Routines towards top performance

The sport psychology supports the idea that doing specific routines provides many benefits. The aim of this article is about how these so-called [daily] habits positively affect the individual´s performance. Furthermore, it highlights different aspects that should be considered during the process of a routine development. Few examples of how some of the top athletes fire themselves up are given below followed by my own routine insight.

I don´t want to make this whole thing too academic but to have a clear understanding of what a term ´routine´ means, I´ve set up a definition based on my experience:

“A repeated pattern of activities that an athlete goes through in order to be ready mentally and physically to perform at the best.”


Following different routines throughout the day offers valuable advantages:

- Complete preparation: physically, tactically, technically and mentally ready
- Boost of confidence
- The feeling of being in a comfort zone
- Control over yourself - ideal balance between mind and body
- Consistency and stability

Be careful! People are different which means that routines can´t be copied completely from anybody else. Every athlete is born with own personality and mentality. Every athlete has individual needs, preferences and certain strengths and weaknesses which should all be taken into a consideration when developing particular routines. My point here is that firstly, everybody has to find out what methods are the most effective and secondly based on that knowledge, own sets of routines can be developed. It is a learning process, something called “trial-and-error”, that requires time and self-proof.
Different things fit different people and the same things fit people differently.”

Novak Djokovic
“Focus on the nutrients”
He designed a very specific healthy breakfast routine that fits his own body consisting of a room temperature cup of water, two tablespoons of honey, oatmeal with nuts, seeds, fruit, coconut oil and non-diary milk or coconut water.
Carli Lloyd (soccer player from USA)
“Visualize goals”
Prior each match, she spends some time on visualizing exactly what she wants to happen in that game.
Usain Bolt
“Number one priority is sleep, followed by training and lots of veggies”
The fastest human in the world repairs his body with a good sleep.

Athletes usually face two different periods: training and competition. Both are very important as they aim towards the achievement of specific goals. In this case, once recognized what exactly are those small things that work the best, carrying out own routines before, during and/or after the training session or tournament will have a substantial influence on the overall performance.

Routines vs rituals:

The main goal of a routine is to provide a complete preparation and to get the athlete ready before the game or practice. It has a practical impact, for example doing the same pattern of stretching or eating a banana after the match. In contrast, a ritual consists of things with no practical impact, such as wearing the lucky t-shirt or sitting on the right side in the shuttle bus on the way to the hall. It is a “mental game” where athletes believe that rituals must be done, or else they´ll lose. The key point is: “you control routines, rituals control you.”


Know exactly why and what you are doing:

It´s not enough to think that, “okay, now I´ll do my routine and then I´ll perform well”. No, this is wrong. It´s important to know why you are doing each little thing included in the routine.


Routines are not supposed to be stressful, put you under the pressure or make you feel tired. They are not supposed to be perceived in a way like “oh no, I have to do the dynamic stretching and use my foam roller again, and I forgot my rubber band, so I have to skip that part …”. Even though it is about repeating the same things over and over again, day by day, match by match, tournament by tournament, but enjoying our routines will definitely bring better final results.

Serena Williams
“I have too many superstitious rituals and it´s annoying. It´s like I have to do it and if I don´t then I´ll lose.”
Her superstitions are important for her mental state. It is even rumored that she wears unwashed socks if she´s enjoying a series of wins.
Rafa Nadal
“Pre-match prep”
He takes a freezing cold shower before every match to get activated. He feels his power and resilience grow and he gets to a state of alert concentration.
Andy Murray
He eats a banana before every match to maintain the potassium levels even though he doesn´t like them.
Simone Biles (gymnastics, USA)
“Don’t be all serious all the time”
When giggling/laughing lightly comes naturally to her she performs better. Taking a break, walking around the park or reading a book give mind some rest from the hard thinking.

Some routines might seem pretty rare but as long as they help us to be the best version of ourselves, it does not matter!

Michael Phelps – Every night he falls asleep in a special altitude chamber to get a high-quality sleep and his own pre-race routine includes swinging his arms around three times while listening to Michael Jackson.

What about my routines? I´ll share with you my two basic routines that I have recently developed over the last year:

"The ideal breakfast"

"No matter whether it is the training or competition period, white low-fat yoghurt or skyr mixed with mashed banana and plain oats fit me the best. I like to add some toppings such as coconut, cinnamon, nuts or dried cranberries. I know that if I didn´t have my favorite morning meal then I would feel that something is missing and my comfort zone would be disturbed."

"Proper warm-up"

"It is a very important element that must be done before each match and before each on- and off-court session. It consists of different parts, such as dynamic stretching, flexibility/mobility exercises, foam rolling, rubber band exercises for shoulders, footwork, various jumps, etc. I have my own pattern and specific order that I use depending on whether it is the first warm-up of the day, or pre-match warm-up at the tournament, or warm-up before a gym session, etc. Besides being physically ready to work hard, my warm-up routines give me confidence too."    

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