We all look for an edge – the edge. You know, the one that will get us that cherished victory, a new personal record time or distance. We will even create that edge when it doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong. I want athletes to think in ways of tilting the playing field to their favor. However, the key is to do it in a manner in which:
- It fosters consistency in performance.
- It is something that you control (or predominantly control).
- There is a tangible, objective relationship to performance.
This is where we need to differentiate between pre-performance (aka pre-race) routines and superstitions something I need to clarify with many of my athletes (especially youth).
A superstition is a belief, half-belief or practice for which there appears to be no rational substance. In the July/August DesertLeaf Dr. James Griffith (Tucson folklorist) states that a superstition a psychological attempt to control what you can’t, but to tip the playing field to your side. It is trying to control what we can’t possibly control. I will add that superstitions are also fixed, rigid and unrelated to your activity/sport.
Special (read: lucky) headbands, socks, colors, numbers, shoes; running 2.5 laps counter-clockwise followed by 2.5 laps clockwise before a race; other special practices or rituals like a secret handshake with team members or lining up in a certain order are all examples of superstitions.
Contrast that with a pre-performance routine which includes a specific sequence of thoughts and actions – directly related to the task at hand – performed leading up to competitive performance. These are highly individual yet are established with similar themes. Among those are:
Physical warm-ups such as skipping drills, range of motion drills, 4 hard 100m strides, visualizing race tactics, reinforcing positive self-talk, affirmations, identifying key competitors, reviewing split time goals and predetermined race cues, even double-knotting your shoes so they don’t come untied.
Note how superstitions do not fulfill the three-point requirement but a pre-performance routine does.
Here’s how to get your edge next time you compete.
- Develop a pre-race routine that includes both physical and mental preparation. Most age group and youth athletes only have a physical warm-up routine.
- Do not copy someone else’s routine. What works for one person may or may not work for another.
- Practice and perfect it during training. It doesn’t wait until race day to try it out.
- Create effective and viable alternatives if you are not able to complete your usual routine. This is especially true if you are traveling to races and you have less control over your routine – like standing in corrals with 1000 other runners.
- You must be consistent! If you are constantly changing your routine – it is not a routine. It requires discipline. [This does not contradict #4. When you create Routine A and alternative Routine B, those stay the same and are practiced exactly as created. An example is having a short and long version for a track meet because event schedules can change.]
- Evaluate the effectiveness and tweak it if necessary.
Athletes who hone their pre-performance routines increase their chances to perform to the level that they have trained. That is the edge. And you don’t have to worry if you left your lucky headband in the dirty wash.