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Before shots in golf and before free-throws in basketball, I notice players have a distinctive series of actions before setting up to hit the golf ball/shoot the free throw.

A few examples of pre-shot routines:

  • A golfer steps behind the golf ball, takes a few practice swings, steps into address, takes a few waggles, then hits the golf ball.

  • A basketball player takes the basketball, simulates a free throw with his hand, bounces the basketball twice, looks at the hoop and sets his feet, then shoots the free throw.

Michael Jordan says making putts is equitable to making free throws.(1)

“I equate making putts with making free throws, and my biggest mental challenge shooting free throws was in my second year, 1986, when I came back from a foot injury for the playoffs and had a 63-point game against Boston in the Garden. I had to make two free throws to send the game into overtime, and all I focused on was the basics – I’m not gonna be short. I’m gonna extend and reach for the rim – all the fundamentals that I had worked on at home and at practice for all those years. Golf is no different.”

What is the importance of a pre-shot routine? What benefits will a player have with a pre-shot routine?

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    As an aside: this applies to any circumstance where such a pre-routine takes place...eg, a batter taking practice swings before stepping up to the plate in baseball or a tennis player bouncing the tennis ball a few times before a serve. – user527 Mar 5 '13 at 18:29
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According to what I get on the golf course, the pre-shot routine prepare your body for the upcoming sequence of movements.
Golf teachers usually teach you to get the feeling for the next shoot until you fell comfortable, and this become a routine in every shoot.
Usually when you are about to shoot, your mind can play a lot of tricks on you (and more tricks if you are in front of water :P ). Making some practice swings should make your more confident on the shoot, and also will let you focus on your objective, since your body should remember the feeling of the shoot you want to make. It's like telling your body how you want to do the shoot.
Usually the pre-shot are slower, you can see it clearly easy on professionals.

Also take in mind that a routine makes you more confident about what are you going to do.

I will add that usually a lot of sports has pre something routine (in tennis you see the players do always the same before serve).

  • +1 Yeah. I tend to be impatient and change up my pre shot routine from time to time....sometimes, it doesn't have much effect...but other times, it's negative on me. – user527 Mar 5 '13 at 20:41
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A pre-shot routine allows you to 'settle in' mentally into a familiar routine process to help focus on the immediate shot and remove potentially adverse impacts of past shots.

Also, a good pre-shot routine can actually help improve the shot. For instance, you will often see pro-golfers 'walk in' to the ball from behind the ball (facing the hole) and set up versus many amateurs who walk into the ball from the side. This simple, minor thing can cause some basic alignment issues if you're not paying attention.

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A pre-shot routine whether it be golf, basketball, a batsman in cricket is in my belief a very mental aspect that acts a recollector for muscle memory. It puts your body in a position and your mind in a state to launch into the following movement, allowing you to call on all the muscle memory you've built up.

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