Pre-Performance Routines

Research across a variety of performance settings has identified that routines can ensure that all positive influences on performance are supported (Schack et al., 2005). They help by diverting attention from task-irrelevant thoughts to the task-relevant plan. The habit allows athletes to control every possible aspect that influences training and competition, while helping to provide positive mental and emotional states. There are a number of differing theories as to how they work (Attention Control theory; Activation Set theory; Mental Rehearsal theory) that we will not discuss here; however whichever approach you take routines do work. Different types of routine can be developed for different phases (i.e. training; pre-competition; between-performance; post-competition) and serve different purposes. Some athletes that we have worked with have had highly structured routines, which include activities that stretch over days i.e. specific meals at specific times pre-competition. We don’t feel the need to suggest this approach for the majority of performers, mostly due to the numerous factors that need to be accounted for before a competition. What we do advocate though is the use of routines immediately prior to performance as they has shown to benefit:
  • Better preparation
  • Greater control
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Improved focus
  • Removal of negative thoughts and possible distracters
How to develop your own pre-performance routine?

There is no one specific process, and indeed the design of a perfect routine is highly individual and needs some practice and development. The simplest way that we initially get athletes to think about their pre-performance routine is to recount what they did when they had their best ever performance. Write down all the significant steps that you did. Also remember to include all the things that have to be done. Our next step is to encourage performers to include their “superstitions”. While these are regularly considered to be crazy or weird, we believe (and have anecdotal evidence) that anything a performer can do to put themselves into a positive mindset is important (I must admit that I have to put my right sock and shoe on before the left). We then get performers to identify a key or “power” word or phrase that they can repeat to themselves immediately prior to commencement. This word / phrase can either be in the form of a mantra that resonates with them or a technical component of their performance to remember. The next stage is to establish a timeframe to implement each of the stages. Remember to take into account the specific nature of your activity and how much time is actually available. The final step is to put it into practice. As we have stated previously these routines need to be trained and adapted to find what works best. Regularly the first developed routine ends up completely different to the final product.
Key points
  1. Identify what you did prior to your best performance
  2. Include personal “superstitions”
  3. Create a power word / phrase
  4. Establish the time frame (including key aspects of the activity)
  5. Trial it and make required changes
  6. Follow it at all occasions (training and competition)