Getting Into a Routine
Have you ever watched a professional or Olympic athlete and noticed they seem to do the same thing before each performance or event? Maybe you’ve seen them listening to music, closing their eyes, or jumping up and down a certain number of times before they start. All of these actions are likely part of their pre-performance routine, the same set of behaviors completed prior to a performance.
The majority of athletes have some kind of routine whether it is intentional or not, but the most successful athletes have a deliberate plan that consists not only of behaviors, but also thoughts and feelings to help get them into the ideal mental and physiological state in order to perform their best.
One of the best ways to start coming up with your own pre-performance routine is to reflect on a peak performance – a time when everything felt right and nothing could hold you back from performing your best. It could be time you made a game-winning shot, or maybe it was a great practice where you nailed every skill and routine.
Once you’ve come up with what that peak performance, take some time to reflect on it and try to re-live it as best you can. Recall what happened before that performance. What were you doing? What was going through your mind? What emotions were you experiencing? Were you excited or calm? Were you happy or anxious? Using all of your senses, conjure up that past peak performance and take note of all your physical and mental sensations. Those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are what you want to try to replicate in your pre-performance routine.
Your pre-performance routine can be as long or as short as you need it to be. It may start when you wake up in the morning or five minutes before you compete. No two athletes’ routines are going to look the same because you have to find what works best for you. Some of the key elements to consider when creating your routine are:
1. Physiological arousal level
Do you need to be pumped up and excited before you compete? Do you perform better when you are calm and relaxed? Or do you need to be somewhere in between? Everyone is different and it might also depend on the event. A sprinter may want to be more pumped up right before their race in order to get that burst of energy, where a long-distance runner probably wants to be calmer and conserve energy prior to their event. Similarly, a gymnast who needs to relax before beam might want to feel more excited getting ready to vault.
What you say to yourself prior to competing can greatly impact your performance. Saying things like, “What if I mess up?”, “I just don’t want to fall”, or “I can’t do this” are most likely going to lead to poor performance. More positive phrases such as, “I am confident”, “I am ready”, or “I will stick this” lead to more positive feelings and better performance.
Imagery is a powerful tool that can be used in a number of ways. Many athletes like to incorporate it into their pre-performance routine. For example, in between the warm-up and when it is their turn to compete, a gymnast may close their eyes and practice performing their beam routine in their mind the exact way they want to execute it on the actual beam in just a few minutes.
4. Deep Breathing
If you are someone who gets anxious or nervous before a competition, consider adding deep breathing into your pre-performance routine. Taking a few deep breaths can immediately help you feel more at ease. Combining that breath with a positive affirmation is even better!
5. Stretching/Warming Up
You can’t forget about the physical part of your routine, though most athletes usually have this part down. Making sure you know how to properly warm-up and stretch your body before a competition is just as important as preparing your mind and should be incorporated into your routine intentionally. Maybe you will include self-talk, imagery, or breathing into your stretch and warmup.
As stated above, your pre-performance routine is unique to you and your needs. It does not need to be the same as your teammates’ routines. The key to a successful routine is consistency. The more consistent you are in doing your routine, the more effective it will be in helping you get to that ideal performance mindset. Practice your routine in trainings. The more you do it, the better and more effortless it will become.
You are in Control
Finally, it is important to remember that your pre-performance routine is not a ritual or superstition. It does not make or break you because you are always in control. A routine simply helps you to regulate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so that you are focusing on what you need to in order to perform your best.