Is there a 'performance' mode we can switch on in our brain just before a sport competition? Yes, it is possible to create a status in which you will be ready and 100% focused on an objective. This is known as performance routine.
Lap of the pitch, right shoe than left, special socks, specific music, repeating certain words: do you do one of these before a competition? Weird, isn't it? Well, to tell you the truth, so do we. Many of us do something similar before a competition. We discussed performance routine and especially its impact on the brain with Karine Weber, a psychologist.
Performance routine is a set of mental strategies (brain and mind) and behaviours (action, doing and acting) which enable an athlete to boost performance. It can be divided into three parts: physical, technical and mental. It can be used before, during and after a competition.
At times bordering on superstition, some athletes believe that if they do not follow this routine (or fail to do it properly), they won't be able to win. So, what is a performance routine? What happens in our brain during this routine and why? We analysed it with Karine Weber.
Performance routine is useful in all sectors of life (a work interview, in school before an oral exam, etc.) and especially in sport. Why in sport in particular? Because it can meet a specific objective: to put you into an optimal state for performance (physical, mental and technical). In simple terms, it means that you are more ready than ever to perform, in both body and mind.
If we had to create an image to reflect this performance routine, it would be a bubble. Yes, a bubble. Not the bubbles a fish makes, but the bubble within which nothing can get to you: you are focused and you know what you need to do to reach your goal.
Performance routine will enable you to optimise your performance. We focused on the mental aspect with our expert: “it is an entirely separate training element, which many people overlook, but which plays a crucial role." Crucial since, in a match or competition, most of the time, we think and analyse. It is therefore essential to master your emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
Routine, how does that help the brain?
By repeating certain actions at precise moments before the event, you can create a feeling of déjà-vu, of control. This form of automation helps us focus and be more efficient: “an athlete who has developed a routine and certain rituals will not hesitate on match point or when taking a match-winning penalty,” explains Karine Weber. A 'sport mastermind' can achieve an optimal level of performance with the least cognitive effort. He or she develops more fluid and automatic responses, is more effective and above all has a better control over emotions, thoughts and behaviour by tuning out interference.”
We have to admit: there is no 'oven-ready' perfect routine. You will need to find out whether it is effective or not by creating your own mental, technical and physical routine. You will thus be able to reach your sports goals.
Just take some of the world's greatest champions; each has a personal mental performance routine. Look at Nadal and his perfectly aligned bottles, Maria Sharapova before serving, Lebron James and his talc, the ice hockey star Karl Alzner and his 88 taps with his stick on the ice... We agree, it can seem totally bizarre. And yet, it's normal, since it is their personal routine.
Not sure how to introduce your performance routine? Don't worry. We athletes have got each other's backs. Here is an example of a mental performance routine, which you can adapt to your preferences, character and specific sport.
Mental imagery allows us to represent an action or gesture in our brain and fix it there. “Neuroscience has taught us that the mental visualisation of an action takes place in the same area of the brain as the physical execution of that same action, the expert explains. When I score a penalty in my mind or on the pitch, it is the same area of my brain that I use.” Mental imagery can put you one step ahead, to a certain extent.
To fix a positive image in your brain, close your eyes (giving you a degree of isolation and connection to all your senses) and imagine your series of actions. You can also take the time to imagine a great play or movement during a real match. This will be useful in the future for mental visualisation. “Training yourself to visualise a successful action or movement is just as important as executing it physically. Through mental visualisation, we can increase our potential to succeed ”, according to Karine Weber. You know what you have to do now.
Internal dialogue: those phrases which reassure you, strike a chord within you and help you raise the bar. Do you know what we mean? They are personal to each one of us. To discover your own, just ask yourself the question: when I am performing effectively, what do I feel, what do I see and what do I associate this with? What do I tell myself in my head? How does the champion inside me speak to me?
A little tip from our psychologist is to keep a notebook to record everything that stimulates us, inspires us and gets us going and test it out during your routine. “It might be a movie, a book, a piece of music or a TV programme...”.
Our expert adds that: “The brain does not understand negation. If you tell it “don't miss this serve” during a tennis match, your brain will focus its attention on “missing the serve””. So, try to use positive turns of phrase such as “I am going to get this serve in”. A little change of phrasing can make a big difference.
Breathing and heart rate are also vital. The more you control their rhythm and variability, the more effectively you can control your brain and analyse your performance. “Cardiac coherence exercises are really useful for working on these two points”, she adds.
Preparing your match plan. It's just like a maths test! If you don't revise, then your preparation might be poor. Firstly, you can reflect on your strategy, adapt it to your opponent, analyse your previous performances and review your strengths and weaknesses. This pre-competition analysis will enable you to save time and remain clear-headed during your match.
Preparing and adapting your nutrition: as you must be well aware, nutrition and performance are closely linked. Before a competition, you can tailor it to your needs: more carbs, moderate protein intake and cutting out fat for optimal performance.
To find out more and create the perfect plate, read our article what should I eat before a session of sport?
Preparing your equipment, self-hypnosis and meditation are other elements that you can add to your mental performance routine. Give them a try and see which suits you best. Be aware that you cannot establish a performance routine in 3 days: “it is a radical change in behaviour and thought which needs to become automatic. You need to train yourself, test it out and repeat it to find the right formula”, concludes Karine Weber. And while working on the mental aspect, don't forget to work on your range of techniques and physical fitness.
Huge thanks to our expert psychologist, Karine Weber, for all her advice and expertise in this field. We hope you will find it useful!
You now have everything you need to establish your mental performance routine and shine in competition. You just need to test it all now, in real life.
Before each competition, each match, think of us and this routine that you will introduce to boost your performance. By the way, are you left sock or right sock first? Relaxing or loud music? It's all just a question of performance routine…