Creating a Performance Routine to Stay Consistent | Q&A with Coach Sara

Today’s Topic: Creating a Performance Routine to Stay Consistent


About Me

Hello everyone.  I’m Coach Sara, one of the five amazing coaches here.  We do one-on-one mental toughness training and online training for your athletes to help them become more mentally skilled and more mentally tough.  One of the other ways we work to support your athletes and you as parents is through Facebook lives.

I want to answer a question I get asked a lot.  Now, this is not a question that came direct from the parents in our community, but one that came direct from fellow parents I know, and a lot of them have swimmers.  Swim is really big where I am in the Bay area (California), so I thought I would share one of the questions concerned parents tend to have, that they ask me a lot, especially now, that swimming is in full swing.

If you’re not a swimmer, or you’re not a parent of a swimmer, stick around.  The information I’m going to share is not just specific to swimmers, it is really helpful for all athletes and performers that I work with.

The question that I get a lot from parents, especially my swimming parents, is

Q: How can performance at competitions be more consistent?



That’s probably a question all athletes and parents ask, right?  They say, “I want to be more consistent in my 100 meter free.  I want to be more consistent in my B routine.  I want to be more consistent with my dives or I want to be more consistent with my at bats.”  As parents, you probably want to be more consistent in your work life and in your parent behavior.  Especially for the swimmers, when consistency can come down to a matter of seconds.  Parents and athletes are often asking or wanting to know about consistency at the meets and at their races.  They want to know they can be more consistent?  It’s a matter of a couple seconds, right?

We can Work Consistency

When it’s 1:10 versus 1:12 those two seconds are pretty important and mean a lot.  Consistency can be a challenge, but it’s definitely something that we can work on, and athletes are training all the time to do that.  They’re working really hard physically to create consistent performance, but mentally there are also steps that athletes can be taking to help create more consistent performance.  This comes in a number of different ways.  The way I wanted to talk about today is with performance routines, specifically pre-performance routines

Pre-Performance Routines

Now this is a concept you may have already heard about.  Your athletes talk about what they do pre-race or the night before or the morning of, but essentially your performance routines are the steps, actions, skills, and the things that you or your athlete do before, during, and even after a performance.

Often times, athletes think a lot about pre-performance routines as what they do right before.  They think about these as something they do only before competition.  Notice I didn’t say pre-competition routines, I said pre-performance routines.  That’s a big clue about how we get more consistent performance in competition – we need to be more consistent with our routines before any performance, not just save all the good stuff right before the race or the actual swim meet.

That’s what we’re going to talk about today – gaining more consistency in your performance.  I know there’s so much importance on those races and those meets for our swimmers, but really for  any athlete, right?  The competition, the meet, the day of, that’s when you really want to put it all together, so consistency there is very, very important.

Create a Performance Routine

One of the ways we can do that is to create performance routines and really do them as much as possible every time you perform, not just every time you compete or every time you race.  For example, if you’re doing a practice 200 free, you’re doing you’re pre-200 routine.  It’s going to be very similar to the pre-200 routine that you do on race day.

You might even have a post routine.  It’s not always as realistic that we can do those at a practice versus a competition but, the way that we gain more consistency in our performance on race day or meet day or competition day is to create these routines and to do them in practice as well as in competition.

How to Create Your Routine

What might a performance routine actually be?  Getting back to our swimmers, many of them already have a pre-swim or pre-race routine.  They do it specifically before competition, and it includes the steps they have to do, like getting on the block.  But a lot of times it also includes shaking it out.  They put their goggles on.  These are very practical steps that they need to do.

Some of it is the stretching to help get them warm and limber.  I had one swimmer who liked to spit before she swam.  She says it makes her feel really tough and ready.  Everyone has their own elements that they do as part of their pre-swim routine.  Some swimmers come to work with me and they’ve already got some mental skills and elements to their pre-swim routine.

Maybe they take a breath to stay calm and they focus on their goal.  Whatever it might be, chances are all of our swimmers, all of our athletes, have something they do as a pre-competition routine.

Get Yourself into the Right Frame of Mind

Again, in order to gain more consistency, we not only want to make that a pre-performance routine, but we really want to be thoughtful about what the pieces are.  What are the different components, both mental and physical, that get you into the right frame of mind and body for that particular performance.  If it’s that 200, 400, 500 race – what steps do you need to take to be in the right frame of mind, physically and mentally? Then, ideally, we’re creating that routine and doing it before each swim of that stroke and of that distance.

This applies to non-swimmers as well.  For our gymnasts, figure skaters, divers, baseball players, you’re thinking about when you start that performance, that at bat, that beam routine.  How do you want to think, how do you want to feel?  What are the steps and the pieces that you need to put together right before to then lead into that?  That’s the pre-performance routine.

You can even back that up.  You can start the night before, or the morning of as you’re getting to your venue; it’s up to each athlete to decide where the routine starts.  We’re trying to create consistency with that preparation and lead into the performance to help create consistency in the actual performance itself.

Routine During Your Performance

The during performance routine might include things you need to think about, the physical execution elements that you want to be focusing on while performing.  Each athlete is very different with their during performance routines.  Some athletes let automatic pilot go and they just swim.  They just go for it.  They’re not distracted.  If it’s those longer distances, like the 1500, the mile, they might be thinking, “Oh, this is so long, when am I done?”  That’s not so great for performance.

That athlete might need a during swim routine where they think about their mechanics or they sing a song or they think positive thoughts.  Every athlete is different in terms of what they might need during but, again, this is not just during competition, this is any time you are swimming or doing that performance.

We’ve got pre, we’ve got during, and then the post will look different for every athlete.

Routine After Your Performance

For our swimmers, it might physically include a trip to the cool down pool.  It might include some stretching with a foam roller.  It might also include some mental elements of reviewing positives of your race. You might like to listen to music.  Depending on how many races you’re swimming in a day and how long you have in between, sometimes that post-swim routine naturally transitions into the next pre-swim routine.  All of that is great.  You really have to look at you’re own needs and the realities of not just meet or race day.  Practice to see how you can include these.

For example, in practice, you might not always be able to do every single element of your pre-swim routine.  You’re not always putting the goggles on right then, you’re not always starting on the block, you don’t have the full two, three, four minutes that you might like for your pre-swim routine.

Pick the elements that you can do, and practice again to create as much consistency as possible. Obviously you have to work with the realities of the situation.  The idea is that by creating these routines, pre, during and post for your performance, your really able to find more consistency in the performance itself.

What are you Already Doing?

Reflect back and think back about what you’re already doing.  What do you do physically.  Maybe you’re already taking certain mental steps, different pieces that already go into your pre-performance routine.  Build from there.  Think physically, think mentally, and then consider linking those together.  What I mean by that is if (for swimmers) you already put your goggles on, and you already put your cap on, link a mental skill to that.  Perhaps when you put the goggles on, that’s when you take a few deep breaths to calm you down.

Maybe when you’re doing your stretches you’re also reviewing some positive affirmations to put you in that right frame of mind.  You can link what you already do physically to remember those mental steps that put you into that right physical and mental space to be able to do your swim. Think about your own situation – do you tend to get distracted by swimmers on the other blocks? Are you thinking about the last race that you did?  Maybe you need something to help you focus. You really narrow in on that end of the lane or you review your race plan.

Prepare Beforehand

Think about what you need pre-swim to help you.  We’re talking lot about competition, but this is not just for competition.  Part of how we create consistency in performance at competition is to have more consistent preparation leading in.  All of that training you’re doing, once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go.  You’re ultimately ready to perform.

A couple of notes about these routines that you create: you want them to be as consistent as possible but, there’s life, right?  If you’re doing these at the training pool, you can’t do every single element.  You’re coach might start to get frustrated if you’ve got a pre-beam routine.  Every time before you start a routine you’re taking a few minutes to collect yourself and visualize, your coach might not always love that.

Have a Simplified Version

Do an abbreviated version.  There has to be some flexibility in it.  Similarly, if you know you’re at a swim meet, which takes a long time, you might get a little distracted by the clock.  You might think you have plenty of time before your next race, and then all of a sudden you realize the heat before you is going.  You didn’t do all of the warming up that you wanted to do.  Know which elements are most important.

We don’t want to get so locked into these routines that they become stressful for us.  It’s something that is meant to help you.  Know what you can do if you find yourself with more time.  You were really efficient with that pre-swim routine, you don’t want to now get distracted by other things. You need to have more plans for yourself.  If you find that you’re limited on time, what do you ultimately take out of that routine so that it’s still helpful for you?

You Don’t Have to be 100% Focused

We’ve talked pre-performance routine, during is usually the thoughts that you want to have, what you are planning to say to yourself or to think about to get through that particular swim or event the way that you want to, and then post.  What is it that you’re doing?  Especially for our swimmers who have a lot of time in between, that post swim routine can include things like listening to music, hanging out with friends, joking around.  You don’t always have to “be on”, so to speak, because you’ve got plenty of time to get back into your swim routine.  Don’t feel bad.  Obviously you know not to go too wild.  Don’t distract other people, don’t be disrespectful to your fellow swimmers, but you don’t always have to be 100% focused.

Your Routine May Change Up

If you’re swimming a relay, your pre-swim routine might be different than what you do on an independent event, so think about all the realities for you in the events that you swim.  If you’re not a swimmer, take the sport that you do and think about how you might ultimately need to adjust.

You reflect back, you think about what you do, how you want to think and feel, and what you need to add in to make those routines (pre, during and post) work for you, and then ultimately create that routine?

You can write it down if you want to and then use it.  Stick with it.  If you don’t feel a difference, don’t give up on it right away.  If you’re feeling after awhile, a couple of weeks, like you know this one part is not working, you don’t feel great about it, you can change it.  You can adjust your routine, but the way we get more consistency is to be consistent with the preparation.

Don’t Get too Carried Away with Changes

If you’re adjusting something every week it may not have the intended effect.  Now, you can change some things.  For example, if you like to do imagery, you like to visualize your race, obviously that changes.  That changes for each and every race that you do.  However, the imagery is the consistent piece, the positive thinking is the consistent piece.  What you say might vary from race to race or based on what you’re needing to do so there can be flexibility in the elements, but it’s the consistency in the routine that’s gonna help lead to that consistency in the performance.

Remember to have both physical and mental pieces.  Chances are our athletes already have the physical parts down, it’s the mental piece that we want to add in and then link those together so that you remember them.  These routines can change, but try to figure out how it works.  Be consistent and remember that these are performance routines not just competition routines.  Don’t just save them for competition.  Yes they’re great, but if you really want them to be as impactful as possible, you need to be practicing them at practice.

Practice Makes Perfect

You don’t just learn your stroke and save it for the competition pool, you don’t just crack that home run once at practice and say, “I’m good, I’ll just save it for the game”.  You don’t hit your series on beam and then say, “I’m good, I don’t need to practice anymore”.  Same thing with your mental skills and your performance routines – you use them all week, all month, all pre-season, and then they’re really fine-tuned and ready to go when the season rolls around.

I hope this has been helpful.  I hope that you now have some ideas to help your athletes in terms of helping them find more consistent performance.  If you’re an athlete reading this today, hopefully you can go and fine-tune your own performance routines.

Don’t forget, if you do need more support, I am one of five coaches that can help you one-on-one. You can also join our perform happy community.  I will be leading our live sessions through the month of August while coach Rebecca is on maternity leave and I’m very excited about that.  I hope to see some of you there.

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