Conquer your fear of the starting blocks with these simple steps
How comfortable are you with diving into the pool? Is it only from a seated position? Can you do it from a kneeling position? If you’re not sure, work with a coach to get you ready for a standing start. Once you can dive in from the side, you can follow the steps below to get from the side to the starting block to a good racing start.
Face Your Fear
Being intimidated by the starting block is normal for most swimmers in the beginning, especially ones who learn to swim as adults. You’re stepping onto an elevated platform that isn’t level. Just these two factors alone can heighten a sense of anxiety. And once you’re up there, natural human fear of heights makes the pool seem really far away. The steps to becoming more comfortable diving off the block are like getting comfortable in any other strange environment: you want to build a sense of control gradually.
When practicing starts, always check pool rules and work with a coach or training partner.
- Start from the side—If you’re comfortable starting from the side that’s a great place to begin working your way up to the block. The key is repetition. Getting used to how you contact the water and what happens when you do can instill a sense of control over both your own body and the environment. Experiment with different angles of entry and practice as often as possible.
- Step up—Getting used to diving from a height is an incremental process. One of the best tools for this is a step-aerobic platform. These platforms, often found in gyms, are adjustable and have no-slip bottoms. Still, have your coach or training partner ensure the step remains anchored while you’re practicing going off the step from varying heights. Things change with just a little extra height off the deck, so make small adjustments and add additional height as you get comfortable. Pretty soon you’ll be ready to step up on the starting block.
- Before the block—Routine makes people more comfortable. Even elite swimmers have a routine before they step up on the block. This is often for visualization, but it can also calm pre-race jitters. If you have anxiety about being on the block, a routine can help bring calm. Adjust your cap, goggles, and suit before you even put a foot on the block. This will help minimize distractions and focus your thoughts. Think about which foot will step on the block first and whether you’ll use your hands to steady yourself (recommended) at first or just rely on your balance. Practice approaching the block in a variety of different ways until you find a routine that works for you.
- On the block—Once you’ve stepped up on the block, take a moment to find your balance just standing there. Step back down, which is also a skill, and repeat until it’s automatic and you’re comfortable. Next, place your feet. Shoulder-width apart is good for stability and, if you use a track start, find which foot forward makes you most stable. Ease down to the take-your-mark position, remembering to relax your neck and focus on balance. Chain these skills together over and over until they become routine.
- The start—Just like it was from the side or step-aerobic platform, that first dive will be both frightening and exciting at the same time. As before, your goal is to get comfortable with something uncomfortable, and repetition is the key to success. The routines you developed for each behavior before you get on the block, as well as those you developed before you dive, will help with your confidence. Over time the anxiety will start to fade and you’ll be able to dive in like a champ.
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