Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mastering the Mental Game: Pre-performance Routines

By Paige Dunn

Lance Armstrong knows that focusing on the mental side of his sport is equally important as the physical side. We’ll be taking a look at some of the mental tools that he has mastered that allow Lance to perform at his best. We’ll start this week with pre-performance routines.

What a cyclist does the hours and even minutes before an event can be crucial to the outcome of their performance. Developing a pre-performance routine can be a useful tool for any athlete and help you achieve your optimal performance state.

Three hours before any given event, Lance puts his pre-performance routine into action. This routine is a well thought out plan that he sticks to time after time. He may tweak or make minor changes after he learns more about what might work better for him or make a change that is event specific, but following a consistent plan helps him focus on what he needs to, to perform at his best. In fact, studies show that elite performers adopt more consistent pre-performance routines than their less skilled counterparts.

A typical pre-performance routine for Lance looks something like this – approximately three hours before he is to race, Lance arrives at his event and begin his routine begins. First he must battle the crowds that are typical as he exits the team bus and makes his way to sign himself in for the race. Although navigating the crowds and screaming fans and media can be stressful, Lance stays focused on his mental plan and the pre-performance routine he has just begun by running through some self-talk and focusing on his plan for the day. This self-talk and internal dialogue is something that only Lance himself is privy to. He knows himself well as an athlete and he knows what he needs to say to himself to get him in the right frame of mind.

About two hours prior to the start he’ll pin his race number on. For some athletes they will do this very routine step in a very specific way at a very specific time and consider this a ritual to duplicate with every race. Then at about 90 minutes out it’s on to his trainer for a very specific workout that will warm up his body and allow him to prepare his mental game. With about ten minutes to go, he makes any final adjustments and he is ready to race.

Although this pre-performance routine may sound simple, it is extremely effective and allows Lance to focus on what he needs to prior to the event. By staying focused on his routine, he avoids focusing on any distraction that may come his way. He concentrates on sustaining calm breathing and a peaceful performance state that will allow him to ease in to an event exactly the way he needs to.

One specific tool that is part of Lance’s pre-performance routine is listening to music to sustain his focus. Twitter followers probably already know that Bon Iver and Band of Horses are among Lance’s top music choices. Those familiar with Bon Iver know that his music might be described as smooth, melodic, calming yet upbeat…. A perfect choice for Lance who has learned that his optimal pre-performance state most effectively mirrors those attributes.

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