Close up of two swimmers in open water. The one nearest the camera has their head up looking forward.

Boost your outdoor swimming confidence by doing an event

It sounds counter-intuitive but doing an open water swimming event can boost your swimming confidence

If you grew up in the UK, you have probably seen countless warnings about the dangers of open water. If the cold doesn’t immediately stop your heart, you will get trapped by weeds or dragged down by hidden undercurrents. These warnings are well-intentioned. There are risks in open water that you need to pay heed to. However, the message often is “it’s dangerous, don’t swim” rather than the more helpful, “here are the risks and this is how you manage them.”

Despite years of safe open water swimming, all those safety posters and videos I’ve seen have left a mark. I sometimes get irrationally nervous while swimming. I’m sure other people have felt the same way. It can make it hard to fully relax and enjoy the water.

If this happens to you, are there ways to boost your confidence and increase your enjoyment of outdoor swimming?

An obvious one is simply to swim more often. For example, getting into cool water more often lessons both its physical and mental impact. Once you’ve swum through weeds a few times, you realise they’re a nuisance but they’re not out to get you. With experience, your understanding of currents improves and you learn to use them to your advantage rather than fear them.

A less obvious way is to enter a swimming event, which may sound counterintuitive. Events are stressful. The atmosphere seems designed to make you nervous. You need to be at the right place at the right time. You might be swimming further than you usually do in water that you are not familiar with. There are rules about what you can and cannot do. You may be out of your depth, literally and metaphorically. How can that possibly help your confidence?

Years ago, I used to kayak. Initially I was terrified in white water. Then I entered a slalom event. These races require you to navigate your kayak through a series of gates made from poles suspended above the water. The gates were often placed to challenge your whitewater skills and forced you to paddle over drops and into standing waves – scary things that can easily tip you into the water and trap you. But a strange thing happened while I was racing: I was so focused on getting through the gates that I forgot to be frightened!

Similarly, with open water swimming events. Once you’ve committed, there’s an inevitability about them. You find yourself getting into colder water than you thought possible, swimming far from the shore in unfathomably deep water, brushing against weeds, even being stung by jellyfish. But because you’re in a race, and there are other people around you dealing with the same challenges, it no longer feels so scary.

It’s not just during the race that your fears are diminished. When you look back at what you’ve done, you get a lovely confidence boost for all your swimming. You find you can do things you didn’t think were possible previously.

This doesn’t mean you can now abandon caution and swim recklessly. You always need to respect the water and swim safely. But you have a new appreciation of what you can do and are capable of, which opens up more swimming adventures.

I wouldn’t say “getting a confidence boost” is the main reason to do an event but it’s definitely a very useful side effect. There are hundreds to choose from too, so check out the events listings on our website to find one that appeals to you.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.