Overcoming fear – water is a foreign environment to us. Fear is a natural reaction to being in water. Open water may increase this reaction in some people. With proper instruction and practice this fear can usually be overcome.
Dealing with anxiety and hyperventilating – even the most experienced swimmers will experience some anxiety at the start of the triathlon swim. This usually leads to hyperventilating and an inability to swim properly. This too can be overcome with proper instruction and drills. Some athletes may experience anxiety and hyperventilate at the beginning of each triathlon season. This is usually due to swimming exclusively in pools.
Overcoming natural movement instincts – proper swimming technique and especially triathlon swimming technique is not a natural movement. Our natural instincts are counter productive in the water. It takes practice and time to overcome these instincts and learn proper technique. Even experienced swimmers need time to adjust their technique to triathlon swimming.
Dealing with crowds, wind, etc. – the major difference between pool swimming and triathlon swimming is the crowds and the effects of open water. For some reason, most triathletes believe that they must swim on the perfect line from the start to the turn-around buoy. This of course means there are a large number of people attempting to swim in the exact same line. Triathlon swimming becomes a contact sport! Finding the “proper” line from start to the turn-around buoy is a key to success. Then, dealing with the wind, waves and rough water is another major difference between pool swimming and open water swimming. If you are used to breathing on your right side and the buoys are on your left, or the wind is blowing from the right, or the waves are breaking from the right, you are going to get a mouthful of water every time you attempt to breath on that side.
Breathing – breathing while swimming is usually the most difficult part of swimming technique. During triathlon you have the added difficulties of wind, waves, other swimmers and the need to sight. Again, proper technique, the ability to bi-laterally breath and practice will provide the skills necessary to breath properly during triathlon swimming.
Sighting – in a pool you are able to see the bottom of the pool and the wall. When swimming in open water it is usually impossible to see more than a couple of feet in front of you. It becomes necessary to sight – look at the buoys used to mark the swim course – while swimming. Learning to do this without breaking your technique and rhythm is a key skill.
Relaxation – one of the two keys to triathlon swimming is relaxation. The ability to swim long distances and remain relaxed is a key to successful triathlon swimming. Unlike competitive swimming in a pool, you will need to learn to conserve your energy and relax during your swim. It is possible to swim long distances surprisingly fast and keep your heart rate extremely low.