Pre-Performance Routines

Routines build consistency and predictability. They establish physical and mental foundations for performance and leave less to variability (weather, customer responses, the competition, etc.)

An actor does not go on stage without “getting into character”. A musician or singer does not go on stage without warming up. Yes, in order to be completely ready to perform you need to get into character. Athletes need to get into the right mindset. Where does the “eye of the tiger” come from? You’ve heard the phrase “putting on your game face”. That is what I’m talking about.

Think of the routines a basketball player goes through before shooting free throws; or, a batter in the on-deck circle or at bat. Do you notice patterns? It is not only physical movements that are patterned. If you were to go inside their head, there are thought patterns as well (no jokes about the emptiness you would find in my head…). Think about this, for someone to behave confidently – what body posture do they have? What do they say to themselves? You can bet that the best of them are telling themselves “I can do it”, “they are in control for now, but I’ll get them later”, or “I’m coming back.” How do they look? If you want to be depressed: take on depressed behaviors to act – even become – depressed. Would you know a depressed person if you saw or heard them? What body posture would they have? How do they walk? What’s their tone of voice? What do they say to themselves? Can you imagine their self-talk? Now, contrast that with someone who is confident in something they are about to undertake.

When you go into a situation that you want to perform consistently in or that results are critical, you need to develop a routine that prepares you to enter that situation in an optimal state. That is a pre-performance routine. By situation, I mean a race or even a workout for the day… but it also applies to the non-athletic world such as entering a meeting, negotiation, reprimand of staff member, giving or receiving a performance appraisal, asking for a raise from your boss, interviewing for a job, performing a critical task, making a presentation to a large group, anything that may require you to be on top of your “game”.

Here are key elements to determine:

  • How much time do you need to “center” yourself, and put the rest of the day’s events on the side? It is different for different people. It is difficult to flop from one activity to the next that require different skill sets, or focus.
  • What specifically do you do to “let-go” of everything other than the task at hand? Perhaps a few deep breaths work for you or performing a mind-clearing exercise will do.
  • How do you see the event unfolding? What is your plan? Follow? Lead? You need to have a game plan or road map. Do not leave it to chance. Know where you want to go.
  • What will you do when or if things go badly at some point in the situation? What will you say to yourself to get you through? How do you want to think in a tough spot?
  • What mental tactics have you prepared for dealing with unexpected responses or situations? Have Plan B available.
  • What affirmations or self-talk do you have about the situation? Positive behaviors follow-positive thoughts.

You must rehearse and perfect your pre-performance routine. Athletes need to incorporate this into actual warm-up routines. It won’t suddenly dawn on you to think a certain way in the middle of a race, workout or work place situation. Therefore, you must practice it.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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