By: Jesse Schrade
Stevie Wonder famously sang of superstitions that it’s “when you believe in things, that you don’t understand then you suffer.”
Superstitions are beliefs that can be shared across many cultures, amongst many people and spill into the world of sport. Now not everyone believes that these forces can have an impact on life or one’s performances. Rituals, similar to superstitions, are specific activities done before, during or after the game, with the assumed thought that it will impact performance or the game. There is no belief in luck with a ritual as it is a habitual action, but it still conveys the thought of impacting a performance.
Mike Rocca, a guard for the Lancer men’s basketball team, says he’s no believer in superstition, but rather of morning rituals.
“I make sure before each game that I do some two ball dribbling and drink a lot of water,” Rocca explained. “If I go through my routine properly then it will positively affect my performance.”
From the moment he wakes up he believes that hard work, the right frame of mind and dedication is the way to succeed, but doesn’t stray away from his pre and post game rituals as they get him ready for the game.
“I don’t think one factor should dictate my performance as I work and prepare really hard for the game,” Rocca added. “I don’t want to be focused on something I cannot control, but my rituals are definitely important to my game.”
Following the belief in rituals while dispelling superstitions within her own game is Danielle Butler, a forward on the Lancer women’s hockey team. Superstitions are unjustified beliefs to her and she would rather clear her mind of everything pre-game, rather than rely on external factors in which she can’t control.
“Before every game, it is important that I go for a walk, whether it be at the hotel or the arena,” Butler described. “This loosens up my muscles and allows me to focus.”
Butler may not believe in superstitions herself, but she has taken notice of other teammates and their habits.
“Yeah, some girls, no matter what arena we go to, they have to sit next to the same person or they feel a bad mojo,” Butler disclosed.
Anthony Pollock, a defenseman on the men’s soccer team, is not a firm believer in superstitions as he sees it as an excuse. He does, however, fall victim every once and awhile, changing his cleats when the team is not doing well. Pollock does not believe he needs to perform a pre-game ritual in order to play better. As to him, it is more of an in-game factor.
“Superstitions allow people to cope with performance and blame it on something else rather than themselves,” Pollock stated. “That is not to say that I don’t do the same. If I go 10-15 minutes at the start of the game without a hard tackle, I feel my performance is lost.”
For many athletes at any level, there is a sense of this unknown matter controlling their minds. The food they eat, the activities they do pre and post-game, the clothes they wear and the list goes on regarding the different expressions of one’s superstitions. These superstitions or rituals can either be on a personal level or shared between teammates as part of their identity.
One of Butler’s teammates, Molly Jenkins, is one of those people who believe. Molly is a goalie for the Lancer women’s hockey team, while being a goalie may explain her belief in superstitions as it is a common thought that goalies are among the weirdest people in sport.
“When taping my stick, I always put a Hockey Canada quarter on the back of my blade,” Jenkins illustrated. “Also, I always need to pack my off-ice clothes in the same sequence within my bag.”
Jenkins is a prime example of an elite athlete who has fallen to the power of these irrationalities, believing they must be done to ensure a peak performance. She says she has always been superstitious just, the focus has changed over time. When she was younger she relied on the power of a sweaty headband.
“I had this headband that I would wear under my helmet every game. I would not let my parents wash it, thinking it would cause me to play bad,” Jenkins continued.
The hockey goalie is seen as one of the most superstitious athletes. They are constantly alone, positionally and have a lot of pressure put on them. Jonathan Reinhart, also a goalie, but on the Lancer men’s team is another example of superstitious thinker. Just like Jenkins, if he could not complete his pregame rituals he would feel unprepared for the game mentally. His superstitions are something that has followed him through his career and into university hockey, sometimes even believing in luck.
“Sometimes you have to believe in luck, the puck can bounce whichever way it wants. Sometimes in opposition to what you want,” Reinhart states. “ It comes down to believing in luck and making sure that I put my left pad on first, it’s the small stuff that gets me a bit more ready for the game mentally.”
One of Reinhart’s teammates, Brennan Feasey, believes that staying consistent with your routines and rituals will produce results in performances that you want to see.
“A superstition is a constant routine that you do before every game, it stays consistent because you feel it affects your play,” Feasey explained.
He has played hockey since he was a toddler and no matter what age or level of hockey he is at, he does not change what he does pre-game and in between periods.
“I absolutely need to tape my stick before every game and need to stand alone before the game to clear my thoughts,” Feasey said. “Mid-game, I always elevate my feet, I don’t know why I do it, but I believe it relaxes them and allows me to start strong the next period. Myth or not, it works.”
A common theme for superstitious items is clothing. An athlete will have an article of clothing that they deemed “lucky.” Most of the time it is because they noticed when wearing or possessing the item their performance was better. Some, like Jenkins, refuse to let their lucky item be washed due to the fear of washing their luck down the drain. Giulia Barile, a forward on the women’s soccer team, grew up playing in a pair of spandex that had holes in them, subconsciously making her play better.
“Yeah, I wore this one pair of spandex pants so much that they wore out on the side and a big hole formed,” Barile illustrated. “It got so bad that when I would slide tackle I would be left with a raspberry (grass burn). But they brought me good luck so I did not get rid of them.”
Relying on a pair of torn up pants may seem rather silly to most, but to athletes such as Barile, it is engrained in their brains that they have something to do with their performance, whether it be good or bad. It does not stop at the hole filled spandex for Barile, she also confides in a teammate so much that if their routine together is broken up, she feels as if she is lost.
“My teammate and longtime friend Becca Feurth have this routine before games,” Barile describes. “ we have to sit next to each other on the bus and we always have to stretch together. Especially incorporating this one calf stretch that we have been doing since our high school days.”
A lot of athletes know that their superstitions are weird and silly, but it does not stop them from using them just in case they are the reason for their success. A Lancer athlete that believes success comes from performing certain rituals is, Chris Rinaldi-Ross, a captain for the Lancer baseball team.
“To me, it is something I just do before every game and every at-bat. It brings me luck and results in the form of success,” Rinaldi-Ross emphasized.
The baseball world is full of superstitious opportunities, the pitchers, the batters and the fielders all have their own rituals and routines they do before the game, the pitch and after a hit. Rinaldi-Ross, being a fielder and batter, knows the importance mentality has in the game of baseball and follows an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach.”
“Yogi Berra (retired New York Yankees catcher) once said ‘baseball talent is 90% mental and the other half is physical’ so definitely a lot of players have superstitions in this sport. I have to tap the edge of the plate before each at-bat and I don’t bring my bat to my shoulders until the pitcher starts his windup.” Ross stated. “ I have been having success until I stop getting hits or on-base, I will not change my approach.”
Whole teams and even the fans have a joint ritual, that being the rally cap. When a baseball team is down runs close to the end of the game, the players and fans of that team will wear their hat inside out hoping that good luck will come their way and a rally will start.
“It really is a silly thing to believe in,” Rinaldi-Ross added “But growing up I was taught the power of the rally cap. It is kind of something you just do, you have to hope that there is luck on the inside of your cap.”
Athletes may be revered as strong-willed human beings, but really on the inside what goes on in their mind can play a big part in how they perform. What they choose to eat can even, in their minds, affect how they play.
There is no size, gender or sports boundary, it’s mental, not physical. Even macho, mammoth football players themselves believe in luck and rituals to give them an added boost. Lucas Moore, a 6’3” 290 lb lineman for the Lancer football team, believes that luck can get you far in a game and even relies on a particular song to get the adrenaline flowing.
“Luck allows for those once in a lifetime plays, the one that absolutely everything goes right for you down to the last detail,” Moore stated. “On top of luck I need to listen to some Phil Collins In the Air Tonight, that drum solo near the end, it just gets me going before every game and it seems to make me play better.”
It does not matter what sport you are a fan of or what level of competition it is, there will always be someone who believes that some food, some song, some pair of pants and or action will affect their play. Superstitions affect people and athletes of every shape and size and are not limited to those who are faint-hearted. Not complying with these superstitions won’t end in seven years of bad luck, but by following them they allow the athletes to believe, that mentally they are prepared. Stevie, there is no need to Wonder anymore, superstition is the way.
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