Performance Routines

Repeatable. Consistent. Purposeful. Flexible.

Step to the line. Dribble. Dribble. Spin the ball. Look through the goal. Deep breath. Follow through. Performance routines are a pre-planned, strategic sequence of thoughts and behaviors that an athlete takes part in before, during, and after engaging in a specific skill. Routines should be repeatable, consistent, and purposeful yet flexible as needed. In addition to routines there are also rituals and superstitions. Rituals may or may not be productive such as a pre-game cheer. Superstitions are false beliefs and place the power and control in things (or the superstition) that have no weight in the outcome. 

The primary goal of mental skills training is for athletes to learn how to develop the ideal performance state for each competition. Developing the right thoughts, feelings, and bodily responses are the aim of increasing the likelihood that a performer will have a peak performance (Williams & Krane, 2015). Systematically practicing routines before a performance allows an athlete to lock into autopilot when they are in a pressured situation (Williams & Krane, 2015). IN addition to an athlete’s normal or “A” routine, athletes may also benefit from developing a “B” and “C” routine when circumstances do not go as planned (weather conditions, limited warm up time, etc.). The best precompetition and competition plans consist of routines that ready the athlete both physically and mentally for competition. This chapter will focus on the importance of and strategies to prepare pre-, in-, and post-competition routines. 

Pre-Performance Routines

When developing mental preparation plans athletes should ask themselves these six questions (Burton & Raedeke, 2008):

  1. How will I get focused for my practice or competition?
  2. How will I develop a positive outlook for practice or competition?
  3. How will I create an optimal level of confidence for practice or competition?
  4. How will I develop optimal arousal for practice or competition?
  5. How will I develop motivation to continue pressing on past my limits in practice or competition?
  6. How will I connect my mental warm-up with my physical warm up?

In-Competition Routines

Distractions during competition are inevitable; however, having a performance routine during competition can help an athlete refocus. When developing in-competition routines an athlete should pair the following with a deep breath to maintain focus.

  1. What will I do with my body to signal me to refocus? (Physical.)
    1. Example: Step to the free throw line and dribble twice.
  2. Where will I look to bring me back to a focused state? (Visual.)
    1. Example: Look through the goal.
  3. What will I say to myself as a cue to maintain my focus? (Mental.)
    1. Example: Through the hoop.

Post-Competition Routines

Athletes cannot predict all problems or successes that accompany a performance, but developing general coping strategies can help athletes come back from challenging performances and refocus on their goals. This can be done through a post-competition routine. The five following steps can help an athlete develop an effective recovery plan (Burton & Raedeke, 2008). 

  1. Develop a physical trigger to begin the post-competition routine.
  2. Relax and adapt one’s arousal level.
  3. Adjust goals so that they continue to be realistic to the current situation.
  4. Utilize positive affirmations and counterarguments to alleviate stress and increase confidence. 
  5. Use imagery to visualize regaining a positive mindset and achieve one’s adjusted goals.

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Burton, D., & Raedeke, T. D. (2008). Sport psychology for coaches. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.Williams, J. M., & Krane, V. (2015). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Don’t let your worst enemy live between your own two ears.”

-Laird Hamilton