“I can't float a good shot unless I do my routine.” Or, even harsher, “I can't shoot well unless I do my routine just right.” We've all heard or thought that. What does a pre-shot routine do for you? How do you make sure it really works?
At the heart of it, a pre-shot routine is meant to help calm you, clear your head, and help you focus on your shot. There's a magical quality we give our routines, though. It's because we want to believe something is it or the thing that always works.
Think about your routine and its results. How many times have you missed after your pre-shot routine? How many times have you made it?
There's more 'makes' than 'misses' (unless it's baseball), but the presence of both made and missed shots means something significant! Your routine isn't magic, because it doesn't work all the time. What really helps you is a simple process - pulling attention off distractions, focusing on a task, aiming (or quiet eye), and executing.
Whether you make or miss your shot, you will follow the same routine next time you shoot and hedge your bets against things going well. This is because you're looking for the performance-enhancing benefits of a good routine. Every routine must include:
Getting into position
That’s literally it. Some people like to get a few dribbles in, toss the ball a few times, or get some practice swings, but that’s all accessory - but, accessory doesn’t mean it’s not useful. You probably added in a few extra things, because you noticed they helped you focus. That’s good, you’ll hold onto those things and empower them a little bit. You add mental skills into a pre-shot routine, if you know you tend to get distracted by thoughts, fans, or feelings (e.g. pressure, nervousness, frustration with errors or misses). Training mindfulness as a mental skill allows you to use parts of your routine as ‘anchors’ for your focus, so it’s easier to let distractions go.
An anchor: 1.) exists in the present, 2.) is under your control, and 3.) is always available to use as a focal point for your attention. In a routine, an anchor might be the feel of the ball, the sound of it bouncing, the feel or grip on your club, bat, or racket, your breath, your foot position, center of gravity, the act of aiming, or anything else that meets those above three criteria. An anchor helps pull your attention off distractions and onto something else. It acts like a 'bridge' between a distraction and a task, helping you focus less on a distraction and making it easier to finally shift focus to your shot. This might look like:
Get into position
Feel the ball for three bounces
Where a pre-shot routine loses its utility is when you go through the motions, don't really focus on your anchor, then arrive at your shot unfocused or without a clear head. Each and every shot, pay full, focused attention to that thing you’ve chosen as an anchor. To stick with the example, let’s say dribbling is your anchor. Feel the ball each release and each time it comes back to your hands. If you become distracted, reel back in and pay attention to the feeling again. Be a stickler about paying full attention to what you’re doing during your routine, so you catch yourself when your mind wanders and you lead it back to what you were doing.
Pro Tip: You might believe that routines have to make you feel perfect. That's not the case. They're just meant to focus you on a task. How you feel isn't the important part - focusing despite how you feel, aiming, and shooting are the important part. Points scored aside, if a pre-shot routine helped focus you on what you needed to do, it was successful. If you were still a little distracted, but just a little more dialed in and shot well, it did its job. The job of the routine isn't to make things perfect, it's to give you the best shot at a best shot.
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