Even though they may not have any effect on the game, superstitions and rituals have always been a huge part of sports
As an athlete, game day is the most important day. These days usually consist of routines that become habits — also known as superstitions and rituals. In sports, these rituals can often seem odd from an outsider’s perspective, but athletes and their fans believe that accomplishing certain repetitive tasks can enhance their performance or else they may face a mental block. Many sport fans and athletes believe that these habits and routines will give them better luck to have a successful competition.
A ritual — similar to superstition — in sports can be defined as “a certain behaviour or action that a sports performer [or fan] carries out with the belief that these behaviours have a specific purpose, or power, to influence their performance; many sports performers believe that performing a specific ritual before a competition improves the outcome of their performance.” Such performances are normally played out before every single game.
Some of the world’s most famous athletes perform specific routines before a game. Sometimes they prepare weeks prior to their performances — whether that’d be a baseball player wearing his lucky socks, a soccer player blessing themselves before stepping foot on the pitch or a basketball coach chewing on a towel.
That is to say, baseball is one of the sports with the most superstition. According to Deborah Minter, a writer from “How They Play,” there are as many superstitions as there are baseball players. Every baseball player has their own unique rituals. Some common ones include never stepping on the chalk lines, never talking about a ‘no-hitter’ or ‘perfect game’ when a game is in progress, using repetitive batting stance and using lucky bats and gloves.
Notoriously known for having numerous superstitions was Wade Boggs — also known as ‘Chicken Man’. Boggs played for the Boston Red Sox as a third baseman in the 1980s and 1990s. Before every game, he ate large amounts of chicken which led him to become the author of a poultry cookbook titled Fowl Tips. He also wore the same socks on every game day, and he fielded exactly 150 ground balls at every practice.
These rituals eventually propelled him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame during his 18 year career, and he firmly believed it was because of his daily routines. Boggs famously said during one of his speeches, “Believe me, I have a few superstitions, and they work.”
Not only is the world of baseball filled with superstitions, but so is tennis. One of the world’s most famous tennis players, Rafael Nadal, is said to have 19 superstitions which begin as soon as he enters the court before the start of the game. These habits are almost like step by step guide on how to be a great tennis player. Nadal insists on not calling them superstitions, but rather mechanisms to help him focus.
Nadal always enters the court with a single racket in his hands, makes sure the logos from his water bottles are facing the court and before his games, he takes freezing showers. “I do this before every match,” writes Nadal in his 2011 autobiography about his showering ritual. “It’s the point before the point of no return. Under the cold shower I enter a new space in which I feel my power and resilience grow. I’m a different man when I emerge. I’m activated. I’m in ‘the ﬂow’.”
Athletes are not alone when it comes to superstitions. As for sports fans, once they become invested in a team, they believe they have the power to control the outcome of any competition.
For example, various types of ritual activities have been developed by fans, such as wearing team colors and celebrating patriotism at international games by decorating their bodies with national flags.
Many fans of the NFL admit to sitting in the same spot the entire game, eating the exact same foods during every game and wearing a lucky outfit. These routines seem intense but with a season so short, NFL fans believe every game is crucial and by committing to these rituals, their NFL team could possibly win.
Anirudh Shenai, a fourth year cognitive science major at UC Davis and a fan of the English soccer team Arsenal has superstitions.
“My big superstition is, [before they play against] Chelsea, I will never google ‘Chelsea vs. (opponent)’ for team news. NEVER. Everytime I did that, Chelsea lost,” Shenai said.
Many people tend to develop superstitions when they are under a lot of pressure — especially in high levels of competition — because it reduces anxiety. Within a sport, superstitions have been shown to reduce tension and provide a sense of control over unpredictable, chance factors.
What this comes to show for athletes is that superstitions can provide reassurance and help reduce anxiety. Without these daily routines, athletes wouldn’t have the comfort to guide them in every game so that they can perform to the best of their ability.
Written by: Katherin Raygoza — firstname.lastname@example.org