Many sports, including baseball, football, tennis golf, track and field, and many others, are comprised of a series of many short performances with breaks of various lengths in between. For these sports, whether between at-bats in baseball, downs in football, or points in tennis, being well-prepared for the first performance is not enough. Competitive routines can be invaluable in ensuring that you are prepared for every performances within a competition. One thing that I found that separates the great athletes from the good ones is their ability to be consistently ready for every performance. By being totally prepared for every performance, you can be sure that you won’t give your opponents “free points” because you weren’t ready.
The time between performances is essential to consistent competitive performance. What you think, feel, and do between performances often dictates how you perform. You must take control of the time between performances to be sure that you’re totally prepared.
I use a four-step competitive routine called the Four R’s. The first R is rest. Immediately after the conclusion of the previous performance, take several slow, deep breaths and let your muscles relax. This is especially important after a long or demanding performance in which you become fatigued and out of breath. It’s also important near the end of a long competition in which you’re tired and need to recover as much as possible to be ready for the next performance. Deep breathing and relaxing also help you center yourself and better prepare you for the next R.
The second R is regroup. This phase of the competitive routine addresses your emotions between performances. Particularly when you are not performing well or the competition is at a critical juncture, you may feel a variety of emotions such as excitement, frustration, anger, or depression. Regrouping allows you to gain awareness of how your emotions are impacting you and, if they are affecting you negatively, to master them so they help rather than hurt you in the next performance. If you are emotional after a poor performance, you may feel frustrated and angry. You should give yourself more time to regroup and let go of the unhealthy emotions. Because of the powerful influence emotions have on your performances, your ability to “get your act together” emotionally between performances may be the most important thing you can do to prepare for the next performance.
An important realization that can make regrouping easier is that performances in a competition are not directly related to each other. In other words, the chances of being successful in the next performance are in no way associated with how you performed in the last performance. For example, a poor parallel bars routine by a gymnast has no direct bearing on how he performs on the pommel horse.
One thing that connects performances are the emotions attached to the last performance. If you’re frustrated and angry about your last performance, you increase your chances of doing poorly in the next performance because negative emotions usually interfere with good performances. In contrast, if you have positive emotions about the last performance, you increase your chances of succeeding in the next performance because positive emotions will make you more motivated and confident which, in turn, will enable you to perform better. Using the time to regroup will enable you to let go of and replace the negative emotions with positive ones or none at all, thereby increasing your chances of having a successful performance.
The third R is refocus. There can be a tendency during competitions, especially in pressure situations, to focus back on the last performance or forward on the possible outcome of the competition, none of which will help you perform well. This is a form of outcome focus in which you’re focusing on the unsuccessful outcome of the last performance or the possible result at the end of the competition. When this happens, you need to return to a process focus for the next performance. During the refocus phase of the competitive routine, you should first evaluate your present situation, for example, the score, how you’ve been performing, and tactics. Then, focus on what you need to for the next performance. Your focus may be technical, tactical, or mental. The important thing is to begin the next performance with a clear focus on what you want to do to perform your best at that moment.
The fourth R is recharge. If your body is not prepared, you won’t be able to perform your best. Just prior to beginning the performance, you should check and adjust your intensity. If you need to lower your intensity, you should slow your pace, take deep breaths, and relax your muscles. If you need to raise your intensity, you should increase your pace, take some short, intense breaths, and jump up and down. The goal in this phase of your competitive routine is to ensure that your body is totally prepared to perform your best in every performance within the competition.