It’s funny how the same thing happens every single year as the Deja Blue competition in Grand Cayman approaches. Everyone preparing for it, or for any competition for that matter, gets the pre-competition jitters. I get phone calls and emails from new and long-time competitors alike concerned that they’re not going to do well this year. They wonder if they didn’t train enough or if they somehow had some advantage last year that they don’t this year. And I’m no different. I have all those same concerns.
I Talked to Ashley Chapman the other day, who broke the US women’s National Record for constant weight no fins (CNF) last year with a dive to 58m/190 feet. She’s been training in Bahamas for a couple of weeks and recently broke the world record for CNF unofficially with a dive to 65m/213 feet. She’s coming to Cayman this year to put that dive on the books as an official world record and even she’s concerned that she’s not going to absolutely kill it this year, which I of course reassured her is ridiculous.
But at the same time, I can sympathize. I myself have those kinds of thoughts. “What if I didn’t go to the pool enough?” or “What if I didn’t do enough breath-hold tables?” or the worst one, “What if I don’t do as well as people expect this year?”
Well, unfortunately those thoughts don’t just go away as you get more experience competing. I’ve had to find ways to banish those jitters in order to go into competition calm and confident. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me focus on the task at hand instead of the pressure behind it.
Take a deep breath and relax.
Seriously. Everything starts with a positive, relaxed attitude. Remember that you actually like diving and that it’s not all about winning, breaking records or hitting some number. I have to tell myself of that allllll the time!
Live in the now.
Once competition time arrives, you’ve done the training you’re going to do. You’ve done the breath-hold practice or the pool training and now it’s time to focus on the here and now. If you missed something you were hoping to get done before the comp, forget about it. There’s no sense worrying about coulda-woulda-shoulda’s and those worries distract you from what you’re here to do NOW.
Everyone gets nervous. Every time someone goes for a personal best, they get a little nervous, whether it’s for 100 feet or 100 meters. There’s that moment of anxiety where you ask yourself, “Can I really do this?” Accept that it’s okay to ask that as long as you can let it go and trust that your training has prepared your body for this moment.
Forget about numbers.
Yes, we’re all guilty of this one. Every one of us picks some number that we want to reach. The problem is that focusing on one number can make that target seem unfathomably deep. Try to just aim at going as deep as you can, without putting pressure on yourself to hit any specific goal. Plus, you’ll often find that you do better than you planned anyway!
Learn to let go.
Freediving is a sport where you can’t just power through. Instead of making your body perform you have to let it perform. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people come in and try to force a dive into happening. Honestly, I’ve done it myself a time or two. Unfortunately that often leads to blackout or equalizing problems, since forcing inherently comes with tension and as we all know, tension is a freediver’s Kryptonite.
Now, all that being said, I still get a little nervous every morning before a dive, but a little bit of nerves is okay as long as they don’t take over. When I hit the water to start my warm-ups I feel relaxed and confident because by the time that’s happening all my prep is over. It’s just up to my dive reflexes to take over and get me to my depth.