Pre Shot Routines

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 such as shooting, lawn bowls, golf, etc.

What Are Pre Shot Routines (PSRs)?

Pre Shot Routines are the most common short-performance routines, but they are not the only type. Any closed motor skill required constantly during a sporting context could and should have a routine beforehand. A closed motor skill is an action or series of actions typically ‘performed in a stationary environment, where the performer chooses when to start the skill’.

If we did some brainstorming, we could probably come up with dozens of labels suited to different sports, but in my work as a sport psychologist, these six are the most common:

  • Pre Shot Routines for Golf, shooting sports, table sports, lawn bowls.
  • Pre-Point Routines (or you can have Pre-Serve Routines and Pre-Receive Routines) for all racquet sports, such as tennis, squash, table tennis, badminton, and paddleball (pickleball), to name the most common.
  • For AFL, soccer/football (set shot takers), rugby league, rugby union and American football (kickers), we’d use the term Pre Kick Routine.
  • The term Pre Start Routines is probably best for most racing sports, from swimming to motorsports to track and field.
  • Pre-Ball Routine … you guessed it – cricket and baseball.

What Is The Generic Term?

To my knowledge, no agreed term describes all of these mental skills. Probably because Pre-Shot Routines tend to be the most common, they are often used to describe most others. This is reasonable for all of the above examples other than racing sports. Most tennis players will instinctively know what you’re referring to if you use the term pre-shot routine instead of pre-point routine. But I suspect you might not get a great response if you tell a 200-meter sprinter that you’ll be working on their pre-shot routine during the sessions.

Pre Shot Routines Before Closed Motor Skills

For all closed motor skills, the athletes will always have at least a few seconds before attempting the action. Left ‘to wing it on the day,’ these few seconds (or few minutes) can often become fertile grounds for overthinking. This tends to lead to underperforming in high-pressure situations.

There is one main rule for constructing or improving any pre-shot routine. Only include easily repeatable actions. In other words, the only premeditated aspects of the routines are body movements. Thoughts and feelings are left to occur naturally at the time. You have too little influence on them to ensure you can “do them” when it counts.

Intended actions are far more reliable than thoughts and feelings. Indeed, they are so reliable that we can (with a lot of practice) virtually guarantee them. We can never guarantee that we will be able to think a certain way in certain situations. So, trying to do so is fraught with danger from a psychological point of view.

The Classic ‘Pre Shot Routine’

Start with this question. Is one Pre Shot Routine enough, or do I need several? For most sports, one is normally sufficient. Attempting a 3-foot putt versus a long drive in sports like golf might seem too different to justify having two different PSRs ready to go. For racquet sports, starting the point or receiving the ball from the server is very different, so I would encourage at least two.

The start of the Pre Shot Routine benefits from ‘a trigger action’. This helps us switch it on at that moment. For a sport like lawn bowls, maybe this is wiping your hand on your pant leg.

After this initial action, add three to five other steps that naturally lead to the “shot”. Any more than this, and you run the risk of overcomplicating it.

For example, one of these steps in clay target shooting is to shout ‘pull’. A baseball pitcher and a cricket bowler have no choice but to include correctly gripping the ball during their pre-ball routines.

Pre Point Routines

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. It might seem more like a set of ticks to the untrained eye. But Rafa’s Pre Point Routines are amongst the many aspects of his tennis that make him so good.

Racquet sports are interesting as only the serve is a closed skill because the receiver doesn’t decide when to receive the ball. However, I have always found that having a Pre-Serve Routine and a Pre-Receive Routine is a good plan in my work with tennis players.

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

Ball Bouncing

Ball bouncing (waggling the golf club, same as) is a double-edged sword. Most players do it “until they feel right,” but this assumes you’ll always feel right at some point. I am in favour of picking a range of bounces. For example, 2 or 3 and then sticking to this 100% of the time. Yes, even in practice and when doing it as part of your visualisation.

If decision-making is taken seriously as part of the practice, this will become as automatic as the skills developed 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 and Throw Routines

Because these actions are part of fast-flowing sports, they are often not considered in the same group of closed skills as the previous examples. In my opinion, this is a huge missed opportunity for the kickers and free throwers of these sports.

In the 1-on-1 work we do with kickers and throwers, I treat them like golfers. But instead of a golf club and ball, they have their leg, feet, arms, hands, and an inflated ball.

First, as with golfers, we agree on the ideal number of routines after going through the pros and cons of one versus several. For example, a rugby union player may need one for set shots and another for kickoffs.

After this, we follow the same rules as before. Only use actions to build the Pre Kick/Throw Routine. If you must include a thought, keep it as simple as possible.

Is It A Good Idea To Visualise As Part Of My Routine?

I have received criticism for my lack of enthusiasm about including imagery in routines 😬. Some of this comes from the famous Jack Nicklaus quote about visualisation. “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head,” Nicklaus said.

Here is the issue, Jack. We can’t guarantee cognitive processes such as imagining the path of a ball. Even with repetition, it will be very vulnerable under pressure or high levels of distraction.

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 impossible come game time. It’s not that you are weak, it’s the thoughts are weak. Your action-based Pre Shot Routines will get the job done regardless of your thoughts or feelings.

If you’d like the assistance of one of our psychologists with your short routines, then complete one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires here. A member of our team will be in touch with you to discuss options normally within two or three business days.

Psychology of American Football / Gridiron / NFL

Psychology of American Football. Picture from Big Stock Photo. LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 03 2019: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, Gardner Minshew during the NFL game between Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium

The Psychology of American Football – An Introduction

American Football is one of those sports that goes by different names. The official name is gridiron but most of those in the United States refer to it as NFL despite this just being the name of the highest league. For this article I shall simply refer to it as American Football.

American Football is a sport littered with inspirational quotes and messages. Some are from real life whilst others are from television and/or films. One that is applicable to everyone in a competitive situation came from Cincinnati Bengals running back Archie Griffin. He famously once said “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”. When you start to sift through them (a quick Google of “American Football quotes” is a worthwhile exercise), you soon realise a large portion are related to the mental side of the game.

Not Just Brutality And Physical Aggressiveness

American Football is known for its brutality and physical aggressiveness but as soon as I started to work with these athletes, from the professional level to high school footballers, it became clear that without the right mental processes talent and physical aptitude wouldn’t lead to the success these individuals desired. They needed mental skills that promoted acceptance, resilience, patience and a mindset that not only recognised their performance but also how it fits into the bigger picture of the offensive or defensive schemes coaches are drawing up. American Football is nuanced and it’s the mental challenges of the sport that take an individual from being good to great to a ‘hall of fame inductee’.

What Are Some Of These Mental Processes?

Let’s look at some of these mental processes and mindsets that can begin to improve the American Football psychology of players who participate on Fridays (high school football), Saturdays (college football) or Sundays (the NFL). 

One of the first things about American Football that will stand out to anyone participating or observing is the structure of the game. Every play called is meticulously considered in order to create an advantage for the team and each player has a very particular role to play to execute the play successfully. Aside from trick plays, players fill very individualised roles and this is where we begin to see why good mental processes are important for optimal performance. 

As with any team sport one player cannot do everything and this is even truer in American Football. For example, a quarterback can’t snap the ball, drop back and then pass it to themselves. They need the assistance of their teammates to be able to not only have time to throw the ball but also to see a pass completed. To manage the challenge of this, a player needs to have a good practice of acceptance where they can understand their role and focus on completing their given task instead of being distracted by what others on their team are doing.

A large part of The Psychology of American Football is knowing what your role is.

In speaking with an American Football coach, we used the analogy that for each play, we need to imagine the 11 players on the field are on a boat with 11 leaks. If each player deals with their leak then the boat continues to sail. However, as soon as one person starts focusing on the other leaks or even tries to go and stop the leak somewhere else then they expose themselves. A great example of this is on the offensive line where we need to trust our teammates to hit and stick their blocks rather than trying to block all of the oncoming pass rushers and being found out as a result. This is not the same for less pre-rehearsed sports like soccer whereby from time to time you need to help your teammate fix his or her leak.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance (being good at it) comes from the field of psychology in the form of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. At Condor Performance, we look at this by focusing on the level of influence we have in any given moment. We want athletes to channel their energies and efforts into making sure the things that are highly influenceable are what they are taking responsibility for in a sporting context. To put it simply, our own actions are highly influenceable while the actions of others are a much lower level of influenceable. When we accept this, we let go and allow others to do their job while we do ours. We are better focused, can more effectively judge our own performance and are a more complimenting fit within the structure of the team. We can also use this mentality to reset between each play and make sure we know our role and are locked in on accomplishing it while also motivating and encouraging others with theirs where possible.

Another element that stands out is the flow of the game between plays. The stop-start nature of the sport provides the players with a chance to huddle together and reset their intentions on the next play. It also provides the opportunity for each player to reset themselves to ensure that they are fully committed to what comes next – irrespective if previous plays went their way or not. In a sport like American Football it doesn’t matter whether you missed an assignment or ran the wrong route the previous play because it can’t be undone. All we can do is know what is being asked of us this play and look to execute to the best of our abilities with 100% effort. To make this reset work consistently it can be worthwhile to think about different actions that we use to settle, such as taking a deep breath, clapping as we come out of the huddle, redoing the velcro on our gloves, the way we get set in our stance, etc. Having this reset action helps remind us to start again and be committed to what we are trying to execute.

Psychology of American Football For Coaches

If you’re the coach or a leader on the team and you want to be able to take this idea of resetting one step further, then you can look at how the the offensive and defensive teams retake the field following a change of possession. When the unit goes back out onto the field it is an important opportunity to have players focus on landing the metaphorical first punch and creating some momentum on this particular drive. Even if previous possessions resulted in a poor outcome the other team does not have any advantage when this one starts unless we let them by focusing on the past which we cannot change. Just like a boxer coming out for the next round we want to establish ourselves and perform to our plan and create some ascendency that we can build on with each play. This is achieved through communication and the way we look to motivate and create energy in our athletes and teammates. We want to ensure we aren’t placing unnecessary pressure on their shoulders and instead highlighting that the ultimate goal of each possession is exactly the same: to have committed players on the field who know their roles and are giving 100% effort on each play. If you can get 11 players all buying into that philosophy and letting their actions do the talking we know we’ve got them in the right headspace. 

For individual players, one thing we also want to keep in mind is that the football we play wants to ignore any element of what I term the “fantasy football headspace”. What I mean by this is that we don’t want to judge our own performances the way we judge players in fantasy football, i.e. stats are the most important thing and highlight good performance. For every player, regardless of position, I would encourage you to develop ways of defining good performance that don’t have anything to do with the stats or outcome. If you’re a quarterback, how do you know you’ve had a good game without referring to touchdowns/interceptions thrown or yardage in the air? If you’re a wide receiver, how do you know you’ve had a good game without referring to receptions or yards? If you a defensive player. how do you define a good game without referring to interceptions, passes deflected, tackles made or points given up? The answer to this question will help you understand effort and take your performances to an even higher level of consistency because we aren’t reacting to previous plays and instead are locked in on recommitting to the next one. I will say that if you are struggling to answer that particular question, another way of answering it would be understanding what it looks like to compete out there on the field. How you compete has nothing to do with your outcomes and everything to do with the way you try to breakdown your opponents with movement, footwork, decision making, energy and competitiveness.

While each position in a game of American Football is different the mental elements of performance highlighted in this blog provide insight into how we can begin to get the most out of ourselves and our abilities. They are universal for all players and by making some adjustments you will better play your role for the team and leave the game having made a greater influence on how proceedings played out.

If your are an American Football player or coach and would like the assistance from one of our growing team of sport psychologists / performance psychologists then the best place to start is by completing the applicable Mental Toughness Questionnaire at here. Once done, one of our team will then get back to you with your results and, if you have asked for it, detailed information about our sport psychology services.