What is a pre-performance routine?

A pre-performance routine is a consistent procedure that performers use to prepare themselves for competition. Given the huge variability that exists between performance domains (e.g., sport, performing arts, business, medicine, law),  pre-performance routines take many different forms. For example, many basketball players have a pre-performance routine that they follow prior to taking a free-throw, while a surgeon may have a checklist that he or she follows prior to starting surgery. Depending on the sport, pre-performance routines may utilized prior to the start of a game/competition/tournament, as well as before an individual performance during competition (e.g., free throws, putting, penalty kicks). 

Here are some examples of what a pre-performance routine may look like: 
  • Checklist: Checklists may start the evening prior to their event and run directly up to the start. Prior day checklists might include packing lists, errands/misc. tasks, and meal planning. Day-of checklists might include wake up, diet/nutrition, addresses and directions, gear check, and actual physical and mental routines to complete prior to competition. Creating a checklist ensures athletes are prepared without have to devote extra energy to remembering tedious details.
  • Mental Rehearsal, or imagery, is a great way for athletes to prepare for an event without physically practicing it. Many athletes engage in mental rehearsal prior to the start of their event in order to direct their attention and energy toward what is important. For example, prior to putting, a golfer may take 30 seconds to rehearse the putt in their head.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: A pre-performance routine may be as simple as taking a few deep breaths from one's diaphragm in order to reduce muscle tension and focus on the task at hand. 
  • Listening to music: Many athletes (e.g., Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick) listen to music as part of their pre-performance routine in order to adjust their energy before competing.
Pre-performance routines come in many forms. They may include any, all, or none of the examples above. Many athletes have pre-performance routines as simple as bouncing the ball three times prior to a free throw in basketball or a serve in tennis. The idea is simply to help the performer avoid distraction and focus their attention on what is important.
Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine
Research has shown that pre-performance routine can improve performance by enhancing an athlete’s belief in their ability to master a task. When practiced and repeated some well learned routines can also serve to focus attention and trigger well-learned motor responses. It is important to note that a pre-performance routine is different from a ritual or superstition. For example, wearing a "lucky" pair of underwear, as Michael Jordan is reported to have done, may simply assist an athlete in creating a relaxed and positive mindset. This doesn't mean you are going to win and can have a negative effect if the superstition is so engrained that it's disruption leads to anxiety and hampers performance.
A pre-performance routine can be used prior to an event as a way to control the environment, provide stability in a highly unstable environment, trigger concentration, help decrease anxiety, and provide positive focus to someone who normally engages in negative self talk. Many athletes develop their own routine prior to an event, unconsciously emerging from superstitious beliefs that have developed over the years about what may have caused an excellent performance. Examples of things that may be contained in a pre-performance routine include: eating the same food before an event, putting clothes on in a certain order, wearing specific clothes, warming up in a certain way, taking some deep breaths, listening to a certain kind of music, and using the same positive key words.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.