Sport psychology works to help individuals to develop a way of doing things (positive rituals) that aligns with their goals so they can perform at a high level. Everyone knows that athletes can be superstitious, and while superstitions and rituals can at times look very similar the underlying mechanism and process behind them are very different. Superstitions give your power to something outside of yourself. When I was a kid I would not re-tape my stick until I stopped scoring. There were times when the tape on my stick would be shredded and could use with a re-taping but because I believed it had something to do with my scoring I wouldn’t change it. In this instance I gave my power to some hockey tape, rather than understanding it had nothing to with my ability to score.
Rituals, on the other hand, are a systematic way of doing things that set you up to be more successful and while they can be important elements in high performance, as long as you do not give them all the power, then they can greatly benefit you.
So what does it mean to develop positive rituals? Well, rituals are not only for sports but for all facets of life. Each person reading this has a certain ritual for brushing their teeth. You do it when you wake up, or after breakfast, and right after dinner or before bed. You have created positive rituals around this necessary part of your oral and overall health.
The rituals for performance are no different. From creating rituals around the food you eat, when you go to the gym, and when you take mental rest times, everything in your life can become a positive ritual for your success. The people who are able to maintain a healthy way of eating do so because they have created rituals around food. While sometimes this means a lack of creativity or eating very similar things, they are able to stick with eating healthy compared to those who don’t.
For athletes, if you create one ritual and one alone, make sure you do so around your performance. Pre-performance routines are essential for success, and yet many athletes don’t have them. Know the best ways to get yourself mentally and physically prepared and make sure you follow that positive ritual every time, but as mentioned before make sure not to attach or give so much power to the ritual that if you happen to have to miss doing it or adjust to it you can’t perform. So having a plan B or shorter ritual is always helpful for being prepared. A ritual that is done routinely and consistently over time will still have a positive effect even if you miss it once in a while.
For more information on the importance of routines check out this article from the Australian sports commission http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/sssm/psychology/brainwaves/factsheets/mental_routines