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Performance Routines: Take charge of what you can 

Performance routines are prevalent in high performance arenas, and in particular elite sport.

You’ll often hear athletes refer to their rituals, superstitions, or lucky charms…

“I keep a lucky red rag in my pocket when I bat, which has been a good luck charm for a few years.” – Steve Waugh

Simply put, athletes often integrate routines – a sequence of actions regularly followed – to enhance performance.

The competitive sporting environment consists of numerous elements outside of one’s control and as such performance routines help athletes to take charge of what they can.

Whatever they get called and for whatever reason, there is a place for preparing how you want to think, feel, and act in the moments that you can control as well as creating a vibe of control in amongst the dynamic and/or uncertain moments.

‘Control the controllables’ is a frequently used statement as advice to remind athletes where their energy is best spent, particularly if they’re are getting overly concerned with aspects of their performance that elude their control.

Amongst the team we’ve got experience working with most sports on the planet.  Our experience means we’ve helped athletes recognise and capitalise on moments of time during competition where they’re in charge regardless of whether the sport is considered a closed or self-paced; open or externally paced; or mixed skills sport.

Obvious performance routines are in sports such as tennis.  The way Rafa Nadal and Maria Sharapova act between points to prepare for the next point has become internationally recognised. If you’re a tennis fan you would have seen Novak Djokovic have great fun impersonating the pair’s on-court antics; an indication that they’ve developed superbly consistent on-court personas.

Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods spearheaded the new wave of golfers where very structured pre- and post-shot routines were openly discussed.  Specifically, Annika integrated Vision54’s ‘Decision Line’ between the ‘Think Box’ and ‘Play Box’ in her pre-shot routine, and Tiger integrated a ’10 yard line’ where all of the anger that was felt after a poor shot had to be released by the time he walked over his line 10 yards in front of where he hit the shot.

These are great examples of taking charge of the time that is completely yours to choose your approach and response so that when your sport requires you to be dynamic you can ‘let’ your body do the talking.

Think of all the times during a competition when you’re in charge… 

For example, times where performance routines can be integrated into hockey tournaments include pre- and and post-match, the distinct breaks in play such as quarter time and half time as well as penalty corners and shoot-outs. Similar to other team sports, there is also substitution time ‘on the bench’, which is yours to own too. This list is yet to include times when you’re not directly in play where you can also choose your approach and response.

Are you choosing how to think, feel, and act in these times?

In addition to these moments in a competitive environment, how you structure and make use of your preparation into completion is absolutely yours to optimise.  Check out this video of Adam Scott where he emphasises the impact that preparation can have on competitive performance.

Perfect preparation; Take charge of what you can.   

Given the time of year spend some time watching the players battle it out at Roland-Garros and see how they make the most of the between points and change of ends time.  In fact, the time that is spent actually playing points in tennis is a small percentage of the total match time.  It really does make you think about whether you’re taking charge of all that you can…

In short, make your performance routines effective and useful for performance so that you are in charge of the routine (not the other way around!). This means the goal of performance routines is to enhance performance by creating feelings of comfort, certainty, familiarity, and control.  Taking charge of what you can is one of the basic tools in training your brain to perform under pressure, so keep your routines simple and make them a consistent companion to your performance.

Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist CPsychol HCPC Registered
Get in contact with Andrea –  Andrea is based in London and provides both face-to-face and virtual sport psychology services to athletes worldwide.