Pre-performance routines can begin when you leave the house for the training or performance venue, or when you arrive.
Everything before that is pre-event prep and is equally important, but not the focus here.
Why Have Pre-Performance Routines?
Pre-performance routines are a great mental warm up, and can be used to advantage in many sports, such as tennis, golf, football, swimming, cricket, AFL and many more. They serve as a means to tune into your zone of optimal functioning in pressure situations, because a routine narrows your focus on important cues and energy, while reducing wasted energy on distractions.
Making the mundane meaningful – human ritual and the benefit to tapping into emotional and motivational brain through routine (sequencing and ritualization our preparation).
In sport and other performance areas, there may be a significant amount of time between arriving at the venue and actually performing. The mind is a limited resource, so it is important to be able to switch your competitive mind on and off, in a deliberate way.
You might have a longer, more general routine upon arriving at the venue, and a specific short routine to help you focus just before performing or joining the team. That way you can switch off and rest the mental batteries when they are not essential, and use a routine to switch on at the critical points of the day.
A team pre-performance routine would ideally happen after individual athletes have a chance to finish their personal pre-performance rituals, so that they are ready to join the team mental space and buy into the team prep.
Your pre-performance routine should consist of a sequence (same every time) of ritualised behaviours (that is, you give them meaning and do them with mindfulness and intention) to connect mind and body, and increase the likelihood of performing in your peak performance state (“the zone”).
Start by reflecting upon what you do already, from when you arrive at the venue until you are actually performing. There is usually a general sequence of events which you will follow each time, but on autopilot, with your focus and intentions elsewhere. A pre-performance routine aims to make the mundane meaningful (to apply meaning and focus to these actions).
When something is important to us, we usually mark it with ritual to acknowledge the situation and set our intentions (birthdays, deaths, marriage, religious occasions, sporting events etc.). So a pre-performance routine can be thought of as a ritual because our performance area is important in our lives, and this is one way we can acknowledge it.
Targets: What are You Trying to Achieve?
When you are creating a personal or team pre-performance routine, it is important to set targets so you know exactly what you are aiming to achieve.
I use the Acronym F.A.P.E. to summarise the targets for a pre-performance routine:
- F stands for the desired focus before performing (in the present moment and on task).
- A stands for Activation (activation of process goals and attitude).
- P stands for positivity (how you feel and how you are thinking are two distinct things under pressure, both need positivity and may need a different approach).
- E stands for Energise (tune your arousal levels to your optimum state, up or down).
The ingredients used to achieve F.A.P.E. can vary, and it is up to individuals and teams to explore and learn so as to personalise a set for their respective routines. This might be different for each individual or team.
The Ingredients of Your Pre-Performance Routine
Music: Music is one of the best natural ways to regulate mood, motivation, arousal and performance skills under pressure. Music listening skills can be honed to increase music’s effect.
Actions: Actions such as tying up your shoelaces, or warm up exercises, can make up your routine, as long as they are done with mindfulness and meaningful intention.
Self Talk: Using focus words, positive affirmations or mantras, can cue positive thoughts and help with focus on important things like process goals, staying present, and activating your attitude for competition.
Imagery: Visualising performance can be a great way to prepare both the mind and body. The more senses and feeling and emotion you can include, the more vivid and controllable your imagery, the better. You can focus elements of imagery on process goals or important cues such as synchronicity, drive and glide. You can also build confidence with imagery by feeling yourself being ready and strong, and then seeing yourself in third person, racing well.
Breathing and meditation: Breathing and meditation techniques help to quiet the mind and ego, to focus upon the present and accept the uncontrollable, so you will be able to stay calm. Regulating breathing and focus are key to staying relaxed in high pressure situations. Meditation usually involves taking a non-judging, curious and observing focus on a target such as breath. It is not about clearing the mind completely, but more about self-awareness and engaging the noticing mind, rather then the chaotic judging thinking mind. Mindfulness is a great style of meditation to explore for sport as you do not need to sit down for ages and can work it into various activities.
In creating a personal pre-performance routine, it is good to follow a series of meaningful steps that ready you to perform in a team environment, which has particular social pressures.
Therefore, I recommend creating your routine by reflecting on the following concepts and applying them as the meaning in the ritual. The ingredients you use to create this sequence can be unique and personal. It does not need to make sense to others or be cool; it’s about being honest with one’s own preferences and exploring how to trigger them. And they can be fun!
- Letting go: Letting go of ego, your life baggage and stressors, and the past/future, and just being in the performance environment purely, means mentally leaving some stuff in the car or at home.
- Focusing: Bring your focus of attention to the now and the task at hand. Being present allows your mental energy to be utilised in the most effective and efficient way. Being stuck in the past or future even a little bit – or being stuck in your own head – can lead to wasted energy and nerves. I use the expression “get out of your head and into the world”, with people who get nervous because they are time travelers and mind readers (they get lost in the future or past, or in worrying about what others think).
- Energise: Do something to reflect on your optimal arousal level for performance and where you are currently at. Try to increase or decrease your arousal to match your optimal zone.
- Activate: Activate thoughts specific to your process goals and attitude for performance. Deliberately bring to mind what you want to do and how you want to do it. You can act it out, visualise it or talk your way through, but keep it simple and be deliberate.
- Engage: Engaging with the team means getting rid of your personal bubble and becoming a cog in the wheel. It means accepting you won’t like everything about the team, but that you are committed and enriched by being part of it. Try to adapt from a personal space to a communal space so you can accept and buy into the team routine and needs.
Example: Dragon Boat Racing
A team or boat routine is about using the ingredients to bring everyone together to focus on important team goals, creating readiness, and guiding principles. All this needs to be in a short ritual that can be used in the three minutes in the martialing area, before boarding.
There may be benefit to a pre-martialing ritual that designates team time as well, depending on the team’s needs. There is obvious need for switching off and staying relaxed in the martialing area if waits are long, so timing of the final ritual is important. I believe a group imagery using the race plan for success would be a great medium to touch on these concepts. The concepts I think will help for a team routine are below:
- Synch up: Synchronicity (moving together as one, whole is worth more than sum of its parts, communication, rhythm);
- Power up: Power (intensity of focus, drive through the water, energy of the team);
- Glide: Sliding through the water, style, feeling/appreciating the quiet moment between strokes, the boat.
Creating YOUR Pre-Performance Routine
This is just a brief introduction to the importance of pre-performance routines, and a recipe book for taking what you do already and improving it.
It requires discussion, trial and error, and effort, to get a great routine up and running, so I suggest some discussion and thought go into making this yours. Think of it as if “I am giving you a bike with square wheels and you guys need to ride it to round off the corners”. The team routine may benefit a great deal from imagery led by a leader or team member. This is a skill but it is not hard to develop, and doing a race visualisation with important focus points is not hard to learn.
If you or your team would like some assistance in developing a pre-performance routine, I can teach you how – and it is an easy to learn recipe!