Currently there is a big emphasis in athletics that in order to be successful, athletes need some type of routine in order to maximize their performance. In Track & Field, it’s about doing something right before the gun goes off that helps you relax, in hitting a quality routine usually involves some type of motion made before stepping in the batter’s box while in baseball or softball, and in golf, there are a dozen different ways you see players visualize, breath, then go into their stroke.

My personal belief is that the way routines are currently taught, although helpful, does not consistently provide the opportunity for an athlete to be aware of their emotions in the moment, help create confidence, and remind athletes of what they need to do before the performance itself. Rather than be committed to a routine that is focused around the end result, one should have a system in place that makes not only puts them in the ideal mental and physical space to perform at their maximum, but also allows them to make corrections, and build confidence.

Here are Five Steps to an effective routine:

A Good Routine Improves Awareness

We have spoken at length over the last few weeks about the importance of having competing with a heightened level of self-awareness. This not only means being aware of how you feel physically, buy being aware of your emotions, along with the environment that you competing in. An effective routine is one that first examines your emotions and actions to ‘check’ if you are focusing on the right things. Many a time, athletes get into a rhythm of focusing on the physical movement of the routine more than focusing on what the routine is meant to do – heighten your awareness and confidence before you go into your motion.

A suggestion for implementation would be that the before you start anything, give yourself and emotional and physical ‘check.’ How are you reacting to this moment? Is the silence of the course, the noise of the crowd, or the pressure of the moment itself effecting you in a way that is making you tense or to relaxed? Think of this like a STOP sign. Before you go on to the next part of your drive, look both ways and make sure everything is good to go. Then, you can focus on your breathing.

A Good Routine Helps You Re-Focus

One’s ability to focus is really based on their ability to re-focus. Baseball and Softball are great examples of this. In these sports, if you fail 70% of the time, you will have a very successful career. It may be the only sports in the world in which failing at this high a rate is considered a positive attribute. And due to this high failure rate, the ability to re-focus is key. And that it why it needs to play a vital role in your routine.

In any good routine, especially one that is used after streaks of failure, your ability to focus on the task right in front of you, rather than feel sorry for yourself about past results, could be the difference between success and failure. Having the ability to re-focus in essence means that what happened in the past happened in the past, and the only thing that matters is the event that you are involved with. And this is why it is even more important to have an awareness of your emotions like we just spoke about. Someone who is aware of his or her emotions will be know if they are sulking in their failures from past experiences, or ready to focus on the task at hand. This skill is a one that if utilized correctly, can be invaluable to an athlete, especially one that is making a jump to the next level.  

A Good Routine Utilizes Breathing Effectively

Much has been written about the importance of breathing in a routine, and how it is vital to helping your body and mind to relax. However, there are two parts of a routine that one should be focusing on: First, once you have made yourself aware of how you are reacting physically to the moment, you should examine if there are any parts of tension in your body. Are your shoulders tight? Do you feel an overall sense of anxiety? If this is true, then while you are going through your breathing routine, you should turn your focus on these particular areas and utilize your breathing to help these areas become more relaxed. Second, your breathing should not be short or forceful., but rather involve the following steps: 

1)  Your inhalation should be through your nose, which will automatically allow your nervous system to slow your heart rate down. This will help you focus and reduce your anxiety significantly. 

2)      As you breathe through your nose, you should be filling your stomach with air, allowing your diaphragm to expand and in turn, increasing the amount that your rib cage opens, hence allowing more air into your lungs

3)      Your exhalation should be through your mouth in a steady rhythm. You should never force air out with a heavy ‘push.’ The exhalation should be controlled and steady, allowing your body to relax

After this section of the routine, you should be ready to move into the next step, which is created to increase your confidence using visualization and positive s

A Good Routine Uses Visualization

There is nothing wrong with visualizing a perfect swing, stroke, or start. In fact, it plays a very important role in boosting confidence and acting as a reminder for what you need to do to have a quality performance. Creating a mental image in your head of a great swing or a great start allows you to focus on the moment, reminds you of the mechanics that you will need to have in your performance, and will boost your confidence by reminding you that you have done this motion hundreds, if not thousands of times in training. This image can run through your head while you are doing your deep breath, or as you are using positive self-talk, which is the next step in creating a good routine.

A Good Routine uses Positive Self-Talk to Increase Your Confidence

Once you have put your body and mind in a more aware and relaxed state, you can then start to build your confidence. Which is much simpler than people realize – because it just involves talking to yourself. The best person to boost your confidence is not your coach or your teammates, it is you, by communicating with yourself in a positive and effective way. This could be using by using ‘lots of yes’ in the batter’s box, to letting yourself ‘you got this’ as you walk up to the tee. This again, is very simple, but the importance of this could not be more helpful.

Again, I want to emphasize that having a routine is very important to every sport. However, unless you are aware of your emotions and actions, can re-focus, breathe effectively, visualize your performance, and communicate with confidence, then what you do in your routine makes no difference in your performance. Doing this with a purpose will not only help improve your game in that particular moment, but have a domino effect that will give your overall performance and confidence the added boost that it needs to get to the next level.

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