Lebron James throws chalk in the air before basketball games. Former Mets and Cubs pitcher Turk Wendell used to brush his teeth between innings. In the 1998 World Cup, French defender Laurent Blanc kissed the perfectly shined head of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before each game. Rafael Nadal takes a shower with freezing cold water before every tennis match.
What’s in a ritual? How does it start? How many different ones are there? All of these questions have unique answers from athletes around the world. Whether male or female, professional or amateur, young or old, pregame rituals and superstitions have found their place in sports.
The consensus is that athletes perform these rituals for mental relaxation and to “get in the zone”. From listening to music to putting on equipment in a particular order, every athlete has his or her own carefully crafted routine.
“For a month, I went out for a bacon and eggs breakfast before every Saturday game. Good enough for a consistent two goals a game,” said UTM student Tim Correia.
Many athletes begin making a tradition of a certain activity after reaching a career milestone. Scoring a first goal, throwing a perfect pitch, or driving a hole-in-one can cause an athlete to regard his or her activities as related to their success.
Professional athletes are known to have some quirky behaviours, which tend to become hot topics in mainstream media. On an episode of HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, Sidney Crosby discussed some of his pregame rituals.
“There’s probably a few that are borderline crazy, but I guess we’re all crazy in our own way,” he said.
One of the most unique of Crosby’s rituals is that he walks a significantly longer path than his teammates around the Pittsburg Penguins’ home arena, the Consol Energy Centre, so as to avoid passing the visitor’s locker room. Crosby also tapes his stick a certain way, has a 5 p.m. peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with specific brands of each), participates in a soccer kick-around with his teammates, performs stretches in a certain order, and then puts on his lucky cup.
According to Peter Aldhous of New Scientist, experts say that sometimes such behaviours can develop into a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder or prevent competition altogether.
From professional athletes to recreational league players, rituals and superstitions have shaped the pregame atmosphere. Whether taken seriously or just for fun, rituals seem to get more and more creative as another season ends and another championship is won.
Not really athletic? There’s always sports fan Jesse Hill’s (@DevoidJKH) approach to pregame rituals: “Order beer, find a spot to the left on the couch, turn on TV.”