“Just take the shot!” Sounds simple, except when it isn’t.

Decided to write this post to share how I would help a player develop a pre-shot routine, as I was reflecting on the time spent over the past couple of weeks reviewing the pre-throw routines of my Goalball players, and helping the boys at Raffles Rugby with their pre-kick and throw routines.

“A pre-routine should be customized to suit the athlete’s sport, personal preference and dominant learning style.”

Most coaches recognize the importance of pre-shot routines (especially for self-paced sports), but not many know how best to help their athletes develop one, especially one that integrates mental strategies. Before we go into the step-by steps, do follow this link to learn about what pre-shot routines are, and why they are important…


I make use of a somewhat contrived sounding acronym – PRE-FA (Prepare -> Rehearse -> Focus -> Allow) to facilitate the teaching of pre-shot routine.

Step 1: Prepare

The first step simply requires you to decide what to do. For tennis, it could mean to serve to the T or to serve wide, for a Goalball penalty – to throw down the line or diagonally across. Many coaches and athletes are often curious about why this step is even required.

“Isn’t it common sense that you have to decide where to hit before taking a shot?”

Well, common sense is common except when it isn’t! When you are under pressure and you take a shot even when your mind still has not made up its mind! When players begin to recall how they messed up a shot during competition, they began to remember how anxiety got the better of them, causing them to rush through the shot without even first deciding where to place the ball.

I’ve also seen a shooter hitting the wrong target (cross fired) and a rugby player at the lineout throw to the back of the line despite being instructed to throw to the front. All these mistakes could have been avoided had they consciously taken the first step of the pre-shot routine.  

Step 2: Rehearse

Ask your players to describe how they would take the shot and some of them will describe how they see the trajectory of the ball going into goal (visual), others will describe how they feel and hear the ball hitting the club as he makes the swing (kinesthetic and audio). Most players will make use of a dominant sense but some will make use of more than one sense.

At this stage, a players will want to rehearse in his or her mind how the plan will look and feel like in action.

Step 3: Focus

A classic expectation for any pre-shot would be to hit the target (outcome). Instead of focusing on the outcome, advice your player to refocus on what they can control instead, specifically, the process goals, i.e., specific cues that will help increase the probability of scoring.

In a nutshell, this step requires you to recognize your expectations and refocus on the process instead.

Step 4: Allow

“If you were having trouble sleeping, would trying harder to sleep help you to fall asleep?”

I would often ask the above question to get athletes thinking about the last step of the routine where you simply allow your body to perform what is has practiced. I know, the latter is easier said than done especially when we are under-pressure. Hence, the need to consistently practice the pre-shot routine under both practice and competition conditions.

“Consistent practice leads to consistent performance.”

To help you design you own pre-shot routine, here’s an example service routine for Tennis using PRE-FA.

Step Approach
Plan Take a slow deep breath as I decide if I am serving wide or to the T.
RE-hearse I bounce the ball a couple of times and visualize the trajectory of my serve. I feel the impact of the ball as it leaves my racket.
Focus I am aware of my distractors but I refocus on a specific cue, i.e., my specific target.
Allow “BAM!” I trust this cue word and allow my body to follow through with the serve.

Note that this is just an example and a pre-routine should be customized to suit the athlete’s sport, personal preference and dominant learning style.

In closing, here are a few important pointers and reminders that I somehow tend to forget (I know I shouldn’t!) when I share with, or teach someone how to create a pre-shot routine!

  1. A pre-shot routine is useless unless it is practiced regularly. Practice it whenever you take a free throw in practice of in competition. A routine is a habit, and habits only become habits when “repeatedly repeated”.
  2. A pre-shot routine is not for beginners. It should be introduced only when he or she is already proficient with the execution of the skill.
  3. A pre-shot routine is no guarantee for successful execution. What happens after an unsuccessful shot? We need to also equip the athlete with something symbolic to let go of the mistake and refocus on the next play. For example, I get my Goalball players to “wash their hands” and tell themselves to refocus on the next play.

That’s all for now! Feel free to drop me a message should you need more information on how to develop a pre-shot routines for yourself or your athletes.

Coach Hansen

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