I was recently interviewed about my thoughts on sports performance, and how superstitions differ from pre-game rituals. I thought the question was a good one, and it actually prompted me to think about the differences (and whether there truly were any), as well as the importance of doing one or both (Mind of Steel).
As you have probably already heard by now many athletes engage in odd, quirky, and sometimes just weird activities before going out to compete. Some of these behaviors include eating the same type of food on game days to wearing the same t-shirt or shorts under the uniform for good luck. The goal for an athlete engaging in superstitious behaviors – even if he or she doesn’t describe it this way – is ultimately to get in the best, most focused mindset and positive mood state possible, leading to more confidence and, you guessed it — greater likelihood that the athlete will improve mental toughness and perform to his or her highest level.
While superstitions are often viewed as a little “different” (putting it lightly), pre-game rituals are usually seen as quite normal — and athletes who do not have a pre-game ritual are sometimes viewed as being too aloof and not tuned in for competition! Interestingly, pre-game rituals, while usually seen as “normal,” are essentially designed to do the same thing as superstitions do — that is, help prepare the athlete with better focus, confidence, and mood state!So what are the similarities and differences between the two? I have comprised a list below to help sum it all up:
* Both are designed to help prepare athletes for competition through the use of positive psychology strategies
* Both are usually done without the assistance of others (and often done privately)
* Both are usually completed in a relatively short period of time
* Both are unique to the athlete
* Neither are designed to disrupt the team, and rarely does the athlete doing the pre-game ritual/superstition recruit others to do the same
* Superstitions are usually perceived as odd, quirky, or downright weird (i.e. wearing the same dirty t-shirt under a uniform or growing a big grizzly beard)
* Pre-game routines are usually more “mainstream” and can be things like going through a specific shooting routine, or simply looking over a goal sheet for the season before going out to compete
* Superstitious behaviors are typically designed to help “align the stars” and recruit the assistance of other, outside variables that could help the athlete succeed, whereas pre-game routines are usually seen as simply a part of getting ready for a game, and not something that needs to be done in order to bring in outside forces to help the athlete play well
* Superstitions are a lot of fun to identify and talk about (especially for fans and the media), while pre-game routines are typically viewed as boring and mundane – and not a lot of fun to talk about.
Of course, these are just my thoughts about the similarities and differences between superstitions and pre-game routines, but I guess what I find most interesting is how they are essentially designed to help athletes do the same thing – that is, take control of the situation and their surroundings, minimize their stress levels, increase their self-confidence and enhance mood state — all resulting in allowing the athlete to begin the game in the best possible mindset he or she can develop before the first whistle blows. One final note — I do advise all athletes to develop a pre-game routine that is unique to the athlete — whether it meets the criteria of a superstition is left up to the individual.