Athletic Superstitions; Key to Success

Steven Moore, Sports Statistician

Athletic superstitions play a big part in an athlete’s success, for several reasons. First, it effects the player’s mentality going into a game/match, and it helps them have more confidence in their own ability. Secondly, the aspect of having a superstition that is unique to that person can change their approach and physical performance in their respected sport. Although some people may not believe in superstitions, majority of athletes do. Having that little extra belief in your ability and that good luck charm gives those athletes a slight edge over all others.

A lot of successful athletes have had superstitions that help improve their physical performance. For example, six-time NBA champion and three-time MVP, Michael Jordan would feel obligated to wear his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts every game. Since his UNC shorts were longer than his Bulls shorts, he would have to wear bigger, longer Bulls shorts in order to cover up the lively baby blue color, thus starting a trend in the NBA. Ever since Jordan started doing this, he inspired other NBA players to wear longer, baggier shorts too. This not only occurred in basketball but was and still is very common in baseball. You can see it across all ages as well. For example, every year in the Little League World Series, the representing team from Australia will travel with a blown-up kangaroo, representing their hometown. Although they have not been very competitive the past 5 years, they will always bring that kangaroo representing where they come from and who they are playing for. Overall, superstitions are of sentimental value and are full of the athlete’s trust, which help them perform well.

Although some people believe superstitions are items that people use jokingly, that don’t have any effect on performance whatsoever, others will argue the physical outcome is connected to the mental input of an athlete. Superstitions can give player’s a more stable and positive mindset when entering a big matchup. All their confidence will be put into one small item or maybe a pregame ritual. This confidence will then alter the athlete’s performance because they’ll become more offensive-minded and aggressive which is reported to be the key to an athlete’s success in every sport. The increased confidence comes from a psychologically important illusion. They help people cope with uncertain outcomes in the future, especially if these outcomes are important to them. Superstitions help strengthen the feelings of control and confidence that may otherwise be lacking. Sophomore Reign Lucas said, “Superstitions give me confidence and they help me improve my performance when I’m playing poorly. I have the feeling of a good luck charm with the superstition.” For many athletes, superstitions can feel like the upper hand over the competition. Some of the best players to ever play professionally believe superstitions to be the “key to success,” when in use. University of Connecticut legend Caron Butler believed that downing a one-liter bottle of Mountain Dew would lead to a strictly positive outcome in every game. Everyone will have their own “key to success” no matter how weird or unusual it may be.

When controversy meets the present, a superstition can be the go-to source when solving an issue. Junior Jakob Taylor said, “If I can find anything wrong with my mechanics on the mound, I will often just rely on superstitions to help my pitching performance.” Superstitions for most people are not taken lightly. They are seen to be the remedy to a player’s struggles. Superstitions are much like a good luck charm, because they are both serving the same purpose in athlete’s minds. Both with a goal of improvement. Senior Lauren Freuh said, “The only time I would use a superstition is when I need to up my game to whatever standard.” Since these items serve similar purposes, it gives players a mental upper hand in a way that is inevitable by allowing athletes to think less of their competition.

However, some people view superstitions differently and believe that they can serve a negative purpose just as well as they can positive. Freshman Collin Alexander said, “I am not very superstitious because I believe superstitions can be bad too. Such as a scape goat type of feel.” Not only in this case will this be true at times, this also bring back the mental aspect of sports. With the feeling of a scape – goat item, comes the decreasing confidence when performance starts to go downhill. Once an athlete’s physical performance collapses in any way, they will be in search of something to blame. For example, long time Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher AJ Burnett had a 2012 season that consisted of a 2.57 earned run average and an impressive seventy-nine strikeouts. However, before this ace-like season happened, he was looking for things to blame in his atrocious 2010-2011 season. He blamed his season on “tinkering” by pitching coaches David Eiland and Larry Rothschild. He was late for almost every press conference and team meeting and shrugged it off like it was nothing. He then got pulled from the rotation and decided to change. The transition between 2011 to 2012 was the focal point of determining whether he wanted to be successful or not as a Major League pitcher. He obviously made major changes in his attitude and went on to be a very successful pitcher later in his career. Excuses and superstitions can go hand in hand, just as well as success and superstitions do. It all becomes a mental game and whoever stays the strongest in that aspect will come out on top.