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Acceleration Australia: Building The Best Pre-Game Routine

We have all felt the frustration of having a ‘bad game.’  It seems hard to transfer all of the training we do into competition.  You’re probably pretty good at eating the right foods and warming up our muscles before a game, but what are you doing to prepare mentally?  Research is showing that getting your mindset right before a game with a pre-performance routine can make a big difference to your in-game performance.

Pre-Performance Routines
A pre-performance routine is defined as a ‘sequence of task-relevant thoughts and actions which an athlete engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill.’(Moran, 1996, p177).  This definition highlights that a routine needs to be task-specific, systematic and interacted with.

Reduced Anxiety and Increased Focus

Top athletes will generally utilize a pre-game or pre-competition routine.  These help to reduce distractions, minimize anxiety and allows them to slowly narrow their focus.

Essentially, a pre-game/competition routine puts them into a competition mindset that best allows optimal performance in their sport/skill especially ‘closed skills.’ Closed skills are those you can practice like free throws or a golf putt.

When you are focused on a pre-game routine, you hone in on the things you can control, rather than the ‘what ifs’ & distractions that generate fear, anxiety and create doubts in your ability to perform.

Creating Your Pre-Game Routine
Paying attention to your pre-game routine keeps you grounded and in the present, keeps you relaxed & minimises those distractions.

There are two main sections to an effective pre-game routine:


  • Actions or behaviours which enable you to do the task in your sport/activity
  • Using the same number of actions or behaviours before each skill execution



  • Self-talk – Tell yourself what you are going to do or feel
  • Be Positive- Be relevant and keep it short
  • Visualisation – Use your imagination to visualise yourself succeeding in what you’re about to do
  • Control- Take time to relax and control your breathing
  • Avoid Overthinking – ‘Feel’ the motions of performing the skill or action before you perform them

Your individual routine is going to be different to someone else’s… find what works for you.

The main question/s when developing your pre-game routine should be:

What puts you in the proper mindset to compete? What actions, prior to competition, have helped you perform at your best?”

Some examples of pre-game routine actions and thoughts:


  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep before competing, have a set time to go to bed.
  • Have plenty of water in the morning instead of caffeine.
  • Listen to a motivational video that resonates with you to get in the mindset for the game
  • Build a mantra for how you want to perform in the game to repeat to yourself – ‘Strong and Powerful’ or ‘Precision and Speed’ for example
  • Take time to close your eyes to visualise and feel what succeeding looks and feels like. In a basketball free throw for example, visualise yourself at the free throw line with a powerful stance, feel your arm and elbow bending and releasing in a straight motion and visualise the ball swoop into the basket.


Final tips on deciding what to use for your pre-game routine:


  • Keep it consistent but be flexible; as your skill develops your routine will need little changes along the way
  • Make sure elements of your routine are task-specific to the skill being executed
  • A routine will take time to establish & can take time to perform; be consistent with the duration & if you get distracted, if possible stop & start again
  • Stay focused on preparing yourself – mentally & physically – for the upcoming game, not your opponents or the outcome

Want to know more about how you can train to become a better athlete? Visit Acceleration’s website today.

Written By Daniel Nilsson
BEXSS, High Performance Specialist and Head Performance Coach Acceleration Australia.

Edited by Evelyn Briggs

Moran, A.P. (1996). The Psychology of Concentration in Sport Performers: A Cognitive Analysis (1st ed.).
Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315784946

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