Do you remember Adam Małysz, who always checked all the fasteners as he sat on the bar? Or Cristiano Ronaldo and the couple of steps he always takes before certain parts of the game? Do you know the real purpose of this behaviour?

PRE-START ROUTINE

The repetition of a fixed sequence of gestures just before the start of a game or of certain part of it (such as a serve in tennis or volleyball, or penalty kicks in football) is called the pre-start routine.
  

Pre-start routine usually lasts from 5 to 25 seconds and most athletes have developed such a routine to a high degree – sometimes even without being aware of it. Do not confuse the pre-start routine in the narrow sense with the preparations for a competition, which can even take a whole day before the event.

HOW DOES THE ROUTINE WORK?

What is the real purpose of the routine? These movements are often unrelated to the task at hand, and are merely a habit. Perhaps this is a kind of superstition that one should resist?

Routines have several effects. First of all, the idea is to introduce a fixed element, the same regardless of the changing conditions – the venue where the competition takes place, the time, etc.

You benefit in many ways by reducing stress – both in terms of emotions (for example, by calming down and boosting your self-confidence) and thinking (better concentration).

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROUTINE AND SUPERSTITION

Sometimes a routine can turn into superstition, but this is not the proper way to use this technique. What's more – it can lead to addiction to the routine. Forgetting to perform it may elevate the level of stress and occasionally may even block the performance of the task. However, if you use such a routine deliberately, it can produce very good results, as described above.
  

HOW CAN I USE IT?

So, what use is this? Can these techniques be useful to someone who is not a professional athlete and does not take part in professional competitions?

They certainly can! You can take advantage of them to get ready for any difficult or stressful situation. College exams are a great example – by following the same routine when you are about to take an exam, you get used to this situation and reduce unnecessary stress due to the circumstances.

Joanna Kotek

Sports psychologist, works both with individual athletes and with teams, their coaches and parents (more at: www.joannakotek.pl). PhD student at the Institute of Applied Psychology at the Jagiellonian University, editor of Magazyn Psychologiczny Bang!

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