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Athletes Superstitions and Rituals

Do superstitions give athletes a performance edge?

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Updated June 21, 2013

We've all seen athletes performing ritual movements before competition and have heard stories about the baseball player with his lucky socks or the hockey player with his favorite stick. To the onlooker, it may seem silly and strange, but in sports, superstition and ritual is widespread and a fairly common practice. In fact, for some players these patterns may actually influence their success on the field.

The Power of Rituals in Sports
A ritual is a certain behavior or action that an athlete performs with the belief that these behaviors have a specific purpose, or power, to influence their performance. Many athletes believe that performing a specific ritual before competition improves their performance. These rituals range from the clothes they wear to the foods they eat or drink; the warm up they perform or even the music they listen to.

The Power of Superstition in Sports
Superstition is generally something that is initially developed in hindsight, almost by accident and then required in future events. A superstition arises when an athlete has a particularly good (or bad) performance and then tries to establish "cause and effect" by reviewing the facts of the day. They will notice things like what they ate or wore and they'll notice anything unusual that happened such as getting a haircut, receiving a gift or hearing a certain song. If they have a great performance they attribute their success to that unusual circumstance and attempt to recreate it before every competition.

The Value of Superstition and Ritual in Sports
Perhaps the real value in superstition and ritual is the boost of confidence and the sense of control that they provide an athlete. If you believe that doing a specific action or behavior will make you perform better, then you probably will perform better. This is the foundation of sports psychology. Many athletes use rituals such as visualization or guided imagery, to recreate a particularly successful race and experience the feelings they had then as though they are happening now. This recall and visualization prepares them both mentally and physically for competition.

Share Your Views - Take the Poll
What about you? Do you have a specific lucky charm or other specific pre-competition ritual or superstitions?

Take the Poll: Do you have Pre-competition Superstitions or Rituals?

Also see: Using the Mind to Heal the Body: Can Imagery and Self-Hypnosis Speed Injury Recovery?

Sources:

Isaac, A. R. (1992). "Mental Practice- Does it Work in the Field?" The Sport Psychologist, 6, 192-198.

Martin, K.A., Hall, C. R. (1995). "Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Intrinsic Motivation." Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 54-69.

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