The Power of Routines

Written by VersusThu Aug 18 2022
The Power of Routines

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How routines can improve sports performance and 5 tips to develop your own.

Pre-performance routines (PPRs) often combine with goal setting as one of the most agreed upon strategies to improve overall sports performance.

Many top athletes have been using them for years and years.

On the other side, experienced coaches know how to use routines to help athletes with pressure and pre-game anxiety.

Even sports psychology—known for its often vague and non-committal recommendations—decisively states that “PPRs are effective in optimizing sports performance.”

This is clearly a topic every athlete and coach should know.

To learn more about routines, including how athletes can develop their own, Versus sat down for an exclusive video interview with softball superstar and aspiring coach, Amanda Lorenz.

For those who don’t know much about Lorenz’s background, here’s a brief rundown.

On Track to Become One of the Greats

With an already impressive track record behind her, Amanda Lorenz is bound to be named one of the softball greats.

Lorenz made a big impact on an already impressive Florida Gators lineup in her freshman year of 2016. She ended that season leading the team in batting average, doubles, and walks—then was named NFCA and SEC Freshman of the Year.

Lorenz continued to excel throughout her college softball career, racking up some seriously impressive achievements, including:

  • Four-time NFCA All-American, plus top 4 finalist for the Honda Award and USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year
  • NCAA active career leader in walks and games played, plus ranked inside top 5 for runs, doubles, and total bases
  • Reached base safely in 254 out of 265 career games, including an unbroken 67 game streak in 2018

Not surprisingly, Lorenz was the number two overall pick in the National Pro Fastpitch Draft, beginning her professional career with the USSSA Pride in 2019.

A member of Team USA, Lorenz is now well on the way to her dream job of becoming a college softball coach. In 2020, she was named as the Gator’s Volunteer Assistant Coach, back under the expert guidance of her previous coach and mentor, Tim Walton.

Lorenz’s unique mix of skills and experience makes her the perfect person to teach about routines.

The best way to hear everything she has to say on this topic is to sign up to Versus on the website or app. You’ll get access to our exclusive video interview with Lorenz, as well as lots more from her and other elite athletes.

We don’t want anyone to miss out, though, so we’ve outlined the main pieces of advice from the video below.

A quick note before we begin: There is some solid scientific evidence behind routines and sports performance. When we mention ‘evidence’ in this article, we’re mainly referring to this article from 2021, which analyzed all of the high-quality studies on PPRs in sports up to that time. We use this information to highlight the fact that Lorenz’s advice isn’t just something you should take note of because she’s an accomplished professional athlete—it’s grounded in some of the most definitive scientific evidence sports psychology has to offer.  

What Exactly is a Pre-Performance Routine?

Researchers define a pre-performance routine (PPR) as, “a set of task-relevant thoughts and actions an athlete systematically engages in prior to performance execution”.

That might make sense to some people, but we like Amanda Lorenz’s explanation from the video better:  

“Growing up I’ve always done the same routine. I put my left foot in the box the same exact way, I take my bat, stretch behind, crack my ankles, crack my hips, try and get loose. I’ve always done that my whole life. It’s always made me calm, made me breathe and that's what I’ve stuck with my whole career. I feel like my heart rate slows the most when I do those things in order.”

Most athletes will have some type of PPR that often started as an unconscious set of habits right before a specific action.

Classic examples are:

  • Basketball - Specific foot placement, then spinning and dribbling the ball in a set way before a free-throw
  • Softball/Baseball - Adjusting gloves then tapping the bat in certain places when stepping up to the plate
  • Golf - Complex routines of walking back, forward, and around the tee with specific eye placement before taking a shot
  • Hockey - A particular series or style of stick taps before a penalty shot

As both Lorenz and the researchers mention, there are thoughts and emotions intertwined with the actions of PPRs—which seems to explain why they are so effective.

How Do PPRs Improve Performance?

Lorenz is crystal clear on how she feels her PPR improves performance—stating simply, “It calms me down.”

She details how she used to get super tight and stressed out early on in her career, until a coach gave her some tips on breathing before she got into the batter's box.

Lorenz explains that this is where her specific routine of stretching and breathing in between every pitch began, and it’s been with her ever since. “No matter whether it’s a big moment or a small moment—it’s what helps me stay centered,” she states.

In all sports—particularly those involving high-pressure performance situations like softball and baseball—staying calm is how players have the focus to perform in game-winning situations, like stepping up to pitch or hit.

We’ve had similar conversations with MLB veterans Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols, who along with Lorenz, believe it’s the little things combined that make a big difference. All three athletes strictly follow a small set of habits and routines to enhance focus and improve performance.

Findings from the research line up with these athlete’s explanations, with pre-performance routines showing benefits in the following areas:

  • Enhanced concentration
  • Reduced anxiety
  • More focused attention
  • Minimize distractions
  • Improve self-efficacy
  • Greater ability to follow a plan

For those wondering about game-day rituals, Lorenz covers this in the video as well.

What About Pre-Game Routines?

While pre-game routines don’t quite have the evidence behind them that PPRs do, we don’t think that should stop you from developing some for yourself.

The principle is exactly the same as PPRs: By going through a regular set of actions before a match, athletes can cultivate a mindset that will improve performance.

Pre-game routines vary greatly between athletes. Some will start the night before and continue right up to gametime. Some only include sports specific warm-ups and practice on the day. While others include personal activities that would only make sense for that particular athlete— like having a specific meal or a lucky article of clothing.

Much like PPRs—pre-game routines are habits athletes often build up over time intuitively—through figuring out exactly what does and doesn’t work to get into an ideal mind state.

For Lorenz, her pre-game routine involves spending a lot of time hitting off the tee, which she calls “me time.”

“I love the tee,” she states. “I think it sets my swing for the day and I find my confidence right away. I know I’m the best when I start my day off the tee—so it’s become part of my routine every single practice day and game day.”

Lorenz has a very specific routine she uses off the tee. She starts with her strengths, then moves on to her weakness, and then returns back to her strengths. She goes into more detail about this in the video.

Albert Pujols also has a specific pre-game routine described in his video—Preparation and Focus—including a particular regime of watching film of his opponents on game day.

To wrap up, let's go through some tips for finding your own routines.

How to Build Your Own Routines

There are no hard and fast rules for developing routines, but following these guidelines will set you up for good results.

We’ll start with Amanda Lorenz’s three top tips, then finish with two of our own.

  1. A Routine Needs to Be Consistent to Be Effective

Routines only work if you can do them consistently, so choose something you can do every time, no matter what.

If your PPR involves anything to do with a specific piece of equipment—such as a bat, ball, or gloves—make sure it’s possible with all makes and models (ie. not focused on a specific grip on a bat or tag on gloves that you might not have every game).

  1. Your Routine Should Calm You Down

Lorenz stresses the importance of a routine that calms you down so you can focus on the task at hand.

It's okay to be amped up and full of drive on game day, but if you are unfocused or full of anxiety you won’t be able to direct your energy or attention. Many athletes find including breathing techniques and self-talk into their routines useful to promote calm and focus. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for you.

  1. Confidence Is Key

Confidence is something that came up the whole way through our discussion with Lorenz. She claims that all athletes at the highest level have routines, largely because they improve confidence.

In Lorenz’s words, “We all have routines for a specific reason: it’s the fact that we know what makes us us—what makes us confident going up to the plate. We know what we need in order to be successful on any given day.” If your PPR helps you feel confident, you're on the right track—if not, it's time for a change.

  1. Pay Attention

Most of us already have specific things we do on game day and before certain actions in a game—use these to start developing your routine.

Next time you compete, pay attention to what you do at important moments throughout the game. In particular, notice whether they have a positive or negative effect on your mind state and performance. Keep the positive ones and build them into a PPR that you can use intentionally.

As with most things in sport, practice makes perfect here.  

  1. Try New Things

Something surprising from the research, was that pre-performance routines were just as effective whether they were something the athlete came up with independently, or an idea from someone else.

If you’re stuck for ideas, try implementing some new techniques. Left-hand dynamic handgrip and ‘quiet eye’ both have a lot of evidence supporting them. Many coaches and athletes also find slow, deep breathing a useful addition to PPRs.

If you found this article useful you’re going to love the rest of the content on Versus.

We’ve got a ton of exclusive video interviews with elite athletes like Amanda Lorenz, Adam Wainwright, and Albert Pujols—covering everything from building routines, to setting goals, and overcoming adversity.

We even interview world-class coaches like Tim Walton and Jennie Finch, who pass on their words of wisdom to athletes, fellow coaches, and parents.

To get access to the entire library of videos, articles, and more, head over to the Versus website or download the app to sign up.

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