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The Star Mentality Post

  • Writer's pictureRifat Hussein

Maximizing Performance: A Guide to Creating a Winning Pre-Performance Routine for Athletes

Successful athletes have realized how crucial it is to have a strategy to help them compete. Pre-performance routines are an essential part of getting athletes ready for a match. It unlocks the competitive edge that makes it possible for you to perform at your best.

What Are Pre-Performance Routines?

A pre-performance routine is a carefully constructed series of deliberate thoughts and actions carried out before a game or an important in-game skill (such as a penalty or a tennis serve). You most likely have seen athletes utilize it, from Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous free-kick stance to how Tiger Woods prepares each time before taking a shot.

To prevent a potential misunderstanding, pre-performance routines are distinct from superstitious behaviour. For instance, many of you may have taken note of Rafael Nadal's ritual prior to each serve. This type of behaviour leans towards superstition, which is more often viewed as good luck rather than being proven to enhance performance. Whereas routines incorporate practical strategies and have empirical support for boosting athletic achievement.

The Benefits of Pre-Performance Routines

  • Improves focus: Athletes can get in the right frame of mind, eliminating distractions in the environment and direct their attention to task-relevant cues.

  • Increases confidence: Athletes gain a feeling of assurance and control to achieve their desired outcome, embedding a winning mindset.

  • Reduces anxiety: It gives athletes an impression of familiarity and structure of the situation ahead, alleviating feelings of uncertainty.

  • Enhances preparation: Helps athletes feel physically and mentally ready for the demands of the competition or in-game tasks.

  • Elevates performance: By being able to rehearse certain movements, athletes can fine-tune neuromuscular pathways essential for successful skill execution.

The Key Elements of Pre-Performance Routines

After exploring how routines can improve your performance, I want to break down the two components that contribute to pre-game rituals. These are behaviours and thoughts. Let's take a closer look at each one:


Centering: This assists in releasing tension in the body and lowers the impact of physiological symptoms such as an increased heart rate. It promotes calmness and reduces external distractions (e.g. cheering from the crowd or opposition players).

A variety of techniques can achieve centering but one of the most common ones is using breathing exercises, in particular diaphragmatic breathing. This involves taking deep breaths into the diaphragm as opposed to shallow breaths. Here is how to do it:

1. Breathe in through your nose, not your mouth

2. Breathe in and out using your diaphragm, not your chest

3. Count to 4 as you inhale and count down from 4 as you exhale

4. Repeat this process at least 3 times

It is a simple yet effective method. In high-pressure situations, athletes are more in control of their arousal levels and feel more relaxed.

Sport-Specific Rehearsals: This is practicing and honing certain movements that will come up during competitions. This gives the athletes a sense of predictability of what will happen next and increase their chances of success. This can help lower their anxiety levels.

Golfers frequently exhibit this skill as they repeatedly practice their swings before striking the ball. It may also be observed in several other sports, including volleyball, basketball, and rugby. The players perform their sport-specific tasks during the warmup to feel adequately prepared for the upcoming game.


Imagery: This involves creating a mental picture of performing a particular skill with the right form and technique. However, for imagery to be useful, it must be consistently practiced allowing the brain to build a strong neural network. This will improve the success rate of the skill and induce a greater sense of assurance within the athlete.

Self-talk: This refers to the thoughts and words athletes tell themselves as they are going through their routines. It can play a significant role and be used in a number of ways. One is motivational self-talk.

Motivational self-talk is usually implemented to reaffirm to the athlete they are well prepared and capable of performing at high levels. Here are a few examples:

- “I’ve trained well, and I am ready”

- “I’m focused on the task at hand”

- “I trust my abilities”

This can be useful in changing the athlete’s inner dialogue from negative to positive. It can be utilized to maintain confidence throughout a match and during high-stress moments.

How Do You Create Your Own Routine?

When creating your pre-performance routine, it should be specific to you and your sport. It is important to tailor it to your needs as it will maximize the effectiveness of the ritual. Here are some steps you can take to create your own personal routine:

1) Identify your goals: What do you want to accomplish in your performance? Do you want to improve your approach to a match or your success rate of in-game skills? Write down your goals and use them as a starting point for creating your routine.

2) Analyze your past performance: Reflect on your previous performances, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and focus on the areas you want to improve.

3) Determine the mental and physical demands: Consider the particular requirements of your sport as well as the mental and physical abilities needed for peak performance.

4) Experiment with different techniques: Many different strategies can be used in routines, such as the ones I previously mentioned. Try out several methods to see which ones are most effective for you.

5) Create your routine: Develop a pre-performance ritual that includes the elements that work for you. Make sure your routine is specific to your sport, the demands of the competition, and the in-game tasks.

6) Practice your routine: Regular practice will help it become a habit. When it’s time to perform, this will make you feel more comfortable and self-assured.

7) Get feedback: Ask coaches and teammates for their opinions. This can provide valuable information about whether your routine is effective and how to change it if necessary.

8) Evaluate and adjust: Continuously evaluate your routine and adjust as needed. Your ritual should be flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions of your competitive environment.

As you go through these steps, remember creating a pre-performance routine is a personal process. Finding the elements that work best for you could need some trial and error.

What Does This Look Like In Practice?

To get you thinking about creating your pre-performance routine, I'd like to give you an example of one. Let’s look at a footballer using an in-game ritual when taking a penalty.

The player's routine could begin as soon as they have the ball in their hand. Before they put the ball on the penalty spot, they will quickly assess whether everything feels physically okay. This could include using a breathing exercise to help the player alleviate potential tension in the body, reduce distractions, and feel relaxed. When they have the bravery to do so, they will then put the ball on the spot. If not, the player may repeat this process until they are comfortable.

Once the ball is on the spot, the player will glance at the target and visualize themselves scoring. This will bolster the athlete’s confidence. The player will then take their preferred run up. This could include taking 5 steps back and 2 steps to the side. It should be something that is familiar and has been practiced frequently. This will give the player a sense of predictability about the situation.

At this stage, the player will then look at the ball again and back at the target. During this, they may use motivational self-talk to reaffirm to themselves they are capable of scoring. The footballer will then finish their run up and successfully put the ball in the back of the net.

This illustration shows how routines help you stay in the present and let go of worries about the future by encouraging you to take one step at a time. This is essential for a player to be fully focused on the task that lies ahead.

Take Home Messages

To create an effective routine, ensure it is individualised to you and your specific sporting needs. Practice it frequently until it becomes second nature. Always reflect on your routine and make adjustments if necessary.

A pre-performance routine can provide athletes with the ability to regulate their arousal levels, manage their environment, increase concentration, and help reduce anxiety. It is a powerful tool for enhancing mental skills and can help you perform at your best.


What are your favourite strategies you use in your routines? I'd love to hear them in the comment section below or on Twitter using #StarRoutines


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