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Pre-Shot Rituals, Routines, and Superstitions

My buddy JL Cruz just posted something on social media about his “pre-shot” routine in tennis and golf (Check out his post here!).

So that got me thinking, what does that routine do for us? 100% I have a routine before doing athletic activities and that helps me center, focus and relax before I let loose!

We’ve all seen professional athletes performing ritual like movements before matches or even before shots – Rafael Nadal anyone?

From the outside looking in it may seem strange; however, superstitions and rituals are widespread and a very common occurrence. In fact, for some players these superstitions and rituals may actually have an impact and influence on their success during the event.

What exactly is a ritual?

A ritual in sports can be defined as ‘a certain behavior or action that a sports performer carries out with the belief that these behaviors have a specific purpose, or power, to influence their performance.’

These rituals can range from the clothes they wear (well, duh, you have to look good to play good) – for example, Tiger Woods, wears a red polo shirt on the Sunday at golf tournaments – to the food they eat and the warm-up they perform (see Nadal above).

Ritual vs. Superstition

On the other hand, a superstition can be defined as ‘something that is initially developed in hindsight, almost by accident and then becomes required in future events.’

Have you ever had a really good match or tournament and gave all the credit in the world to the shirt you wore that day? That “lucky shirt” gave you the ability to serve those 4 aces!

You’ll look back and notice things like what you ate or wore that day. If you had an unusually great or poor performance, you’ll attribute all success to these circumstances and attempt to recreate them before every competition.

I read a paper that researched the psychological benefits of superstitions and rituals in sport (Schippers and Van Lange, 2006). They examined the circumstances at which elite athletes are most likely to be committed to enacting rituals prior to a game (“Ritual Commitment”). Their results suggested that ritual commitment is greater when uncertainty and the importance of the game is high rather than low.

Personality also has a role to play with whether or not you utilize rituals prior to playing. People who have an external locus of control (i.e., fate controls what happens) exhibit greater levels of ritual commitment than those with an internal locus of control (i.e., my hard work is going to get me this win).

This was shown in another paper in which they conducted research into superstitions (Damisch, Stoberock and Mussweiler, 2010). They took the suggested assumption that superstitions are typically seen as creations of irrational minds. They wanted to know why so many athletes rely on superstitious thoughts and practices in their daily routines in order to gain “good luck” or optimal performance. The results suggested that activating good-luck-related superstitions produced changes in the athletes’ perceived self-efficiency and confidence – thus, improving performance.

So what’s the point of rituals and superstition?

The real value is boosting confidence and improving a sense of control over situations.

If you believe that something makes you perform better then it will most likely cause you to relax, focus and perform better.

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