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Athlete Preparedness

Preparing for a big competition takes both mental and physical exercise. This month, I’ll share with you how I prepare for state competitions and my advice on overcoming any nerves. Personally, I’ve only competed at regional and state competitions for Special Olympics Illinois. You can apply the tips I share to national or world games competitions.

A male Special Olympics athlete smiles at the camera while wearing a medal around his neck. He's wrapped in a swim towel and has swim goggles on top of his head.
Hard work and preparation leading up to a big competition can pay off on the awards podium.

Physical preparation can come in several forms. A month before a big competition I increase my physical activity. One of the ways I do this is by going on long bike rides—about 2-3 miles per ride. The bike rides help to build my endurance. On alternate days, I’ll go on long walks— 1-2 hours per walk. On these daily walks, I count the steps I take with my fitness activity tracker watch. As I build up my endurance, my confidence builds. This is the mental training coming into play. The bike rides and walks give me the time and peacefulness to mentally prepare for the competitions to come.

When I compete in swimming at our state Summer Games, it’s important to get in extra practice so I’m prepared for competition. One of the areas of practice I work on, with the help of my coaches, is practicing my technique. In the art of swimming, I work on my arm motions, flutter kick, breathing, and dive in starts.

After swimming 50 yards, or whatever distance you swim, it’s important to practice “swimming through the wall,” which means touching the wall at the end of a swim race. These extra swim practices of working on swim techniques, swim starts, and “swimming through the wall” all help with my mental training. Again, my confidence builds and I’m able to visualize what the swim race will be once I head into the competition.

It’s important of course to practice throughout the year. This is what my fellow Special Olympics athletes and I do by training and competing year-round in our sports. Therefore, Special Olympics is unique in the sports programming they offer us. If you didn’t have the opportunity to practice year-round, you wouldn’t perform as well. When I practice year-round, I’m in better shape when it comes time for the big competition.

Two Special Olympics athletes stand next to their bikes and smile for a photo.
Going on a bike ride can help prepare me mentally and physically for a big competition.

Along with being physically and mentally fit, it’s important to be well hydrated and to fuel your body with the right foods. In going on long bike rides, I always bring a bottle of water with me. Whenever I’m swimming, I am always drinking water poolside. It’s important to stay hydrated to get through the swimming race. In ensuring I have good clean fuel for my body, I always make sure to include bananas as a part of my breakfast. During dinner, make sure to also eat salads which give you the green foods that are healthy for your body. The practice of eating and drinking good clean fuel for your body helps me to prepare for a big competition.

Finally, if one is nervous about the competition, I have one further bit of advice I can share with you. Even after I have been competing for many years, I still occasionally get nervous. Therefore, I use humor to help me relax and feel more confident. My teammates, coaches, and I all use humor—even silliness—to help us get ready for our competition. Humor, along with camaraderie, is the best way I have found to overcome nervousness.

It’s important to devote time to be physically and mentally prepared for a big competition. Join me in having a game plan for your next state, national, or world games competition.

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