My first job after college was working in the front-office for the NBA’s Washington Wizards. I spent over five seasons with the team.
It was an incredible job that included behind-the-scenes access to the players and many great perks. One of my favorites was being able to hang out courtside before home games and watch the players warm-up before fans arrived.
A big lesson that I learned from that experience was the importance of a pre-game ritual. The world’s greatest athletes don’t just show up at the arena and start a game ice cold. No, every elite athlete has a deliberate warm-up routine that helps prepare their body and mind for the intense challenge to follow.
Pre-game rituals are not just for professional athletes though. In this article, you will learn how to develop and use a pre-game ritual to perform your best on any kind of “playing field,” whether you are an executive in a board room, a doctor in an emergency room, or a teacher in a classroom.
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What Are the Benefits of a Pre-Game Ritual?
No matter what type of work you do, there will be moments when the pressure is on and you need to be at your best. It does not matter whether your “game” takes place in an arena or in a non-athletic setting.
A well-designed pre-game ritual is essential during these times. It helps reduce your anxiety, enhance your focus, and boost your confidence, all of which leads to higher performance.
Some nervousness is normal and even beneficial before a big event. It heightens your senses and forces you to focus. However, there is a point beyond which too much nervousness becomes overwhelming, distracting, and extremely detrimental to performance.
That’s where a customized pre-game ritual comes in handy. It channels any nervous energy in a positive direction. It also gives you a sense of control and helps you show up and perform at your best- physically, mentally, and psychologically.
When Should You Use a Pre-Game Ritual?
The most obvious time for a pre-game ritual is right before an athletic competition. However, there are many other times when it also makes sense to use one. Examples include right before a presentation, a test, a job interview, or an important meeting.
Think about the times in your career and life when you want and need to be at your absolute best. It makes sense to have a special ritual before any of those situations.
You can also deploy different rituals before different types of “games.” For example, you might use one sort of ritual before you run a race and another sort of ritual before you deliver a presentation at work.
If you really want to maximize your performance, you could even have a ritual for before every workday or at the start of every single day, including weekends.
What Should You Include in Your Pre-game Ritual?
Here are some ideas for activities that you could include in your pre-game ritual:
- Music: The right kind of music can transform your state of mind. If you want to get amped-up, high-energy music is very effective. The opposite is also true. If you want to calm yourself, peaceful music is very effective.
- Exercise: Physical activity is great for relieving stress, improving your mood, and boosting your confidence. It’s the key element in most of my pre-game rituals related to work. Beware of doing too much exercise though before a big event. Your pre-game ritual should give you more energy, not less.
- Hydration and healthy food: You cannot perform your best unless you are well-hydrated and well-fueled. It’s generally wise to hydrate and fuel-up 1-2 hours before your main event, so you have time to digest. Drink a lot of water, and stick to natural foods that you are used to eating. Avoid foods that are heavy, processed, or exotic. Err on the side of eating less, not more.
- Last-minute practice: You can also use your pre-game ritual as a final opportunity to practice for your event. For example, if you are about to deliver a speech, you could rehearse part of your presentation one last time.
- Meditation and/or deep breathing: Many people find meditation and/or deep breathing to be very powerful and calming before an intense event. For example, UFC champion Jon Jones likes to meditate before his mixed martial arts matches.
- Something fun and playful: Your pre-game ritual need not be 100% serious. A fun and playful element can also help you get ready. For example, Hall of Fame NFL linebacker Ray Lewis had a signature dance that he used to do when he was introduced before games.
Your ritual should be highly personalized for you and your “game.” Experiment and refine it over time.
How to Create Your Ideal Pre-Game Ritual (3 Steps)
Here are three steps to create your ideal pre-game ritual:
- Identify an upcoming “game.” Determine an upcoming event when you want to be at your absolute best. As discussed above, it does not have to be related to sports.
- Pick several pre-game activities. See above for some ideas on activities to include in your ritual. Or, add anything else that helps you feel your best-physically, mentally, and psychologically.
- Practice and refine. Test out your sequence of activities on a day before your actual event (not the day of). Then, remove, add, or change anything that did not work well for you. Keep refining your ritual over time.
Once you have created one pre-game ritual, follow these steps to create one for another kind of event.
An Example: What I Do Before a Keynote Presentation
I have different pre-game rituals for different types of “games” in my career and life. For example, here is a summary of what I do right before a keynote presentation:
- 3 hours before speech: Exercise for 45 minutes, while listening to a high-energy playlist of my favorite music. Then, I stretch.
- 2 hours before speech: Hydrate and eat a light, healthy meal. Then, I shower and change and practice a few key parts of part of my speech one last time.
- 90 minutes before speech: Drive to venue, while doing some deep breathing.
- 1 hour before speech: Arrive at venue, set up equipment, work out any tech issues, and get acclimated.
- 10-30 minutes before speech: Mingle with people at the event (a good way to warm-up the audience and myself).
- 5-10 minutes before speech: Another 1-2 minutes of deep breathing in a private, quiet place. (I already feel great by this point. However, the deep breathing helps me relax and focus even more.)
- 1-2 minutes before speech: Direct my thoughts. All I’m thinking about now is the first 30 seconds of my speech. (Everything else flows after that).
Then, I go out and crush it. Every time. My pre-game ritual is one of the main reasons why.
Note: The days before a speech, I take care of all the pre-habits and logistics for my speech. That includes practicing and refining my speech, flying to the city where I’ll be speaking, preparing my clothes for the speech, purchasing/preparing food to eat before my speech, etc. That way, my pre-game ritual is 100% stress-free and solely intended to get me into a peak state.
What If Time Is Limited?
There may be situations when you don’t have time to complete your entire pre-game ritual. For example, maybe you have a big presentation in the afternoon, and some commitments right before prevent you from completing your usual warm-up sequence. Or, maybe a big meeting pops up on your calendar at the last-minute.
It’s also smart to have a mini pre-game ritual that you can complete quickly when time is limited. For example, if you have less than 10 minutes, you could find a quiet, private place (go into a bathroom stall if nothing else is available) and meditate or do some deep breathing. Even a few intentional minutes will help you show up and perform much better than if you jump into a big “game” without any kind of warm-up.
Summary and Final Thoughts
The world’s greatest athletes don’t improvise with their time right before a big game. They follow a deliberate pre-game ritual that helps them feel and perform their best- physically, mentally, and psychologically.
Pre-game rituals are not only for professional athletes though. It is wise to follow a deliberate sequence of activities before any kind of big event, whether that is a presentation, a test, a job interview, an important meeting, or something else.
A well-designed pre-game ritual will reduce your anxiety, enhance your focus, and boost your confidence, all of which will help you feel and perform even better.
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the Creator of StrongerHabits.com. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and executive recruiter, and his work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com. His latest book is titled Work Stronger: Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work.
References for this article
- “ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise,” ACSM, http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/acsm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise.