Athletes across every sport at all levels participate in pregame rituals.
Superstitions and pregame rituals have been in sports for an exceptionally long time. And the reason for that is simple: they help the athlete’s performance.
In an article published by the Association for Psychological Science, authors Barbara Stoberok and Thomas Mussweiler found that “good-luck-related” superstitions such as a saying or a good luck charm can improve your performance.
Many athletes use superstitions and pregame rituals to help boost their in-game performance by gaining confidence, easing nerves, and feeling more in control.
15-year-old basketball point guard Adjy Kanta wears two pairs of socks during his games. And there is a reason for it. “It’s like a good luck charm for me when I play,” Kanta says. “I see myself playing more confident with the extra pair of socks.” Kanta also said that when he doesn’t wear the two pairs, he loses some of his confidence, plays sloppier, and has more turnovers.
His socks do not decide on whether he plays good or bad, but they affect his performance because like said in the Association for Psychological Science article, “Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance.”
Recent National Lacrosse League draftee Ty Yanko told 8forty about some of his pregame rituals. “I always retape my stick before playing a game,” Yanko says, “Taping my stick allows me to get into a zone and focus. It allows me to think about what I want to focus on in that specific game.”
Having a pregame ritual or superstition is like having a free-throw routine in basketball. You do the same thing to prepare, and it creates rhythm and muscle memory.
Athletes will try anything to gain an advantage on opponents and put themselves in a position to be prepared before a game and their superstitions and rituals help them do that.
For Yanko, rhythm is very important. “Routine and consistency in approach is important for an athlete. If I didn’t follow my routine, I feel as if I wouldn’t perform to the best of my ability.”
Pregame rituals can also help you get in a proper mindset before your game.
NBA legend Kobe Bryant would listen to Michael Meyers’s Halloween theme song before every game to put him in the right mindset before his games.
“It was important that it was Michael Meyers because the mask itself was the void of emotion,” Bryant said. “It has nothing to do with hype, it has nothing to do with comradery, it’s just stone-cold killer, and I would listen to that song over and over.”
19-year-old college soccer player Sarah Svetic’s pregame ritual includes listening to motivational speeches before every game. “It motivates me to play better and takes my mind off any stress or worries before my game,” Svetic says. “The times I don’t do it I feel out of rhythm and perform worse, but when I do it, I play stronger.”
Still, it is important to be able to have control over your superstition, otherwise, it may become unhealthy, and become more of an obstacle rather than a tool, like in the case of Kevin Rhomberg.
Rhomberg’s superstition included the need to touch everyone who touched him before a game. When opposing teams learned this information, they started taking advantage. Catchers would touch Rhomberg and run away in order to get in his head before the game.
Rhomberg would also refuse to take right turns because there are no right turns in baseball. While talking with author Russel Schneider in his book, he says “I finally forced myself to quit it when I realized my kids had become aware of what I was doing. We were in a shopping mall, and they started making left turns in order to make a right turn. When my family started getting involved in it, I figured it was time to end it.”
If you are an athlete, it is a good idea to get a pregame ritual to help boost your performance, as long as you are always in control.
“I follow through with my superstitions because I have pride in my performance.” Yanko says, “I want to do all of the prep I can to ensure I am successful in whatever sport I’m playing.”