Performances are made OR broken before they even start! What you focus on and think about before your start can either keep you calm and enhance your confidence or do the opposite, stress you out, and set you up for failure. The MAIN purpose of a pre-performance ritual is to keep you calm by helping distract you from distractions, especially last minute negative thinking and self-doubts.
Having a familiar pre-performance routine that you always use right before your games/matches/races is an effective way to remain calm and in control of your concentration whenever the heat of competition goes into the RED ZONE. Far too many athletes lose/fail before the start because they unknowingly allow their pre-performance concentration to drift to all of the wrong things.
What you focus on both before and during your performance can make or break how well you perform. For example, if you allow your pre-performance focus to drift to the “UNCONTROLLABLES,” (anything that is DIRECTLY out of your control like the outcome, (winning or losing), the skill, size and/or reputation of your opponent, needing to drive this runner home, scoring a goal, a bad call by the ref, worrying about whether the coach will bench you, a past mistake, etc.), then you’ll get too nervous, lose your confidence and perform well below your capabilities. Having a set pre-performance ritual will help you learn to control your focus so this doesn’t happen!
As a young swimmer, Phelps developed his own pre-race ritual, a routine which he continued to use right through his entire career! He always stretched a certain way, listened to specific music (hip hop) and would then slap his arms 3 times right before getting up on the blocks. He had tremendous success with this ritual as a young swimmer and, as a result, developed a lot of confidence in it. This is something that you will always see with all great athletes right before a crucial at-bat, clutch free throw, important serve or shot. The athlete always does the very same things.
It’s your pre-performance ritual that will provide you with something to concentrate on which will then help distract you from all of the other the distractions. In addition, because your ritual is familiar and something that you always do before your perform, it will help calm you down and keep you loose, no matter how big the situation is or how many people you’re performing in front of!