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Pre-Competition Routine Helps Athletic Performance

When I began USA Cycling’s endurance track program at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, I learned about the importance of a pre-competition routine, a step-by-step approach to competition that, if followed, ensures proper preparation and optimum athletic performance.  For me, developing a pre-competition routine was a defining moment in raising my game to the next level.  It helped me focus, prepare and keep my nerves under control.

Erin Mirabella

As a parent of an athlete, helping your child develop a pre-competition routine can pay enormous dividends.   You may need to tweak it to fit your child’s specific needs, but, once developed, it can be used not only for sports but for tests at school and pretty much any activity that requires peak performance.

Work backwards

In developing a pre-competition routine, begin with the start time for the game or event and work backwards:

Five minutes before competition starts: Reserve time for your child to begin collecting her thoughts, take a few deep breathes, and put on any last-minute gear.

Approximately 35-50 minutes before the start:   Begin sport-specific warm-up.  While the warm-up for each sport is different, in general a warm-up should start out easy and gradually increase in intensity.

  • Go a step further than just having your child set aside this time for warm-up: have her write down, minute by minute, the type of activities he or she will do and the intensity at which each will be done.
  • Remember that every athlete is different.  Have your child experiment to see what combination of warm-ups works best. Once you child finds their perfect warm-up recipe, write it down and stick with it. 
  • If warm-ups are done as a team, have your child join the team for warm ups, but, if needed, add additional exercises before or after the team warm-up, or suggest that your child talk to the coach about incorporating these additional activities into the team warm-up.

Arrival time: Now that you know how long your child’s warm-up will take, you can help him figure out the time he should arrive at the field of play.  Allow extra time before warm-ups begin for things like equipment prep, pinning numbers, team meetings, and trips to the bathroom.

Night before:  If at all possible, have your child pack his sports bag the night before the competition. 

  • If the sport requires a lot of equipment, create a checklist so your child doesn’t forget anything important. Do as much prep work as possible before you get to the venue, (i.e. pin numbers, fill water bottles, prepare food, etc.)

Create music play-list:  At some point before the day of the event, have your child create a play-list for her iPod, MP3 or CD player of music to listen to while she is getting ready to compete (where reasonable and safe).   In addition to pumping her up, the music will help her tune out distractions; seeing that she is listening to music, people will also be less likely to interrupt her pre-competition routine.

My pre-race routine

So you have an example of a pre-competition routine to use in creating your child's, here's the routine I followed:

  • A good night's sleep. The night before I tried, if at all possible, to get a least 8 hours of sleep. 
  • Pre-game meal. I ate approximately two and a half to three hours before my race. 
  • 90 minutes before race.  I arrived for my race an hour and a half before I was scheduled to compete.
  • Equipment check.  After I arrived, I checked my equipment and made sure that the appropriate gear was on my bike.  I laid out my helmet, shoe covers, gloves, energy bar, etc.
  • Warm-up listening to music.  After a trip to the bathroom, I climbed on my bike, with my music on, to warm up.  I rode easy for 15 minutes.  Then, I got off my bike and stretched for 10-15 minutes.  Then, I got back on the bike and did approximately a 10-minute wind up with the last 4 or 5 minutes at my threshold (time trail pace.)  I ramped up my intensity by changing my gear to the race setting and completing several 15-second sprints.  I then took one last trip to the bathroom, ate my energy gel, and finished with 5 to 15 minutes of easy riding to stay warm.  During my warm-up I visualized myself performing my races perfectly.

Having a pre-competition routine will give your child security, confidence, and ensure that she has done everything necessary to prepare for her event. 

Erin Mirabella is a mom, two-time Olympic track cyclist, MomsTeam's track cycling expert, and children's book author.  Her books, Gracie Goat's Big Bike Race and Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star focus on sportsmanship, healthy lifestyles, and core values. For more information about Erin and her children’s books, click here.  


Created November 22, 2009. Updated September 23, 2011


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