Pre Shot Routines And All That …

Pre Shot Routines might be the most common of the short routines used before closed sporting skills, but they’re not the only type of short routine.

A Good Pre Shot Routine can be half the battle with improving the mental side of target based sports.

One of the intentional exclusions from our self-guided Mental Toughness Training courses is any advice related to Pre Shot Routines.

The main reason for this that the Metuf program was created for all athletes and non-sporting performers and short routines – at least the way we do them – only apply to certain sports. In fact, they only apply to certain players or positions within some of these sports.

The work that my colleagues and I do at Condor Performance in this area is the most sports specific of anything we do. In fact, it’s so ‘sporty’ that some suggest it’s more technical than psychological and might be better left to a coach instead of a performance psychologist. But they would be wrong.

Although Pre Shot Routines are the most common of the short routines that we help our sporting clients with – due to this being the preferred name used by many of the target based sports such as golf and shooting – it’s not the only type.

Any closed motor skill that is required frequently during a sporting context could and should have a routine used beforehand. A closed motor skill is a skill which is typically ‘performed in a stationary environment, where the performer chooses when to start the skill’.

The basic premise is always the same.

Due to the skill being closed – and therefore far more predictable than open skills – the athletes will always have at least a few seconds before attempting the action. Left in the lap of the Gods these few seconds (or few minutes) can often become fertile grounds for “overthinking” which tends to lead to underperforming in high-pressure situations.

In our experience having delivered over 3000 months worth of tailored sport psychology services since 20o5, it is not usual for athletes of target based sports to think of the moment before one of these closed motor skills as a special opportunity.

But that’s exactly what they are.

With the construction or improvement of any Pre Shot Routine there is one main rule – only include easily repeatable actions. In other words, the only premeditated aspects of the routines are body movements of some kind. Thoughts and feelings are simply left to occur naturally at the time and should not be included in the official routine steps.

Why Is This?

Intended actions are far more reliable than thoughts and feelings. In fact, they are so reliable that we can – with a little practice – call them controllable or guaranteeable. Thoughts and feelings – on the other hand – regardless of how much we try and want them to – will never be controllable. At best, thoughts and feelings are influenceable at certain times.

We can never guarantee being able to think a certain way in certain situations and trying to is fraught with danger from a psychological point of view.

I will explain what I mean via a few examples. I apologise if your sport is not included in these, I have simply included a few of the more common target based sports that really lend themselves to this kind of mental method.

The Classic ‘Pre Shot Routine’

Applicable Sports; Golf, Shooting, Archery, Lawn Bowls, Table Sports such as Pool and Snooker, Darts and Ice Hockey

Your first decision here is ‘is one Pre Shot Routine enough or do I need several?’ For most of the sports listed above – one is normally enough. But having just one Pre Shot Routine across all golf shots can feel odd given the difference between putting and driving – for example.

The start of the Pre Shot Routine benefits from ‘a trigger action’ that helps us remember to switch on at that moment. For golf this can be something to do with your glove or maybe an action related to your club.

After this initial action then I would suggest adding around three to five other action steps that naturally leads up to the shot. Any more than five and you really are running the risk of over complicating it.

For a clay target shooter this might then turn out as follows:

  • Load gun
  • Looking up
  • Big breath 
  • Shout pull 

Of course, this is a very interesting sport whereby the shouting of the word “pull” is actually a requirement yet it can be included in the Pre Shot Routine. The third action is not the cue words “big breath” rather the action of taking a larger than normal breath at that moment.

Pre Point Routines, Pre Serve Routines, Pre Receive Routines

Applicable Sports; Squash, Tennis, Volleyball, Badminton, Table Tennis any other racquet sports
Rafa’s Pre Point Routines are amongst the many aspects of his tennis that make him so very hard to beat

Of course, we have all seen Rafa going through his pre-point rituals and to the untrained eye, it might seem more like a set of ticks. In fact, Rafa’s Pre Point Routines are amongst the many aspects of his tennis that make him so very hard to beat. 

Tennis is interesting as technically only the serve is a closed skill due to the fact that the receiver doesn’t decide when to receive the ball. But I have always found that in my work with tennis players – several whom are or were top 100 players – it’s a good idea to have both a Pre Serve Routine and a Pre Receive Routine – with the start of both being the same.

The good old face wipe with a towel is hard to beat as a starting trigger for both server and receiver. The rest of the routine needs – of course – to be aligned with what is required in a few seconds time. If you’re about to receive the ball then walking to the right spot and taking the right body position might want to be included. If you’re serving then bouncing the ball, pausing then slowly looking up can be great inclusions.

I often get asked if it’s important to decide exactly how many times to bounce the ball – for example. Also, if the decision of which serve (or where to serve) can be included as surely this is not an act but a thought.

If you can clearly de-prioritise feeling from your routines then the exact number of bounces or waggles or practice swings is preferred as you’re not likely to fall into the trap of doing this action over and over again until it feels right.

If decision making is taken seriously as part of the practice, then this will become as automatic as the skills being done around them. In other words, choosing where to serve only becomes cognitively demanding if you have excluded tactical preparation as part of your practice.

Pre Kick Routines

Applicable Sports; Soccer, Football, AFL (Australian Football), NFL (American Football), Rugby Union and Rugby League

Due to the fact that these actions tend to be part of fast flowing sports they are often not considered in the same group of closed skills as the previous examples. This is a huge missed opportunity for the kickers of these sports in my opinion.

In the 1-on-1 work I do with kickers I basically treat them like golfers but instead of a golf club, they have their leg and foot and instead of a golf ball they have some kinds of inflated ball.

First up, as with golfers, we agree on the ideal number of Pre Kick Routines after going through the pros and cons of one versus several. For example, a rugby union player might want one for set shots and another for kick offs.

After this, we follow the same rules as before – only using actions to build the Pre Kick Routine – but with a minor exception. I allow kickers to include one quick visualisation as part of their routine. As much as I try to convince my clients that “picking a spot” can be an action (looking at the spot) many will want to imagine the ball travelling to that sport.

This does often produce a small conflict with the beliefs we have about thoughts in that due to them not being controllable we can’t 100% depend on them in high pressure situations.

The solution to this conflict is two-fold. First, practice the visualisation part as part of your PKR in practice 100% of the time so it feels automatic (second nature). Second, don’t stress if it’s hard or not possible come game time. It’s not you that’s weak, it’s the thought that is weak.

If you’d like the assistance of our of sport/performance psychologists with your short routines then complete one our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires here and one of our team will be in touch with you to discuss options.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.

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