Establish and implement predictable and consistent, yet flexible, routines and approaches

WHY:  Routines are essential to facilitating an athlete-centered approach to coaching.  They play a paramount role in helping athletes take ownership of the program, develop leadership skills, build team culture, and gain trust in the coaching staff and the development process. From the vision and planning perspective, routines help coaches regulate the group dynamics and allow for maximum productivity, learning efficacy, and efficiency towards shared goals during training and competitions. From the instructional delivery perspective, the use of routines gives coaches time to observe their athletes in action, formulate feedback, and adapt instruction if necessary. Finally, from the holistic perspective, routines support an environment that lowers athlete anxiety and builds the trust necessary for risk-taking and growth.

HOW: Coaches establish training, competition, communication, logistical, and social-emotional development routines that serve as benchmarks or touchpoints for the athletes. These can be a warm-up and cool-down routines, debriefing/feedback routines, weekly practice flow, routine language use, off-field activities, or pre- and post-competition routines. Coaches who implement this core practice most effectively integrate routines and flexibility/adaptability in a way that shows they are not mutually exclusive. The most effective routines employ the athletes’ ability to work independently, at a level appropriate to their age and experience. This is done through early instruction and guidance by the coach and is then consistently executed with minimal directive language from coach to athletes.

Video Examples

In this series of clips, we see how the University of Washington Women’s Volleyball coach has established a number of routines that the athletes follow at the beginning of each practice. They allow athletes, coaches, and staff to perform multiple tasks in a consistent amount of time. The coach is also able to use other core practices during this structured time (relationship-building, leadership development, allowing space, practice planning, and framing communications).

Traditionally, coaches employ routines to increase learning efficacy, time efficiency, and athlete confidence. Expert coaches in the ACP also utilized routines to facilitate the development of team culture. For example, this high school football team and the coaching staff engaged in the same reflection routine at the end of every practice - what a great way to bring the team together!


Winter Olympics: Inside an Olympic Athlete's Mind 

One of the most popular routines is visualization. Athletes, professional and aspiring, employ the use of mental imagery to master new technical skills, reduce anxiety, and prepare for competition. Coaches must build close relationships with the athletes to determine if the use of visualization is the right technique for them, and if it is, facilitate an environment where athletes can develop and engage in this routine. In this YouTube playlist, Team USA Olympic athletes share their approaches for calming the nerves and visualizing their performance right before the competition. Great insights, incredible focus, and a variety of personal approaches - our favorites are How to Conquer an Olympic Biathlon and How Alex Deibold Prepares for a Snowboard Race

Sports: Why the World's Best Athletes Use Routines

This blog published in discusses the fundamental values of the routines related to enhancing athletic performance. Different types of training and pre-competition routines are detailed, as well as specific strategies for design and implementation. Although this blog is ultimately addressing the athlete, coaches can use this information to:

  • Educate athletes and parents of the importance of implementing routines into training and competition 

  • Help athletes identify and design routines that are appropriate based on the maturation, participation pathways and stages of the athletic development

  • Strategically structure time in practice and competition to allow for execution and evaluation of the existing routines

  • Develop post-training and post-competition routines

Pre- and Post-Competition Routines of Expert Coaches of Team Sports

We already know that expert coaches establish and implement predictable and consistent routines and approaches for their athletes. This classic academic article, published in the 1997 issue of The Sport Psychologist, confirms that expert coaches also develop personal routines as a part of the competition management process. Coaches engaged in a number of routine activities prior to the competition in order to prepare themselves for the game (rehearse the game plan, exercise, hold a team meeting, observe the team and opposition, and etc.). Post-competition routines for the coaches focused on emotional control, behavioral flexibility, and strategic timing and regulation of the content for the debriefing meeting.