superstitions, rituals and pregame routines.

The role of superstitions, Rituals and Routines in Sport

Superstitions, rituals and pregame routines are an all too common part of sports. No matter where you you look you will see athletes preparing for a game in their own way. If you take a look at for instance at swimming, you will find Michael Phelps standing off by himself before he swims listening to music and getting in a head space that is right for him to compete. In tennis Rafael Nadal has his preserve routine which includes bouncing the ball several times, picking his wedgie, and moving the hair out of his face. In hockey Braden Holtby shows up early to games to sit at ice level and watching an imaginary game in his head. These are just a few examples of how athletes prepare themselves to compete.

There is nothing innately wrong with these superstitions, rituals and routines. In fact most of the time they are overwhelmingly useful. For the most part, they will help a player relax and get comfortable. They will help a player gain focus and get more in tune with their teammates, and they will help a player be better prepared for the competition ahead. All of these are extremely useful and important for an athlete.

That being said, superstitions, rituals and pregame routines become an issue when you are no longer in control of them. When they take control of you and you are no longer able to function without them it becomes an issue. When your routine gets interrupted and you have to restart from step one it becomes an issue. When your performance starts to waver and you instantly start mixing up your routine or changing your superstitions, then it becomes an issue.

The purpose of a superstition, ritual, or pregame routine is to help a player relax, focus and be present in the moment. The superstition itself is not causing the players performance to waver, and sometimes it is a good idea to mix things up. But what we find is that when things start to go wrong players focus more on changing their routines than focusing on the game at hand. If things are going wrong and a player changes their routine and things don’t get better they are prone to change it again and again and again until they find a routine that works. But when this happens, they will be more focused on changing their routine and the things that are going wrong rather than focusing on improving their play.

If you focus on the game at hand rather than the pregame routines, superstitions and rituals your game will be more likely to improve. The more time you spend dwelling on what isn’t working the more it won’t work. It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the player understands that there will always be ups and downs and that focusing too much on the downs will only exacerbate them then they will be less likely to dwell on the superstitions, rituals or pregame routines and more likely to focus on the next game and the next day.

Now like I said, change can be good, it can help a player set a new tone or create a new environment. They can help teams come together. But they must come naturally and must be embraced by the player and team.

Remember, as long as you control your superstitions, rituals, and pregame routines everything will be fine. But as soon as they start to take control of you issues will start to arise.