Pre-Game Routines: Added Focus for Flow

I have been working with a high school golfer that happens to be extremely talented based on natural ability. He plays well 75% of the time, but with a little focused effort to enhance his routines, and by following a written practice plan he could take his game to the next level and play “lights out” golf. So what does it mean to have a pre-game routine(s) that results in having a Flow experience?

Most athletes have on some level a practice plan. They would not know it well enough to explain it because they typically wouldn’t write it down. Secondly, many athletes would say they have routines, but when you ask them to articulate the elements of their routine they might be able to provide a few statements about what motions they go through, but really don’t know if the routine works or not.

There are routines one can perform at night in preparation for the next days performance. There are routines one can perform the day of the game often called pre-game routines. And there are routines an athlete would perform right before they execute on a specific skill called pre-execution routines.

A visualization or imagery routine can help your mind and body prepare without actually performing the physical skill. Research shows that a guided imagery routine can be as effective at times as the actual physical execution. A pre-game routines can actually help you warm-up the body physically, but can also help you prepare mentally for an upcoming performance. A routine can help you focus on the right execution cues, (physical aspects of the skills), build confidence, and help to manage nerves or arousal levels to sustain consistent performance success. Professional golfer Phil Mickelson has a unique practice and pre-putt routine.

He’ll line up 10 balls in a circle, each one about three feet from the cup. He then works his way around the circle, putting every one of them into the hole. When he’s accomplished that, he will line up the 10 balls again, sink them, and continue this drill until he’s made 100 in a row. If he misses, a lot of times he will start over.

The purpose of this drill is twofold. First, it imprints a confident stroke on short putts. Secondly, is that it relieves tension and pressure when you play. After Phil stands left or right of his putting line and makes a practice stroke or two, the real putt is just one more stroke in repetition. The image of execution is imprinted in his mind and is no different than on the practice putting green as he executes on his drills.

Consistency in routine is extremely important because it prepares the mind and the body to be in a competitive mindset. There is no need, however to place any undue pressure on yourself during the routine. The routine is designed for execution accuracy and confidence development. There is no award for pre-game routines, but if you master a routine you can be one step closer to achieving your objective.

The cool thing about the physical routine is that it simultaneously prepares your mind. In essence you have the execution part of the routine, and the mental part of the routine helps you stay focused, confident, and in a trusting mindset before the competition begins. This is why it is important to practice for execution success and not add undue pressure to achieve a pre-determined outcome. The final aspect of the routine requires that all distractions not relevant to the successful execution of the skill be compartmentalized and put aside. I like to imagine taking all thoughts and placing them in a small little box and then placing the box on a shelf. This little action step helps to clear my mind. I know I can go back to the distractions whenever I want to, but for now they are counterproductive to my success. Lastly, make sure you have your game plan in order before you step up to the first t-box.

For more information on pre-game routines, or mental game strategies for greater performance success contact John Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at

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