Routines Help Reduce Thinking and Decision Making

 

by Sean McCann, PhD
US Olympic Committee
Performance Services
Sport Psychologist

When an athlete is stressed, anxious, and concerned about outcomes (a typical state for many athletes at their biggest competitions), thinking often transforms to worry. In addition, decisions about simple things become overemphasized, and athletes will often freeze up, wasting valuable time as they agonize over which pair of shoes to put in their backpack. Athletes weighted down with worry or unable to make a decision are wasting energy. At big events, energy is a precious commodity. An effective routine eliminates decisions (because, if you always do it the same way, you don’t have to decide), and keeps an athlete too busy to think too much.

Our brains have limited capacity. The remarkable increase in the number of accidents for people on cell phones is an example of thing. Routines that take care of all the little things an athlete has to do to get ready, free up brain space to focus on the things that really mater. If you want to have an excellent warm-up, you must be fully focused on the warm-up, and not wondering about something left undone.

An argument can be made that a coach will end up using a great deal more energy if they don’t help athletes develop great routines. An initial investment of energy in developing good habits will create a great return down the road. I see this all the time in sports, and I’ll never forget what a great coach once said to me. “Why are all these coaches screaming form the sideline? If they had done their job in practice they wouldn’t have to say anything during a game.” If a coach develops great routines, and the athletes develop great habits, then the habits make them great players.

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