A common misconception regarding pre-performance routines is that circumstances must be ideal in order for them to be effective. Some envision Hollywood hype-infused locker rooms while others might conjure images of people tip-toeing around in dimly lit rooms while speaking in hushed, reverent tones.
Routines are not to be confused with superstitions and that is because they are not the same. You – for the most part - remain in control of routines. They are a pragmatic way (or tool) that can be utilized to generate feelings of readiness. Superstitions are relied upon; they control you. In sport, there are no guarantees, only opportunities. Routines help you maximize the opportunity. Superstitions trick you into believing that “If I do ______, it guarantees the desired outcome.”
Which is more effective: a high-energy movie scene or an being one with the environment like monks meditating in the Himalayas?
Both can be right; both can also be wrong. Two factors determine that outcome.
First, for routines to be beneficial, consider what works for you. Music (which type?) meditation or prayer, or even reading something meaningful like a quote or mantra. A routine could also be connected with something tangible, like the way in which you tie your shoes to what you choose to wear. If time permits, a quick cat-nap or some shuteye could also be integrated into a routine. The objective is to minimize the decision-making process before you enter into the arena. Also, what works for you might not work for anybody else.
Music is a vital component in my routine and, as I’ve come to learn, my taste in music is not always the most agreeable, but I could care less because I know it works for me. The rhythm, melodies, lyrics, beat, pace, volume, and harmonies can all alter emotions to the degree that you’re in your own little bubble. Effective dissociation promotes positive aspects of mood (e.g. vigor and happiness), while negative aspects (e.g. tension, anger) are lessened (Bishop, et al., 2007). Whether you have or haven’t utilized music before a performance, it can help you get psyched or totally mellow.
Whether your goal is to feel grounded, energized, calm, or somewhere along that spectrum, find what works, tinker, and refine. If you’re able to bring yourself to the present moment, then that’s a strong indication that you’re on the right path. If you’re having trouble developing a routine, think back to when you performed at your best. Then, moving forward, try and set the stage to generate similar thoughts, emotions, and physiological feelings.
Second, and also pertinent in developing a solid routine, is understanding the task. A sprint triathlon is different than an Ironman just as a 50-Free bears little resemblance to an open-water swim. Thus, it is critical to keep in mind how much energy you are willing to allocate towards your routine.
If you’re having difficulty in finding the energy level you’d like to be at, think of a number from 1 – 10, with 10 being your maximum energy levels. Personally, my numbers are always shifting per the task, so I’m not so concerned with hitting a specific number as I am a range in which I like to be. This is because I’ve tinkered with a variety of methods to arrive there.
In a 5K, I want to be at around an 8. My routine for a 5K bears little resemblance to what I do before an ultra-race bears. In a 5K, I’m warming up, moving, grooving, chatting with everybody and – depending on the weather – working up a strong lather. I know,
Regardless of the distance, the goal is similar: clear the slate and feel “good”. Again, good looks different because it depends on the task. For an ultra-race, I want to be at around a 3-4 because it’s going to a long day and I need to muster all of the energy I can for hours on-end. I don’t want to get psyched up and get above a 5 because that emotional fuel has physical consequences as it burns quickly. Mike Tyson’s former coach and legend, Cus D’Amato summarized this idea best:
“Emotions are like fire.
They can cook your food and keep you warm,
but they can also burn your house down”.
– Cus D’Amato
As the weather shift and many sport’s seasons are underway, now is a fantastic time to hone in on your routine. What works for you might not work for your teammates, but try to find that number between 1 – 10 and jot down a couple strategies that can help you get there. Just like every other part of training, it’s a process that you can continue to refine as you grow in your sporting journey.