Competing to Win- Part 3

In this series we’ve been talking about what it takes when you’re competing to win. If you want to be the one standing on the top of the podium when the event is over, you can’t just show up on the day of competition with no preparation and expect everything to fall into place.

Michael Jordan is an amazingly talented athlete, but if he just showed up one day to compete at a diving competition without ever having prepared, well, although I’m sure he’d have some serious ups, I can almost guarantee that coming down would be a sight to behold… not the pretty kind.

The first important strategy we discussed was coping with a bad event. Once you can move on with a clean slate, you need to start taking risks. It’s important to jump in with both feet and commit to your goal.


Now it’s time to learn about routines and how you can use them to free up your mind to focus on the competition in the heat of the moment.

Types of routines

In general, a routine is a plan you have established and practiced prior to competition that will aid you leading up to and during the competition. We’re going to discuss three different types of routines that can make a big difference on your big day.

TRAINING ROUTINES are a specific set of maneuvers practiced repeatedly that become second nature. For example, in team sports a training routine may be a specific “team play” that you can use in certain scenarios during the game. In individual sports, a training routine may be a certain series of exercises that allow you to get the most out of your workout, or focusing on quality over quantity or it might even be a mock-competition, like a dress rehearsal of the big day.

Generally, training routines are the day in, day out workouts that eventually become the foundation of your abilities. This kind of structure allows the athlete to continue to build and add upon his or her foundation. You have to learn to walk before you can run. You have to learn to fly before you can soar with eagles.

PRE-COMPETITION ROUTINE is a well thought-out pregame plan to help reduce stress heading into competition day. Many athletes will plan or map out their entire day leading up to the competition. Some plans are very detailed, outlining from the time they wake-up to the specific pre-competition meal they will eat, pre-packing their competition bag, creating and using a checklist of items to bring and prepare, creating a playlist to listen to in-competition or enroute to competition, and even a designated departure and arrival time.

If you’re a part of a team, your coach may set up a pre-competition routine for you to ensure that everyone is on the same schedule and help avoid delays. But within that team routine, you can also create your own individual plan to help ease your mind and reduce stress.

An individual can dictate how much or little they want or need in their pre-competition routine. For me, it depended on the event coming up and how important it is. The bigger the competition, the more detailed my pre-competition usually was. I just found the more I could do ahead of time- like creating a to-pack checklist, making a playlist, printing up itineraries, etc.- they less I worried and the more I could focus on resting and relaxing or visualizing.

ROME – AUGUST 01: Michael Phelps of the United States prior to the Men’s 100m Butterfly Final during the 13th FINA World Championships at the Stadio del Nuoto on August 1, 2009 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

22 time Olympic medalist swimmer, Michael Phelps, right before racing.

IN-COMPETITION ROUTINES will vary from sport to sport, but it’s generally what you do leading up to your race or game or in between events.

Michael Phelps, pictured here, loves to wear headphones and soak up whatever music gets him into the right mindset to race. He’s an 18 time Olympic GOLD medalist swimmer, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that this part of his in-competition routine works well for him.

Michael likes to get to the pool early to stretch and warm up. He relaxes, visualizes, listens to music and even has a mini-routine he does at the starting block. Read more about Michael Phelp’s race day routine here.

For me in diving, the in-competition routine is what I do in between each dive during the contest. I also like to listen to music, visualize my dive in my head, go through the actions a few times. As I’m walking to the platform I’ll talk quickly to my coach who will give me one or two small corrections or actions to think about and then I go up. Once I’m on the platform waiting my turn, I go through the actions of the dive a few times and visualize it in my head.

Establishing a routine

To establish training routines, you make a plan with your coach, and if you’re on a team, your teammates as well. Communication is key. There needs to be communication about your training routine as it involves more than just you. Everyone needs to be on the same page in order to continue to improve. If you or your coach or teammates see a problem in the routine, then you should set aside time to discuss it and perhaps change the routine if need be.

These routines are to help you become disciplined and build upon what you can already do, making you better. If the routine is causing issues, it should definitely be changed. It is not set in stone and can be molded into what it needs to be to help advance you.

To create a pre-competition routines, it’s best if you begin planning from the start of the competition and work your way backward. Whether it’s planning what you will need to bring with you or how you want to prepare yourself physically and mentally, starting with where you want to be in the competition and working your way back will help make sure you don’t miss anything!

In-competition routines are probably the hardest. Some of these are physical but mostly they are for keeping your head in the right place, focused on the right things. If you have no idea where to start, ask someone that you think is great at what you do and try out what you like about their routine. It’s honestly a lot of trial and error- you have to try new and different things to see what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s great when you have smaller, less important competitions where you can try a variety of things and then see if it helps you or not. Don’t be afraid to tweak it, refine it.

The importance of a routine

A routine helps you focus on the task at hand, maintain and build up performance levels, and keeps you from getting distracted by things that could make you anxious. So routines reduce anxiety and stress, and they increase confidence. They give you a sense of control. Routines help athletes perform more automatically, rather than over-thinking about the mechanics or techniques required to be successful in that big important moment when everything is on the line.

Routine vs. Ritual

The goal of a routine is to totally prepare the athlete for the competition. Everything in a routine serves a specific and practical function that helps the athlete get ready and fully prepared to compete. But sometimes athletes begin to morph their routines into rituals.

A ritual is filled with superstitions and is usually made up of things that have no practical impact on performance, like wearing lucky socks in a competition. Routines can also be adjusted should the need arise. For example, if you arrive late to the competition, you can shorten your routine and still get prepared. Rituals, however, are rigid and ceremonial.

Many athletes start believing that these rituals must be done or they won’t perform well. You can control routines, but a ritual will control you and your performance.

Now that you understand the value and importance of establishing routines, in the next post we’ll talk about the crucial role of Flexibility.

Read the other posts in this series:

Post 1   Post 2   Post 3      Post 4     Post 5

  • Rita Dipman
    Posted at 00:12h, 17 June Reply

    My g-daughter dives for Youngstown State, I will try to get her signed up for this.

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