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They’d rather not leave it to chance: Lancer athletes and their pre-game rituals

By: Kevin Ye Su

We all have rituals; some innocuous set of actions we perform habitually. It could be as simple as getting your double-double from the same Tim Hortons every morning or using the same “lucky” pencil to fill out every scantron sheet you have during exams. There are little things we do to comfort ourselves and get ready for the task at hand. 

Lancer athletes are no different. 

Rituals are often present in sports. Athletes need to hype themselves up and “get in the zone.” Rituals serve to comfort the athlete, although they might not feel as though they will change the outcome of the game. Through establishing and performing these ritualistic behaviours, our Lancers believe they are preparing themselves and their team for success. 

How and why these rituals are developed by our Lancers varies. Whether it’s to build a connection with teammates or to get started on the right foot, thought has gone into constructing these rituals. The athletes will point out themselves that these quirks are silly, yet they still partake in these behaviours before every game. 

So why do they do them? 

Pierce Johnson

Taken from the Windsor Lancers website. 

Pierce Johnson didn’t start playing volleyball until he was in eighth grade. He joined Lancers Men’s Volleyball in 2016 and has become an integral part of the team. He chose Windsor because the program was growing and he believed the Lancers had a good group of guys to play with.  

Since Johnson has developed a series of ritualistic behaviours to form a connection with his teammates before each game. Johnson takes time during warmups to do special handshakes with a few of his teammates. 

Firstly, he high-fives then embraces both setters. It’s simple – but it has stood the test of time. 

“One game me and my best friend on the team did it during my first year and it just kept going from there,” Johnson said with a nostalgic tone. 

Photo courtesy of Pierce Johnson.

Through making these connections, Johnson prepares himself for the game ahead and improves the communication he has with his setters. 

Similarly, Johnson has a series of more elaborate handshakes with other teammates. 

He and the other left side reenact a scene from Finding Nemo, where two sea turtles, Crush and Squirt, high-five then headbutt each other affectionately. 

Video courtesy of Pierce Johnson.

“Me and the other left side wanted a pre-game handshake,” Johnson said. “This one I also don’t know why we started it. Finding Nemo is a good movie, but we’re not like huge fans of it.”

Johnson and the other left side are forming a personal connection. The ritual of acknowledging and working in concert with his teammate has become a notable part of their warmup. 

Finally, the fourth handshake is golf-inspired. Johnson putts an imaginary golf ball to his teammate, who pulls an imaginary flag out of the hole, and then they take off their imaginary caps. This is followed by a handshake. Through bonding over a common interest, golf, Johnson and his teammates are continuing to forge a stronger personal relationship. 

Johnson has one other pregame ritual that began in his second year with Windsor. He grabs his shorts with both hands above his head, and in one movement jumps high while putting his shorts on.

“It started because one of the guys in the team didn’t think I could do it,” Johnson recalled. 

All of Johnson’s rituals revolve around having lighthearted interactions with his teammates. Whether it started as a way to connect before a game, or as a dare between friends, Johnson continues to be focused on developing his sense of team through these rituals. 

However, even though he partakes in ritualistic behaviours, Johnson doesn’t consider himself superstitious. Even though he realizes that not performing these rituals won’t make or break the team’s performance, he does them anyway. They serve more of a purpose than to give him luck, they help him prepare for the game. 

Jade Samping

Taken from the Windsor Lancers website.

Jade Samping is an extremely competitive soccer player. She joined a travelling soccer team at age eight and has been a powerhouse player ever since. When choosing what to do after high school, she had offers to go to Europe or the United States, but she chose Windsor. 

“I wanted to put Windsor on the map and help build the program.” Samping said with a sense of pride.

And to help her do that, Samping uses some pre-game rituals.

Firstly, Samping is very particular about how she gets ready. She always has to get started on the right foot – literally. She puts on her socks and shoes always starting with the right, then the left. 

“When I was 14 or 15, I had to do it because if not, I would play bad,” she admitted. “Now it’s just a habit.”

This ritual has been taking place for years, and originally Samping did believe that it would affect her performance. While she may not believe that now, the ritual is comforting and is still an influential aspect of her pre-game routine. 

Additionally, Samping also performs three jump squats and takes a deep breath right before every kickoff.  

“This is just so I can narrow in on the game, it calms me down,” Samping remarked. “It balances my nerves and all the emotions I’m feeling.” 

Through performing this ritual, Samping connects her mental and physical performance. The connection between mind and body is essential for all athletes, especially in high pressure situations, like a kickoff. Samping focuses on herself through this ritual, preparing her mind and body for peak physical performance. 

The team also has a group ritual they perform together. Before every game, the starting eleven players huddle at center field. The group privately makes a playful bash based on who their opponent is, such as “Merk the Mustangs!” This serves to unite the Lancers and prepare them for the game. 

“We’ve always done it since my first game, and I’m sure the girls before I came on the team did it too,” Samping said. “It’s just for fun, to remember why we’re here, and to be competitive.”

For Samping, rituals serve many purposes. Whether it’s to improve performance, honour tradition, or to bond as a team, Samping partakes in ritualistic behaviours. Even though she has outgrown believing in their direct effect on her play, she still takes time out of her pre-game preparations in order to complete these tasks, demonstrating just how important these rituals are to her. 

Jaydlin Spooner

Photo taken by Kevin Ye Su.

Growing up in a hockey-loving family, Jaydlin Spooner started playing at the age of five, and four years later, she became a goalie. 

To prepare for games, Spooner has developed a series of rituals throughout her game days. 

The morning of a game, she eats the same breakfast: eggs, one piece of turkey bacon, and a slice of peanut butter toast with cut up bananas. She also eats a specific lunch or early dinner: chicken with pasta. Every game day, Spooner gets into her competitive mindset starting with these specific foods.

Similarly, she always sets up her gear and pads a specific way in the locker room.

Photo courtesy of Jaydlin Spooner. 

“I hang all my gear the same way with my under armour hung on my gear and not hangers,” Spooner described. “I try to be able to fully set up my gear on the road and at home just because it’s always worked for me.”

Spooner is also very specific in how she physically prepares for games – every warmup exercise she performs is done in sets of eight. 

“I played well after doing this in warmups one game, so just stuck with it,” Spooner said. “Eight is just the perfect amount to get my mind focused. If I do any less, I won’t be focused.”

As soon as Spooner arrives to the rink during a home game, she tapes her hockey stick. If it is an away game, she does not tape her stick at all. She began this ritual after playing badly at an away game she had taped her stick at. She correlated the loss of the game with performing this behaviour, setting in motion yet another ritual.  

When asked why she has the same exact routine before every game, Spooner said that when she grew up coaches would recommend her to eat the same meals as she did the previous game. 

“It’s to get my body accustomed to doing the same thing, so now I apply this principle to everything,” Spooner explained. 

Her specific food consumption, using the same warmup routine, and doing the same pre-game activities, are all rituals to get her mentally ready for the game. These rituals routinely done over years have prepared Spooner for consistent success on the rink – at least she believes so. While the specific superstitions and rituals she uses may seem silly, partaking in these behaviours help her feel mentally prepared for each game, allowing her to perform at her best. 

Nathaniel Vaikla

Photo by Eve Uwayesu.

Nathaniel Vaikla has come to Windsor as a graduate student, after playing with the Mount Allison Mounties throughout his undergraduate degree. Vaikla has a set of rituals to prepare him for his football games, all of which he has developed over years of play. 

Vaikla waits until it’s 25 minutes before the start of a game to get ready. This ritual is so engrained in his game-day routine, he couldn’t possibly think of changing it. 

“If I have to be out there by 11:50am, I start getting ready at 11:25am,” Vaikla reiterated. “If it’s even just two extra minutes, I’ll sit there waiting for it [the clock] to hit 25.”

Vaikla also incorporates food into his pre-game rituals. He prefers to eat his homemade tuna casserole for dinner the night before every game, but when he’s out for a team dinner, any pasta dish will do.  

Additionally, Vaikla adds the same post to his Snapchat story before every game – a picture of his helmet with the caption ‘Gameday!!!’ with exactly 3 exclamation marks. This gets him hyped for the game and ready to compete. 

Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Vaikla.

“This is part of getting ready the same way, it helps me perform the best,” Vaikla rationalized. 

All of Vaikla’s rituals are to get him into the right mentality so he can perform the best that he possibly can. Through establishing a consistent series of rituals and preparations, Vaikla truly believes he can optimize his performance. And for Vaikla it’s not limited to pre-game rituals, he has a set of rituals he performs even when he is on the field. 

“I am always the last one to get on the field before a game,” noted Vaikla. “It gives me an extra second or two to calm myself and block everything around me. I started doing this since high school.”

Photo by Eve Uwayesu.

As Vaikla takes his time to get on the field, he is giving himself an extra moment to mentally prepare for the game, which he believes allows him to perform to the best of his ability. 

These ritualistic behaviours are important for him, and while he recognizes that ultimately his success on the field is not determined solely by these rituals, he does place value in performing them. He has spent years cultivating these preparations and now, as his eligibility for football is finished, he is left with no more games to prepare for. 

Final Notes

Rituals help improve performance according to these athletes. Mental strength and emotional preparedness play a significant role in our Lancers’ lives. Whether they are superstition or rituals – all of these athletes (and others) take time out of their game-day preparations in order to start their competitions as prepared as they could possibly be. These rituals help athletes gain focus, develop communication with teammates, and generally feel prepared for the competition. 

Similarly, it’s your daily double-double or your “lucky” pencil. We all have behaviours, actions, or rituals that bring us comfort and help us feel more prepared. Just like the Lancers, we all take comfort in innocuous series of tasks we perform habitually – whether they are rational or not.

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