Team GB swimmers share their secrets to dealing with high-stakes stress

Rap music, visualisation and breathing techniques all help them cope with the pressure ahead of major events.

Angharad Evans during the Team GB Paris 2024 swimming team announcement in April
Angharad Evans during the Team GB Paris 2024 swimming team announcement in April Angharad Evans during the Team GB Paris 2024 swimming team announcement in April (Andrew Milligan/PA)

When thousands of spectators are laser-focused on your every move as prepare to dive into the pool at the Olympics, the mounting pressure must surely be overwhelming.

However, the talented swimmers on Team GB’s aquatics team all have their own unique ways of dealing with stress and race-day nerves, so they can stay on top form after months of training.

Before they make a splash in Paris, we asked some of them to share their secrets for staying calm when the stakes are high….

Freya Anderson 

Freya Anderson
Freya Anderson (David Davies/PA)

The freestyle star has recovered from glandular fever just in time to make her mark at Paris La Defense Arena and has been busy preparing herself mentally for the occasion.

“It is insanely stressful, especially coming up to the Olympics, but this is why we do it – it is the pinnacle of our sport,” says 23-year-old.

Acknowledging the pressure and learning from past mistakes has made the Wirral swimmer stronger. “It is good to remind yourself that it is a stressful time, and to just allow yourself to have those feelings. It’s also important to take what you have learnt in the past into the future.

“Before a big race, I try to remain chilled. I read or watch a series to distract myself from thinking about it too much,” adds Anderson. “I am reading Sarah J. Maas’ Throne Of Glass series at the moment.”

The 4x100m medley Olympic gold medal holder (won at the Tokyo Games) also focuses on her breathing during high pressure situations to help keep herself composed, saying: “I do a lot of breathing work because I really do believe in how powerful it can be in regulating the nervous system.”

Max Litchfield

Max Litchfield
Max Litchfield (David Davies/PA)

Paris will be this Yorkshire lad’s third Olympics. He says growing up in the pool has helped strengthen his resilience.

“Having that mental strength to deal with everything from training to times when you don’t swim as well as you want to, is all very important,” says the 29-year-old. “I think it’s just something you learn through being in the sport, and something that has helped me get to where I am today.

“Sometimes you can get caught up in the whole – oh, this the biggest event in the world for our sport – but I think keeping your cool and enjoying the process is really important,” adds the British medley swimmer.

Making time for his ‘granddad’ hobbies also helps him keep stress at bay.

“Recently I have got into gardening and play a lot of golf, now that I am getting a bit older I’ve turned into a bit of a granddad,” Litchfield says with a laugh. “Having a good balance to make sure I am relaxing and recovering outside of swimming is really important.”

Angharad Evans

Angharad Evans
Angharad Evans (David Davies/PA)

Angharad Evans’ breath-taking breaststroke helped secure her place on Team GB and in the lead up to her Olympic debut, the Cambridge-born 21-year-old has been practising some visualisation techniques to stay focussed.

“I have pictured the race already hundreds of times. How it is going to feel standing up in the block seeing all the crowd, the water temperature etc. This is helping me prepare myself mentally for it so that when I get there I don’t feel shell-shocked by the new experience.”

Music is also an integral part of Evans’ pre-race routine, which helps her keep her emotions in check.

“If I forgot my headphones, I think I would be pretty lost,” she admits. “It gets me in the optimal zone and really helps me focus. I really like rap music, I usually listen to a lot of Drake and Kanye.”

Anna Hopkin

Anna Hopkin
Anna Hopkin (David Davies/PA)

Before Anna Hopkin touched the wall for gold in the 4X100 mixed medley relay at the Tokyo Olympics, one of her team-mates gave her some great advice which helped ease her nerves.

“James Guy came up to me in the changing rooms and said, ‘Just swim your own race, you have already done it a million times already. Forget about everyone else and just enjoy it’,” Hopkin recalls.

The 28-year-old is very detail-orientated and likes to make sure everything is organised the night before a big competition.

“There are lots of little things you don’t always think about – such as buses being delayed, forgetting some kit – but when it comes to something like the Olympics, you almost need to go overboard thinking about all the tiny details that might trip you up,” she says.

She also keeps a confidence diary, which helps her reflect on how she is feeling and what might be impacting her performance.

Oliver Morgan

Oliver Morgan
Oliver Morgan (David Davies/PA)

The University of Birmingham swimmer is still riding on the high of setting a new 100m backstroke British record in April, so is trying to embrace all the exciting opportunities ahead, rather than cowering to the pressure of it all.

Confidence is key for Morgan, and he’s sticking to the advice of trusting his training. “Just be confident in everything you’ve prepared for,” says the 21-year-old. “I’ve been told to treat the Olympics like it is an ordinary competition.

“Having that downtime and finding little hobbies is also really important,” Morgan adds of managing the nerves. “I have recently gotten into golf and also enjoy going out for food and playing on the Xbox with my housemates – these things really help take my mind off the stress of it all.”