The competition season is just beginning and many of us have already been training and preparing to compete over the winter. Plenty of people are looking forward to their first competitions of the year, and some former Freedive Ibiza students have entered their first ever competitions!
I can still remember the nerves I had and the mistakes I made in my first comp, hopefully this article will help first-timers to learn from my mistakes and have a successful event.
White cards rock!
The most important thing is to get white cards in all disciplines. The psychological high of white cards will do wonders for your training and confidence in the future. Also, white cards across the board can give you a much better chance of gaining an overall place, perhaps even winning you a podium position and some prizes. You might surprise yourself.
Start practicing your surface protocol (SP) right now and for EVERY DIVE, even in tables. We need to repeat an action 2500-3000 times for it to become muscle memory and that’s what we need the SP to be, so best get started! I perform recovery breaths at any given opportunity, in the bath, and even when you get a head rush from standing up too quickly! Trust me, it works.
Remember, make recovery breaths part of your surface protocol! Three good recovery breaths before you do anything else, then: mask off; OK hand signal: and say ‘I'm OK’.
You have 15 seconds to give the protocol, which is actually a really long time. Allow the first 5 seconds for recovery breaths only, and don’t be in a rush.
Have a plan, and STICK TO IT!
Get to know the stages of your dive, really pay attention in your training. You need to be very aware of how the comp nerves will affect you on the day. Set the distance/time that you want to achieve and stick to it. Have a buddy or coach signal you at that point. Some comps will let your coach tap on a pool ladder as a signal, but it’s best to ask first.
Rest before the main event:
Take the day before the comp off, do something completely non-freedive related, nothing too strenuous. Resting the mind is as important as resting the body and will leave you fresh for comp day.
Good hydration is crucial, start to hydrate the day before, carry a water bottle with you all day and check the colour of your pee. It should be the colour of pale straw. Don’t waste your time with expensive energy drinks; apple juice (the 100% pure kind) and water 50/50 will give you more than enough carbs and sugar for the event.
I didn’t really understand the system of announcing your dives in my first comp. I announced the maximum distance I wanted to swim, which was a PB - probably not the best idea. I was so nervous about reaching the distance I had announced that I came up way before and was deducted points.
Organisers use the athlete announcements to work out a running order for the day. If you come up before your AP (announced performance) you will lose points, come up after and you’re all good.
For pool comps you can use the announcements to pace your day. Static for me is best as early as possible so my typical announcement would be 0:01 (one second) to make sure I’m one of the first ones in the running order. Then I would need to eat well and have enough time to digest properly before the next event. Also, if you are planning on coaching a friend don’t both announce the same: there is a good chance you would both be diving at the same time.
We have it drummed into us all through our freediving education:
DO NOT HYPERVENTILATE!
But, with comp nerves it is easy to do and quite likely to happen. Have your coach pay close attention to your breathing and tell you to pull it back if you need to. If it’s a hot pool - either air temp or water - then be even more aware, and remember any sign of tingling in the fingers or lips is a clear sign you are doing too much.
We all have a competitive streak, that little voice that pushes us to be better at whatever we do, but it’s important to not let that voice dominate our experience. Remember what attracted you to freediving in the first place; ultimately we are competing because it is fun. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. Competitions are a great chance to meet other divers and swap ideas, and depending on the comp you might even end up seeing some famous faces, and remember, the bigger the comp the crazier the after-party! Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I will leave you with the wise words of Natalia Molchanova:
“Birth and death are important, but freediving competitions are just games for adults."