Lucky Headbands and Lucky Socks = PR!

We all look for an edge – the edge. You know, the one that will get us that cherished victory, a new personal record time or distance. We will even create that edge when it doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong. I want athletes to think in ways of tilting the playing field to their favor. However, the key is to do it in a manner in which:

  1. It fosters consistency in performance.
  2. It is something that you control (or predominantly control).
  3. There is a tangible, objective relationship to performance.

This is where we need to differentiate between pre-performance (aka pre-race) routines and superstitions something I need to clarify with many of my athletes (especially youth).

A superstition is a belief, half-belief or practice for which there appears to be no rational substance. In the July/August DesertLeaf Dr. James Griffith (Tucson folklorist) states that a superstition a psychological attempt to control what you can’t, but to tip the playing field to your side.  It is trying to control what we can’t possibly control. I will add that superstitions are also fixed, rigid and unrelated to your activity/sport.

Special (read: lucky) headbands, socks, colors, numbers, shoes; running 2.5 laps counter-clockwise followed by 2.5 laps clockwise before a race; other special practices or rituals like a secret handshake with team members or lining up in a certain order are all examples of superstitions.

Contrast that with a pre-performance routine which includes a specific sequence of thoughts and actions – directly related to the task at hand – performed leading up to competitive performance. These are highly individual yet are established with similar themes. Among those are:

Physical warm-ups such as skipping drills, range of motion drills, 4 hard 100m strides, visualizing race tactics, reinforcing positive self-talk, affirmations, identifying key competitors, reviewing split time goals and predetermined race cues, even double-knotting your shoes so they don’t come untied.

Note how superstitions do not fulfill the three-point requirement but a pre-performance routine does.

Here’s how to get your edge next time you compete.

  1. Develop a pre-race routine that includes both physical and mental preparation. Most age group and youth athletes only have a physical warm-up routine.
  2. Do not copy someone else’s routine. What works for one person may or may not work for another.
  3. Practice and perfect it during training. It doesn’t wait until race day to try it out.
  4. Create effective and viable alternatives if you are not able to complete your usual routine. This is especially true if you are traveling to races and you have less control over your routine – like standing in corrals with 1000 other runners.
  5. You must be consistent! If you are constantly changing your routine – it is not a routine. It requires discipline. [This does not contradict #4. When you create Routine A and alternative Routine B, those stay the same and are practiced exactly as created. An example is having a short and long version for a track meet because event schedules can change.]
  6. Evaluate the effectiveness and tweak it if necessary.

Athletes who hone their pre-performance routines increase their chances to perform to the level that they have trained. That is the edge. And you don’t have to worry if you left your lucky headband in the dirty wash.



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.
This entry was posted in Confidence, Pre-performance Routine, Running, Sports Psychology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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