This article will run from how to develop a pre performance routine, via four questions, which will help you to develop your own routine.

What is a pre performance routine?

A pre performance routine is defined as ‘sequence of task relevant thoughts and actions which an athletes engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill’ (Moran 1996, p177). As this definition highlights there are three components to a pre performance routine: cognitions (thoughts), behaviours (actions) and task specific / systematic.

This is employed prior to a skill, often used in closed self-paced skills (Singer, 2000; Cohn, 1990; Cotterill, 2010) i.e. gymnastic performance, basketball free throw shooting or golf putting.  A closed skill is one performed in a stable and predicable environment with a clear defined beginning and end (Schmidt, 1991). Self-paced skills are skills, which the athlete decides whens to execute the skill (Singer, 2000).

However research is developing and is starting to reveal pre performance routines are beginning used in more open skills, such as Rugby Union goal kicking (Jackson & Baker, 2001; Cotterill, 2011).

How does this apply to me?

As an athlete you will know if you use a routine or not. However some of these ‘routines’ may in fact be a superstition. A superstition is similar to a routine however it is a fixed and ridge set of behaviours, which are not relevant to the task in hand (Lahey, 1992; Moran, 2004).

Therefore right down a list of the task requirements and desired outcomes. The write down your current routine and compare the two. Does you routine enable you to achieve the desired outcomes and task requirements?  If yes great if not, then you may need to change/develop your routine.

What is the purpose of a pre performance routine?

The purpose of a pre performance routine is to provide you with:

  • ·      The optimal mind-set to achieve the desire outcome
  • ·      Assist the neuromuscular pathways
  • ·      Assist in schema development or maintenance

(Adams, 1967; Schmidt, 1977; Cohn, 1990; Singer, 2000; Jackson & Baker, 2001; Cotterill et al, 2010; Cotterill, 2011)

Optimally a pre performance routine is a tool to enable you to achieve your best on a consistent basis.

You mentioned behaviours, but what behaviours should I be using?

The behavioural component needs to be task specific, this way you’ll stimulate the neuromuscular pathways to the skill.

For example, practice putts in a pre performance routine used by golfers.

Further to this research has shown that players who use a consistent set of behaviours are more successful (Lonsdale & Tam, 2008; Gayton, 1992; Jackson & Baker, 2011; Mack, 2001).

Avoid deviating from your behaviours, when an athlete deviates from their routine they are less accurate. If you notice that you have missed a behaviour, added a behaviour or in the wrong order. STOP! And start again.

You also mentioned cognitions, so what should I be thinking?

The cognitions are an area where the quantitative research is inconclusive, yet the two qualitative studies (Jackson & Baker, 2001; Cotterill et al, 2010) have provided support fort the Set Hypothesis by Adams (1961). The Set Hypothesis still provides a logical underpinning for cognitions within pre performance routine.

Set Hypothesis (Adams, 1961) states that an athlete’s psychological state (set) will change between skills. Therefore the athlete needs to adjust their mind-set prior to executing the next skill. The athlete needs to optimise his or her mind-set, every time and is different for each athlete, therefore work out what works for you.

However, there are two factors that play a role in the mind-set of the athlete and therefore the cognitions used (Cotterill, 2011):

  • ·      Situational Demands
  • ·      Desired Outcome

The situational demands change all the time therefore you may look to change your mind-set accordingly. This has an impact on the desired outcome, which will change during the match.

For example you may need to consolidate after the opposition are on top, or you may need to be more aggressive. Both of these require different mind-sets to achieve the desired outcome.


To conclude the following tips will enable you to establish and develop a routine:

  • Your routine will take time to establish itself
  • Your routine will develop, as you get better as an athlete
  • Your routine is individual to you; it’s what works for you!
  • Consistency in behaviour is key
  • Keep the routine task specific
  • Avoid deviating from your routine, if this happens, STOP and start again.