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Are you frustrated about your play being up and down during matches? Do you wish you could play more consistently? Do you want to perform in competition like you do in practice? Your mental game and mental routines could be the answer.

If you watch elite players in many different sports you will see most of them use routines in order to perform well. For example a pitcher before each pitch, a baseball player before each at-bat, a gymnast before each apparatus, a tennis player before each serve or return, a basketball player before each free throw or, a soccer player during breaks in play.

Every athlete can benefit from using routines. There are many different routines that can improve performance depending on the sport. Each routine below aims to mentally prepare you to get in the zone:

  • Routines for individual self-paced skills:

  • A serve or return (e.g. tennis/volleyball)

  • Skills during a gymnastics routine

  • A free-throw

  • A penalty shot/free kick (e.g. soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey)

  • Before pitching or hitting

  • Routines before competing, a Pre-Game Routine:

  • Every athlete can use these to prepare to compete

  • Used in the time leading up to the game. Can start as early as days or the night before

  • Can also be used in-between games or routines on the same day

  • Routines to Refocus/Recover:

  • Used to refocus your mind during a tough situation such as after a mistake, bad call or when you are distracted or frustrated

  • These can be used during breaks in play

  • Every athlete can benefit from using these. Depending on the sport they may have to last only a few seconds or can be much longer

To be most successful a routine needs to be both physical and mental. The mental side of routines is often neglected. For example a lot of tennis player fix their strings or bounce the ball but they don’t plan what they are thinking about or focusing on each time. Or a baseball player does a few practice swings but doesn't think about what his mind is doing.

The mental side is just as important, if not more important because it gets your mind prepared the same way before each point or skill. It’s great if your body is prepared but if you are not in the right mindset you will not be able to get your body to perform how you know it can. For example if a player is still focused on the last point or a past mistake, it is unlikely that he will be able to focus correctly and perform at his best in the current point. You need all of your focus on the present moment to reach peak performance and an effective routine can help you achieve this.

What do routines do? How do they benefit performance?

The purpose of a routine is to keep you in the zone. To be in your same winning mindset before every point, play or skill. It doesn't matter what happened before. If you made a mistake or there was a bad call or, what is about to happen, maybe you are trying to close out a match or win a meet. If you use your routine correctly you will be able to perform well. It doesn't matter what situation it is, a routine will keep you focused on the correct things and help you control your emotions. You will be able to reset yourself and your mind.

A routine will help you to stay in the moment and play one point or skill at a time. If you are in your winning mindset more consistently you will perform more consistently. A successful routine will help you refocus, keep you calm and composed, confident and, in control of your thoughts. You will be focused on the present and on your game plan. You will be able to control your thoughts away from the past or the future. You will be ready for the next point, play or skill.

Key Tips to Develop a Successful Routine:

  • A routine is made out of a series of physical and mental steps that need to be practiced until they are automatic like any other skill

  • Routines include mental components such as concentration, productive thoughts and self-talk. They also include behavioral elements like individual movements and walk-throughs

  • The goal is to achieve the same mindset for every point, play or skill. You will then perform consistently in competition like you do in practice

  • It is important to perform the whole routine every time to get the maximum benefits

  • In tough situations or during pressure times it is easy to forget about the routine and go back to what is comfortable. This is the opposite of what you should do. This is when the routine is most important. It is crucial to perform the mental steps here as this will help you control your emotions and be your best

  • The steps of a routine need to be flexible and not so set that you feel anxious when you don’t do one of them. Routines should not be superstitious or obsessive, this will not create a wining mindset

  • Each individual athlete has their own characteristics and personality that needs to be considered so that their routine fits the style and practice of that player

How to apply these tips to improve your performance?

Choose one type of routine listed above to begin with that you think will give you the most benefit. Develop your own routine. Write down what you are doing physically and mentally at every step before you perform. Test the routine in different situations to determine which part is or isn't helpful. Once it is finished you need to commit to using it every time you need to refocus during practice and competition. This helps it to become automatic and maximized its effectiveness.

If you want help to develop your own successful routine Contact Me here to schedule a mental training session.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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