From soccer to tennis, superstition consumes athletes


Jackson Prince, staff writer
Tennis star Serena Williams would wear the same pair of socks for the entirety of a tournament. Veteran baseball player Jason Giambi would don a gold thong for a portion of the 2008 season. Hoopster Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics would sleep in the shorts of the opposing team the night before a game.
In what world are such odd behaviors not only accepted, but commonplace? Imagine the surgeon repairing a torn aorta wearing a gold thong or the lawyer wearing the same boxer shorts as the opposing counsel during a murder trial. Yet, in professional sports, such superstitious routines are followed by many successful athletes, as they believe the behavior is somehow linked to their success. While the actions may seem strange from an outside perspective, athletes at all levels take their pre-game rituals very seriously, even those at the high school level.
An article written for Reuters in 2012 cited a study proving that certain athlete’s behaviors, such as a pre-game ritual, do in fact influence their performance in a game.
“A study by psychologists at the University of Cologne in Germany found in two experiments that superstition triumphed in both cases,” the article expains. “In one experiment, participants were given either a lucky golf ball or an ordinary one before being asked to sink a putt. Those with a so-called lucky ball were more successful.”
Sophomore football player Raehaan Poonja prefers a verbal routine from which he never wavers.
“Before I step onto the field, I repeat the word ‘speed’ three times to pump myself up. I’ve never gone a game without doing this ritual,” Poonja said.
For sophomore baseball player Jacob Hankin, the superstition is not a game day ritual, but a behavior the night before a game. Hankin acknowledges a certain reliance on the supernatural.
“I lay out my uniform in the same way each night before a game. If I’m doing something on game days and I’m playing well, why test the fates? It’s all superstitious and I’d never risk it,” Hankin said.
Junior soccer player Lauren Kurtz created her own, more unorthodox rituals, which she performs prior to each of her games.
“Before my games, I pour water all over my cleats just before warming up”, Kurtz said.
Sometimes, an athlete’s routines are hard to hide from the public eye. This summer, most of the Boston Red Sox players didn’t shave their facial hair during a hot streak, leading to autumn beards worthy of the hunters on “Duck Dynasty.” With their bushy faces, the Sox showed solidarity, as well as further separated themselves from the Yankees, their clean-cut division rivals. What might be seen as foolish superstition by some has led to the crowning of the Red Sox as American League East Champions.
Another boycotter against the razor was senior water polo player Keon Youssefzadeh, who describes his luscious facial hair as an essential element of his success in the pool.
“[The beard/moustache combination] motivated me to continue playing well after I had a great game. I kept it because it was fun to maintain and, as it grew, it also inspired me to grow as a player,” Youssefzadeh said. It should be noted that Youssefzadeh has since gone clean-shaven.
For many, the superstition is an almost religious devotion to a pre-game ritual, as it is for junior water athlete Justin Shegerian.
“I listen to my ‘Pump Up’ playlist on the bus before each game. When we park, I perform my signature handshake with [fellow teammate] Michael Nassirzadeh, followed by 11 push-ups. It helps me focus and approach each game with the same mentality,” Shegerian said.
Freshman runner Lia Helm competes in all of her races while wearing her “lucky smiley-face ring,” junior runner Dominic Perlman blasts Drake’s new album “Nothing Was The Same” prior to his races, senior volleyball player Liat Hackmann has worn the same headband since her first varsity game and freshman tennis player Jack Harris spends nights before his matches in his family home’s guest room.
Rituals of Norman athletes might not be as extreme as those of some professionals, like Moises Alou, whose routine included urinating on his hands in the belief that it would toughen them up. But regardless of the behavior, many athletes on all levels credit their success to the repetition of such superstitions actions. If the actions, themselves, have no direct effect on the game, the fact that the players believe in them is essential.  Either way, pre-game rituals help focus, motivate, stabilize and pump-up the players who perform them.