Ask Judy

Hitting Your Taper


Judy Goss

It was nice to see that some athletes responded to my previous article and had questions. Several swimmers were concerned, as others may be at this time of the year, about whether they were going to "hit their taper." Specifically, tapering is reducing the amount of workload in preparation for competition. Tapering is not an exact science and is something most coaches agonize over. The coach and swimmer spend many hours working on the physiological preparation for competition. Often the focus is on "feel" in the water, split times, and starts and turns, but it is important to train and harness both the physical and psychological energy.

Your job, as a swimmer, is to create the ideal performance state (IPS) at competition. Instead of appearing at the pool on race day and just hoping that everything will "feel" right, take some action to make sure you are in your IPS. It takes time and practice to be able to achieve your IPS consistently.

You must first identify what your IPS is. To start, think back on past races when you have performed well. You may not have won the event or done a best time but still, considering the time of the season, training, and the meet, you performed well. Now, try to describe how you were feeling just prior to that swim, in terms of the following categories:

  1. Physical Feelings: How were you feeling physically? Were your muscles loose, tight, warm, cold, tired, sore? Was your heart pounding, hands sweating, breathing shallow? Were there butterflies in your stomach? Did you have to go to the bathroom?
  2. Mental Focus: What were you focused on? Were you in control of your thoughts, distracted by them, or fully concentrating? Was your mind racing? Did you have positive or negative thoughts?
  3. Emotions: What emotions were you experiencing? Were you excited, scared, fearful, doubtful, ready to go, anxious, happy, aggressive, calm, nervous?

Try to write down four to five words or phrases for each of the three categories. This state that you have just described should give you some idea of what your IPS is. It wonÕt be exactly the same each time but it will probably be very similar. It is critical to make sure that each of these factors in your IPS is taken care of during your pre-race preparation. For example, if you indicated that one of the physical feelings you experience in your IPS is loose muscles, then, more than likely, warm up and some stretching will take care of that. But what if you indicated as part of the emotions in your IPS is that you need to be confident? How are you going to make sure that you are confident prior to your race? What can you do? Perhaps talking to your coach, reviewing your race strategy, listening to music, or using your imagery might help. This is something that you need to figure out. The two most important factors in achieving your IPS are:

  1. Self Awareness: Knowing what your IPS is and how far away you are from the state you need to be in; and
  2. Pre-Race Routine: To consistently achieve your IPS, you need to be consistant in your preparation for your race. Whether it involves imagery, positive self-talk, relaxation, or refocusing, that is up to you. But you need to have a routine that is not only followed but also practised.

Keep the questions coming. Email me at

Judy Goss, Ph.D., is a Sport Psychology Consultant with the National Sport Centre-Toronto.