Many athletes across many sports have pre-performance routines. Examples include eating the same food before an event, listening to a certain kind of music en route to the venue, sitting in the same spot in a changing room, putting sports gear on in a certain order, warming up in a certain way, visualising in a certain way, using the same positive key words and so on. A slightly different but related behaviour is the pre-shot routine in sports where a free shot is awarded. For example, in the case of field sports athletes who are about to take a free shot or free kick may stand in a certain position before striking the ball, look at the posts a pre-determined number of times, take a specific number of steps on the run up to the ball, approach the ball from a particular angle and so on. In non-field sports such as snooker, for example, the same principle applies with different players having their own routine in preparation for the upcoming shot. A pre-shot routine involves a sequence of task relevant thoughts and behaviours which are engaged in prior to the execution of a particular skill.

The question often asked is, are pre-performance routines or pre-shot routines the same as superstitions?  The answer is no. A pre-performance routine or pre-shot routine refers to a set of task-relevant thoughts and actions an athlete systematically engages in. The routine develops over time, as skill level improves and can be amended over time if required. A superstition, on the other hand, is an athlete’s belief that certain actions will lead to certain outcomes, often with reference to previous success.


Research has shown that performers who use routines in many sports have enhanced performance in comparison to those who don’t. The sports and activities in question include, but are not confined to, free throw shooting in basketball, putting in golf, penalty taking in water polo, goal kicking in rugby and serving in volleyball. In one particular study the research team analysed data from 15 different sports and 800 athletes. The athletes’ performance significantly improved from before learning to after learning and to applying a pre-performance routine. These effects were observed both in laboratory and actual competitions, in situations with and without pressure, and were independent of athletes’ age, gender, and skill level, the type of routine, and the time necessary to learn the routine. In other words, most routines worked for most athletes in most sports regardless of how simple or complex the routine was.

As we have seen the value of a routine in sport should not be overlooked. A sturdy, repeatable routine built around the execution of a skill can clearly improve the odds of successful execution of the skill. The curious thing is that the routine in question that is developed to execute a skill and make a skill repeatable then becomes a skill in itself, and like any skill it can be learned. There are strong cognitive and behavioural components to pre-performance routines and to pre-shot routines so, as such, if you would like to work on your pre-performance routine or pre-shot routine please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Cogbeh provides a range of cognitive behavioural services to a broad demographic in-person and online.