off too fast and have nothing left for the end of the race, or vice-versa? Or did they show no control at all speeding up and slowing down through-out. The aim is for the swimmer to feel in control because the race they give, evidenced by the split times, was that planned for.

Finish Times

PB or better … or not. Short course or long (outdoors or indoors). Period in the training cycle, health, fitness & psychological wellbeing of the athlete … they can all impact on the finish time.


Their perception and individual response to effort which will vary by personality, level of fitness, mood & state of health. Just as a doctor find out most by asking the patient what they consider to be wrong with them so a coach can find out from an athlete how they are coping simply by asking them. Doctors ask you to rate pain between 0 & 10; here the common practice is to ask the swimmer on a scale of 0 to 20 where 20 is outright effort.

Blood Lactate Levels

Ability of the body to remove (or not produce) lactate when under sporting stress, and the ability to train this in … or to exploit a genetic advantage.


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