Routines. Athletes, across all sports, will have heard this word many times over their careers. Though it sounds boring, a routine is one of the most crucial aspects in developing and improving skills. Everyone from Michael Jordan to Clayton Kershaw undoubtedly abide by strict routines. The importance isn't the exact activity being done, it's the institution of a routine in the first place. In this article I will be presenting personal and scientific reasons backing the importance of routines.The kinds of routines I'll be talking about in this article are geared toward any type of athletic endeavor. If peak performance is really worth it to you, then a routine is a must.
Routines bring calmness to high stress situations. They give you a place to be and something to do at that time, taking out any guess work. Have you every felt that nervous energy sitting in the locker room with nothing to do before a game? Thats what I'm talking about. What Im talking about is peace of mind. Baseball is hard enough as it is, and anyway to destress yourself helps your performance on the big stage. All the added stresses are often dealt with by using superstitions, in baseball especially. "Don't step on the line", "Don't talk to a pitcher with a perfect game going", or you possibly have a personal superstition you use before going up to bat. Just keep in mind that these are all routines and ways to stay in the moment when faced with a big situation.
Personally I have seen routines work for myself and players I've played with over the years. Heres an example of my game-day routine as a pitcher at our home ball park :
For a 6:05 night game I show up at the field at 3. I grab a bite to eat to bring to the field and hangout in the clubhouse for the first hour. At 4, I go into the training room to address any kind of physical needs that the trainer can help me with. At 4:30 I start my full body stretch that will last 20-30 mins. At 5 I start my cardio/dynamic warm up. This includes sprints, hip mobility drills, core activation, push-ups, and a light shoulder and back workout. I will finish up at 5:25 and grab a drink of water. At 5:30 I begin my pre-game throwing routine in the outfield. At 5:40 I finish up and grab another drink and recap with the pitching coach and catcher for 5 mins about the game plan. This gives me 10-15 mins on the mound which I mainly use just to find rhythm. From there I walk back to the dugout and stride out for the National Anthem at 6:00. And there you have it.
Want I want to get across is that nothing about my routine is special. But it is MY routine. I believe in it. A routine needs to be something that will make you fell 100% ready mentally and physically. For example, five hours before a game Clayton Kershaw will find a wall and practice his delivery by short hopping a ball against the base of the wall, catching each ricochet over and over, pitch after pitch. For Kershaw, it works. It is his way of freeing himself of anxiety.
Now, to breakdown the benefits of having routines from a scientific standpoint. Your brain is made of millions of neurological pathways that fire on command. These pathways go from point A to point B. The goal here is to repeat this pathway over and over until there is no thinking involved. Just like throwing a pitch, the neuron will fire across a synapse and to the other neuron, creating a timed kinetic link resulting in a pitch. For most Little League players these pathways are under developed. Metaphorically speaking, picture a LL's pathway as a dirt trail through the woods. Yes, you can walk on it, but without constant walking, this trail will turn back into forest.
To develop this path you need to continue to walk and walk and walk. Now lets take the generic high school player. His skills will be more developed from repetition and routine accrued over years of experience, thus making his pathway slightly better. Picture a running trail that has a nice two lane surface with gravel. Nice right? But this trail isn't big enough for a car or anything with real speed. Moving on the a player in the MLB. The pathways in their brains look like 4 lane, concrete paved highways. Built for speed and constant use. Reaching speeds 10x faster than our original Little League player. How did they make this highway? Having a consistent point A. "A" is your routine and "B" is the game. We need to make this bridge from one to the other as seamless as possible.
I am going to make this very simple for you, what are the chances of reaching point B without a consistent point A? You will never make it to the 4 lane super highway without starting from a dirt trail. There is a lot of wasted time shuffling through routines from points X,Y, and Z when you should be focused on building one path. In closing here is a phrase to remember " Constantly Repeat Consistent Routines". If you abide by this you will be seeing massive strides in your game.