From the BarryS Coaching Training Library

Tackling Open Water

by Jessie Halladay and Mike Jotautus

As we get ready to head into triathlon season, one of the common fears that sometimes holds people back from racing is swimming in open water. But with some practice and preparation, fear of open water can be overcome.

Coach Mike has five things that he believes will be helpful for athletes who are starting to think about open water swimming.

  1. Get some practice. Obviously, having an opportunity to swim in open water is important, but practice can start in the pool. One safe way to get started is to join a group and use drills that create scenarios where athletes try to create open water conditions, practicing sighting techniques and swimming close together. This way conditions that mimic open water can be created, while also providing the comfort and safety of a pool before heading out into open water.
  2. Determine what your fear is. If you can figure out what it is you fear, you can better address it. If you fear sinking, but you will be doing a wetsuit legal swim, you should find comfort in knowing that it is nearly impossible to actually sink while wearing a wetsuit that provides buoyancy. If your fear is the chaos of a mass start, what can you do to address that fear and figure out how to manage that chaos for yourself? Thinking these things through in advance will help you better react in the moment.
  3. Get a proper fitting wetsuit. Wetsuits are designed to be more tightly fitting than a swimsuit, so they often feel more constricting and can contribute to making a swimmer feel more uncomfortable. So, you want to make sure you get a wetsuit that fits you as comfortably as you can and gives you the best comfort you can find.
  4. Breathing. Putting your face into cold water causes a natural reaction that makes it harder to exhale, which can lead to feeling like it’s harder to catch your breath. Keeping that in mind makes it easier to relax and try to get into a normal breathing pattern. It helps if you can get in and put your face in the water prior to starting to swim to help acclimate.
  5. Come up with a mantra. Give yourself something to say to yourself that helps you calm down. If you start to panic or get nervous in those early moments, it helps to have something that you can repeat to yourself to center yourself and calm down. That will help you get into a rhythm and start swimming strong. Coach Mike likes to use a drill called Bubble, Bubble, Breathe – where he literally says Bubble, Bubble into the water and then turns his head to breathe.

Hopefully, these tips will help to get you ready to think about your open water swimming as the warmer weather approaches.


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