The Psychology of Competitive Swimming: Overcoming Anxiety and Building Confidence

competitive swimming

Competing in any sport can be daunting – and competitive swimming is definitely no exception. The pressure to perform every time your toes touch the water, the fear of failing, and the constant comparison to older scores or other swimmers can take a toll on a swimmer’s confidence and mental health.

By learning to effectively manage the stress, pressure, and anxiety associated with being a competitive swimmer, you can focus more on performance and find success. 

Understanding the Mental Health Challenges of Competitive Swimming

By understanding more about the mental health challenges faced by competitive swimmers, you can more easily find strategies to cope with these issues and focus more on your performance. 

Pre-Competition Anxiety 

Pre-competition anxiety is a fairly common experience for athletes of all levels in any sport. Anxiety is often associated with feelings of nervousness, dread, and fear, which can turn physical in the form of increased heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, and nausea. 

Specifically for competitive swimming, pre-competition anxiety can be particularly intense due to the individualized nature of the sport. Swimmers only have themselves to rely on, and when races are short, it can increase the pressure to make it count. 

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is another common mental challenge in the world of competitive swimming. It is the worry of not performing up to the expectations of coaches, family members, or teammates. It’s being overly concerned about making mistakes or embarrassing oneself in front of others. 

Fear of failure can manifest from past personal experiences or failures, pressure from coaches or parents, or unrealistic expectations. 


Self-doubt is often associated with the questioning of one’s abilities and a lack of self-confidence. Doubt can be particularly harmful in competition swimming, undermining a swimmer’s motivation, performance, and mental well-being.

Past failures, comparison to others, and a lack of positive self-reinforcement can all exacerbate self-doubt. 

How to Overcome Mental Health Setbacks and Build Self-Confidence

While understanding the types of mental health issues that are common in competitive swimming is important, it’s even more crucial to find ways to overcome them. By working on some of these strategies below, you can build the self-confidence necessary to compete to your full potential. 

Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is the practice of replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations. It is a powerful tool, especially for competitive swimmers, to boost confidence and reduce anxiety. Athletes can counteract self-doubt and work towards a more optimistic outlook by focusing on positive thoughts.


Visualization is a powerful tool to boost confidence and achieve goals. When athletes take the time to visualize themselves performing well, especially right before a swim meet, they can train their brains to believe they are capable of achieving success.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. They can be particularly helpful for competitive swimmers who experience pre-competition anxiety. Some techniques to try include meditation, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation. 

Experimenting with different coping mechanisms can help you tackle your fears, manage your stress, and focus on your sport rather than your anxiety. Don’t expect results overnight, but with consistent practice, you can change your outlook and build the confidence you need to be a better swimmer. 

The Right Swim Equipment Matters

In the world of competitive swimming, every detail matters. That’s why we’ve designed our pool lane lines to meet the exacting standards of FINA, USA Swimming, NCAA, and NFHS. With Competitor swimming pool lane lines, you can rest assured that your competition will be conducted with the utmost precision and performance. Choose from our expertly engineered swim lane lines, pace clocks, and more. Contact us to find the right indoor or outdoor swimming pool equipment.