Pre-performance Routines and Rituals

By Anna Mitchell

If you have been following my articles, then you will know that I place a lot of emphasis on flexibility for peak performance. I have stressed the importance of being able to adapt to changing circumstances and “roll with the punches” during a performance because rarely does everything go according to plan. So how does a pre-performance routine fit into this approach? Is that not an oxymoron?

Not necessarily. I often encourage athletes to establish a pre-performance routine for a number of reasons: 

·         Consistency – Doing the same thing over and over again helps improve our consistency in performance. This makes it easier for us to identify problem areas and make changes as needed. If we constantly change the way we prepare for a performance, it is difficult to pinpoint what is helping and what is hindering the outcome. 

·         Comfort through familiarity. Sticking to a pre-performance routine can be a great way to help combat those pre-performance jitters. We tend to feel most anxious when confronted by unfamiliar and/or unpredictable environments. Sticking to a familiar routine helps promote that “been there, done that” feeling, helping us feel less threatened by our circumstances. 

·         Bridging the gap between the practice pen and the show pen. This is related to the point  I made above about familiarity. Many of us give our best performances in the practice pen away from the stress and pressure of competition. We tend to feel less anxious before and during a practice session than we do before a competition so to help control our nerves we need to “re-create” that practice feeling. Following the same preparation steps before practices and competitions will help bridge that gap. 

·         Memory safety plan. When we get nervous we also tend to get forgetful. Have you ever turned up to an important event and realized you had forgotten to bring the right bridle or boots? Having a pre-performance routine forces us to work through our preparation one step at a time reducing the risk of forgetfulness. So there are a number of reasons that a pre-performance routine can be a valuable tool when used effectively to help you achieve your peak performance.

However … beware of setting your preparation steps and rituals in stone. People who place too much emphasis on sticking to a  routine risk losing their ability to “roll with the punches.” Before establishing your preparation routine, carefully distinguish between what you can and cannot control. Do not include steps in your routine of which you have little control. Map out the steps you will take to help  you get physically and mentally ready to compete. Write them down to remind yourself when needed. Become very familiar with these steps by working  through them before numerous practices. Do not attempt for the first time before an important event because the steps only become routine with repetition.

Review previous events to identify what worked and what didn’t. Think about what you did before a successful event so you can do it again. Use the routine as a guide but be prepared to be flexible when needed. For example, you may want to include “have breakfast” rather than “have waffles for breakfast” because sometimes you may not be able to get waffles and that may just be enough to throw you off balance.

A little superstition is fine, but too much can distract you from your job. I worked with an athlete a while ago who felt that he absolutely had to follow a red car to the competition or he would not do well. He spent a lot of wasted time looking for red cars. Naturally, there were many occasions when he was unable to meet this need and  the red car syndrome became a self fulfilling prophecy because he turned up to the event already defeated.

So go ahead and wear your lucky underpants. Draw comfort from the familiar but stay flexible because the only thing predictable about life is that it is unpredictable. What gives you comfort as you head to the show pen? Share your quirky little superstitions and odd routines. I know you have some.

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