In the summer of 2016, Michael Phelps left it all in the pool in his final Olympic performance. But debatably the most memorable image of Phelps from Rio was one outside of the pool – the image of him sitting stone-faced, hood up and headphones on, as long-time competitor Chad le Clos of South Africa shadowboxed directly in front of him. The viral image speaks volumes of the competitors, but lays out even more clearly one of sport’s most intriguing elements: how athletes prepare for their moment.
There’s a lot to be said about the days and months leading up to competition; the strict diets followed and intense schedules are almost as impressive as the athletes’ incredible performances. Each athlete seems to have their unique and often superstitious response to the pressure of competition.
Take Michael Phelps for example. The swimmer-savant slaps his back with his arm swing three times before every meet. Four time NBA MVP and Cleveland Cavaliers legend LeBron James tosses chalk into the air. Field Hockey player Alex Danson spins her hockey stick 15 times before each game. We see it in each and every sport, these athletes are committed to their routine that helps amp them up to dominate the game.
Do these rituals work? Experts say yes, but mainly for the internal shift they give you. Sticking to a ritual gives the athlete the confidence and feeling of control that they often need to succeed at the highest level.
These last minute preparations fascinate fans and athletes alike. Stay tuned for a Facebook mini-series with Tom Brady to get an in-depth look at the long-term preparations necessary to gaining this in-the-moment confidence.