Pre-performance routines are helpful for maintaining concentration and blocking out distractions, especially when an athlete is under pressure. Experienced players usually have behavioural routines but lack effective cognitive routines.
Dr. Stewart Cotterill, a sport psychologist from the University of Winchester, introduced a 5 step approach for coaches/sport psychology consultants to develop pre-performance routines with their athletes:
Recording performance enables coaches and players to get a better understanding of existing pre-performance routines in terms of their characteristics and consistency.
Clarifying behaviour meaning
Coaches use video footage to make players aware of their existing routines. Players are asked to elucidate their thoughts while watching videos of themselves perform various aspects of their routine. For instance, after watching several videos of herself during league matches, a player might realise she jumps up and down before every kick.
Developing a focus and function for each behavioural component
At this stage the coach/consultant might take the player down to the field and ask her to perform a few kicks and describe the function of each of her actions e.g., jumping up and down to release nervous energy. She might also be asked to talk about any other cognitive strategies she uses that are not observable e.g., self-talk, mental imagery.
Routine construction and agreement
Coaches/ consultants and their players need to discuss the primary purpose of the cognitive routine. If a player tends to get distracted before a kick, the coach could ask her to repeat a cue word before every kick like ‘focus’, whereas if she lacks motivation the coach might give her a cue word like ‘c’mon! just kick it!’.
If a player has no existing routine, the consultant might give him a routine which involves the following steps: readying (physical or mental preparation e.g., deep breath), imaging (mental imagery of the desired kick), focusing (looking at the sweet spot), executing (kicking without thinking about how) and evaluating (what can be improved), as appropriate.
Practice makes perfect. For instance, incorporating a cue word into the routine during practice sessions will ensure it becomes a habit. The more sessions spent performing the routine the better. It might also help if players, at first, say their cue word out loud. However, this might not work for everyone.
As you can see, the 5 step approach emphasizes the importance of tailoring routines to meet a player’s needs. Cognitive routines to calm a player down might be effective for a highly anxious player but would be useless for a player who thrives when she is aggressive. An aggressive player might prefer a cue word like ‘destroy!’ instead of ‘relax’.
To sum up, when formulating a routine it is crucial to understand the mental makeup of the individual and the reason they require a routine.
Dr Neha Malhotra is a researcher whose focus is on motor skill acquisition in sporting, medical and other professional (e.g., driving) contexts.
She is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.
You can follow her @Nayhamal on twitter.
this is from a series of articles Neha Malhotra is writing for Asia Rugby
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