Well defined and consistent habits minimize stress and distractions and funnel athletic energy toward peak performance. Routines should be repeated as close to the same way as possible to work their best.
Think of a cattle chute, herding cattle toward their pin—everything lines up and moves in the right direction. A good routine does the same.
The elements of a routine provide a place for an athlete to focus, reducing outside distractions and minimizing anxiety. Routines line up what needs to happen physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
Routine allows an athlete to “pull the trigger” on automatic behaviors (clusters of neurons), consistently. The processes get stronger and more effective with repetition. There are many things out of one’s control in sports. The more things that can be kept consistent, the better.
Things to consider are:
- Food: not too soon before to bog one down, but not too early so hunger or lack of energy are distractions during the game.
Hit Starbucks on the way, or pack necessities for breakfast when traveling?
At tournaments and long days, is it whatever concessions are available (pizza, nachos, candy) or packed food? Is food providing energy for performance and aiding in recovery after?
- Travel to field or venue: get there early enough to acclimate and prepare, but not so early that it’s boring. If there is out of the city or state travel, do you arrive the night before to get rest? If you driving in the same day, can you consistently pack comfort items, snacks, and hydration to minimize travel-lag?
Multiple games in a day and multi-day tournaments provide many challenges. Determine which elements are repeatable and will help an athlete focus and refocus as needed to stay sharp.
Pre-Performance Routine (PPR)
A pre-performance (PPR), or pre-shot routine, is a prime factor in:
- Managing anxiety
- Managing arousal
- Increasing internal motivation
- Focusing attention
- Preparing an athlete to perform.
A good PPR is about habit. It is a sequence of thoughts and actions an athlete systematically engages in before performance of a sport or specific skill and during competition.
Under pressure, focus shifts to irrelevant external things like the crowd, the opponent, or the environment. Or an athlete might focus internally on body movements, sensations, and self-awareness. These kinds of distractions hurt performance.
A routine creates a focal point on the things that facilitate peak performance, and minimizes attention on things that hurt it.
Research was done with tennis players (Lautenbach, Laborde, Mesagno, Lobinger, & Achtzehn, 2015), in which they were taught a PPR based on sound sport and performance psychology principles.
The tennis players were first taught to look at the ball to minimize outside distractions. Then, to apply focused breathing to relax and draw focus on the spot the ball will hit on the court. This was followed by noticing their feet, while they bounced the ball a specific number of times to aid in focusing on task-relevant cues. They were also taught to use a word cue defining where the ball was to land. This PPR was shown to keep the player’s performance consistent under pressure. You can see how this parallels the list above.
The tennis example is a great guide to using PPR’s for athletes in any sport. Great routines are built on a series of phases, actions, and thoughts relevant to the individual athlete, and then put together. For most athletes, there is some routine already happening through intuition or repetition, which can be built on, solidified and put in to consistent practice.