There is one thing Michael Phelps started doing when he began swimming around the age of 11 that he was still doing when he retired at 31: his warm-up.
With some minor variations based on the event at hand, Phelps did the same physical warm-up in the pool before every race. But, he didn’t focus only on a physical routine.
He is famous for parts of his pre-race routine that prepared him mentally. We can all picture him in the ready room sporting headphones and some serious focus as he awaited his events. Finding comfort in the consistency of a routine seemed an important part of his process.
Consistency is key. We hear that often because it’s true. Being a consistent athlete allows you to trust yourself and alleviates stress or uncertainty prior to competition. This frees up mental energy to focus on your task. In team sports, consistency also allows your coaches and teammates to depend on you. They can anticipate what you’ll do when, and how you’ll handle situations in competition.
So, how do you become a consistent athlete? Develop a routine and stick with it.
Have you ever noticed a basketball player taking a free throw go through the same sequence of catching the ball from the ref, getting her feet set, taking a breath and letting her body relax, before looking at the rim and letting it fly? That’s a routine.
Have you ever had a teammate who ate the same things gameday morning, listened to the same playlist on the bus, and always took a moment to himself for some motivational self-talk before the team huddle? That’s a routine.
A routine is a set of actions you do systematically to prepare for competition, training, or a specific task in your sport.
Routines help you consistently prepare to be physically and mentally ready to compete. An effective routine should include specific strategies for how you want to prepare both physically and mentally. It should be used consistently. Most importantly, it should be tailored to your individual needs.
Creating Your Routine
Deciding what to include in your routine starts with recognizing the purpose of it. Answer these questions to uncover your purpose:
I want to use my routine to prepare me for…
In order to be best prepared for that, I want to…
Answering those simple questions will set you up to create a routine that’s effective for you.
With any routine, pay attention to timing. If your routine will help you prepare for a game, think about when you want to start it. Some athletes start the night before, others start when they arrive at the stadium.
If you’re using a routine to prepare to take a penalty shot (taking a deep breath and focusing on your target), you’ll start it only moments before you execute the task.
Write it down! This increases personal accountability and gives you a resource to refer to.
Be thorough and specific. Develop your strategies with the task (a game, a practice, or a specific skill) in mind.
Mental strategies that will help you feel confident, motivated and focused
Physical strategies that will help you feel loose and ready
Nutrition and hydration plans to ensure that you feel energized
Prepare to Adapt
As you develop your routine, you might find that there are aspects of it that work better for you than others. Don’t be afraid to adapt as you finalize your routine. Your goal is to find what works for you, trust it, and stick with it.
Stay tuned for more information about routines, including examples for pre-game and pre-training routines!