Nathan Tanner

How Michael Phelps’ Pre-Race Routine Can Help You Perform at Your Peak

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete, having won a record 23 gold medals. The secret to his success was building a mindset that prepared him to be at his best when everything was on the line. Here’s how he did it.

Last week I spoke with a former client of mine. When asked what was most valuable from our coaching engagement, he was quick to say, “Learning to play the videotape.”

This lesson comes from Michael Phelps. Before every race he had the same routine. 45 minutes before the race he’d put on his suit. At 30 minutes he’d warm up. With 10 minutes left he’d find a seat alone, goggles on one side of him, his towel on the other. He’d stretch, pull out his ear buds, and step onto the block the same way, every time. 

His coach would tell him to “play the videotape.” He’d then visualize the entire race, stroke for stroke, until he’d emerge from the pool victorious. By doing the same thing before every race, there was no room for stress or worry. His routine kept him on track. He was dialed in. 

My former client, who had just shifted to an enterprise sales role when we started working together, found that anxiety and fear of failure were holding him back from success. The pressure of high-stakes sales calls would get to him. So, like Phelps, we created a step-by-step, pre-game routine he could follow. 15 minutes before every call he would “play the videotape.” 

This consistency calmed his nerves and sharpened his focus. More importantly, it helped him crush his quota and become one of the top performers at his company. 

What routines or habits help you perform at your best? How can you “play the videotape” in your work?