More Confident Preparation: Why Steph Curry will hustle you at pool
Why that dude is good at nearly everything.
Why that dude is good at nearly everything.
Welcome back to More Confident — a blog series dedicated to the scientific tools of confident performance. Today we’ll explore a popular preparation technique known as the pre-performance routine, and we’ll bask in the majesty of NBA great, Steph Curry.
A pre-performance routine (or “PPR” to its old high school buddies) is defined as a “series of task relevant thoughts and actions that a person engages in systematically prior to the performance of a specific skill.” (Moran, 1996)
In effect, it is what it sounds like: a pre – performance – routine, but there are characteristics of a good one that can unlock consistent peak-level performance, and elevate PPRs above your run-of-the-mill, same-underwear-every-gameday superstition.
What’s an example of a good PPR?
Here’s a quote from a piece written by renowned basketball writer, Tom Haberstroh, for NBC sports, about future hall-of-famer, Steph Curry’s free throw routine:
“Curry catches the ball from the referee and steps to the line, with the ball on his left hip. He looks down and taps just behind the nail of the line with his right toe (every gym has a nail on the free-throw line that marks the center of the hoop) and then sets up his feet so the nail is in the middle of his stance. His right foot is a couple inches in front of his left. His right arm dangles limp for a moment.
Then he gathers the ball, dribbles once and shoots it, holding his follow through with his right hand, all in one fluid motion. Every single time.”
PPR’s utilize targeted thoughts and physical actions to optimize our focus and energy levels in the moments before the moments, when a performer — any performer — is gearing up to execute in a high stakes environment.
As evidenced by Steph Curry, PPRs are common amongst athletes who perform “closed” and “self-paced skills,” meaning actions within their sport where there is a clear beginning and end in a stable environment — and in which the athletes themselves determine the pace of action.
Other examples of closed and self-paced skills include penalty shots in soccer, golf putts, tennis serves, even beer pong shots — which, incidentally, is a game you should never, under any circumstances, play against Steph Curry if you value your internal organs.
While much of the research around PPRs springs from the world of sports, the benefits of a good PPR expand far beyond the world of sports.
PPRs are antidotes to the poison of pressure. That means any pressure, in any field.
Picture yourself in the moments before a high-stakes performance. It could be an interview, a client presentation, a sales call — any situation where you want to do well, have the skills to do well, but have time to think about it.
As we’ve all learned the hard way, that “time” can wreak havoc on our performance. Pressure causes the emotional circuitry in our brain to interfere with our motor cortex. We get distracted by things we can’t control, our bodies tighten, and our sweat glands erupt like a 350lb Mentos candy cannonballing into a vat of diet coke.
But by developing a good PPR, we can proactively take control over those nerve wracking pre-performance seconds, and slice through pressure to perform to the top of our abilities more consistently.
How can I develop my own PPR?
This is a task of trial and error, and that’s ok. Embrace it. The important thing to remember is that we’re looking to use small physical and mental cues to optimize our energy and focus.
Think back to Steph Curry’s free throw PPR, and look at the quick and simple steps he takes to align himself for his shot. Gauging from the PPR he developed for himself, it seems like if you asked him how he wants to feel before every free throw, he would mention some version of “relaxed and focused.”
For Steph to arrive at that place, he centers his body on the foul line, dangles his arm loose to relax, dribbles once to begin his motion, and holds his hand in place to cement his follow through. Missing from the description we provided from the Tom Haberstroh piece is that Steph also takes a deep breath at the top of his process.
To develop our own pre-performance routines, we need to ask ourselves, “how do I want to feel as my performance begins?”
Relaxed and focused is a good formula for lots of confident performance, but depending on our task, we may want to be more amped up. We also need to think about what specifically we want to be focused on.” For Steph, it’s his arms and feet, and his aim.
But for us, maybe we’re gearing up for the beginning of a tightly orchestrated sales presentation and we want to be focused on strong opening energy or the volume of our voice. If we’re in the waiting room for a job interview, maybe we want to develop a PPR that optimizes our eye contact, and puts us at ease if we’re feeling overhyped.
The key, again, is to treat yourself as an ongoing experiment. Think critically about how you want to feel before your performance, and get specific about things you can do, think, look at, or listen to, to get yourself there.
Steph Curry is a baller on multiple levels. By the time he’s done playing in the NBA, he’s likely to go down as the best 3 point shooter and free throw shooter in history. He’s also a PGA tour quality golfer — another sport where he no doubt combines his incredibly physical gifts with the regular use of PPR’s to optimize his mind and body before swings.
Needless to say, if you ever bump into a 6’1” suspiciously Steph-looking dude wearing a mustache and glasses in a Bay Area pool hall, asking if you want to play a couple of rounds for some light cash — it’s an obvious get-the-hell-outta-there situation.
In the meantime, here’s a simple PPR toolkit so we can work on our game until that moment comes.
Here are a few tips to get you started on building your own PPR: