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Getting into a Routine

In my first post for this series, I put forward the idea of ‘being in the moment’. We’ve covered other strategies such as imagery and self-talk to help to manage nerves, boost confidence and control your focus. For this post I would like to show you, using one or more of these skills, how creating a routine for yourself can help you to have the correct mindset to get up and compete to the best of your ability.

What is a routine?

A routine is a sequence of purposeful thoughts and actions undertaken prior to performance. It allows athletes to be completely physically, technically, tactically, and mentally ready to perform. Any successful elite athlete will be able to tell you about the phases or a routine they go through before competing, or if you watch them prepare you may see them perform a set of actions for their preparation.

Routines are generally made up of three different components to optimally prepare you: thoughts, behaviours and sport specific actions. These components can be specific movements, cue words, meaningful thoughts, imagery of a routine or relaxation strategies to help you in numerous ways, such as physically preparing, directing focus, controlling emotions, raising confidence and relaxing or pumping yourself up to name a few.


How can a routine help you?

A routine can prepare you to compete by creating a consistent and familiar routine to prevent other unplanned thoughts or distractions keeping you focused on the task at hand. It helps you increase the control you have over your performance by preparing you for different aspects that may affect your performance, such as being mentally or physically ready. A routine also allows you to prepare for every eventuality that could arise during a competition, set strategies in place for them and to stay focused and relaxed.

How often have you seen people preparing to compete, twitching around and going through the motions? Using behaviours specific to your task within a routine, such as simulating the movements of your skills, helps you to prepare your body physically for performing.

As discussed in previous posts, when you are preparing to compete your focus should be on the present and the processes you need to go through. Importantly, a routine can help you to do this and stop you from worrying about the end result. By keeping focused on the present through a routine you will experience a greater sense of control and mastery over your performance. Who doesn’t perform better when they are brimming with confidence?


Superstition Vs Routine

Now, this is where you need to be careful. You may already think you know whether you use a routine or not before you compete. However, some routines are in fact based more on superstition or rituals.

Although these are similar to routines, superstitions involve fixed behaviours that aren’t relevant to your task. Climbing on the trampoline with your right leg instead of your left, wearing the same unwashed socks for each competition, clapping your hands three times or wearing a certain number of hairbands in your hair are rituals or superstitions.

On the other hand, components of a routine have a purposeful function, for example maintaining your emotion. A routine will effectively prime you physically and mentally for the task at hand. Your routine will not be affected by the colour of your leotard.

There is a fine line between a routine and a ritual, which both athletes and coaches need to be aware of.


Here are some tips to help you develop and establish your own routine: 

  1. 1. Remember your routine is individual to you; it’s what works for you and this will take time to establish.
  2. 2. Make sure all elements of your routine serve a purpose and are task specific. Ensure the actions or behaviours included will help you prepare.
  3. 3. Be relevant in your thoughts. Use cue words and self-talk to tell yourself what you are going to do or feel. Use imagery to see your routine the way you are going to execute it.
  4. 4. Remember that as you develop as an athlete, your routine will also need to change, so be flexible.
  5. 5. Consistency is key. Each part of it should have a purpose. Avoid deviating too much from your routine. If this does happen, STOP and start again.


Providing support across a range of sports, Emily offers one-to-one sessions, group workshops and tailored strategies for both athletes and coaches at all levels designed to enhance mental performance in sporting environments. For more information or to contact Emily: direct email or tweet her @EMsportsci.

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