Athletes and fans engage in superstitions, curses, pregame rituals to reduce anxiety
Superstitions have compelled the population since the dawn of time: knocking on wood to prevent accidentally jinxing yourself, Friday the 13 is the ultimate “bad” day, never walk under a ladder, the list goes on. However, athletes always manages to take it one step further. Superstitions continue to rule in the sports world, for both fans and players.
Tennis player Serena Williams, the renowned athlete, will not change her socks during a tennis tournament and instead opts to wear the same pair throughout the entire tournament. Football Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, who played for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons, ate two chocolate chip cookies before every game. The late Jerry Tarkanian, a successful NCAA men’s basketball coach, was known for chewing on a towel during games as a superstition.
Superstitions can get a little strange. Jason Terry, former Dallas Mavericks point and shooting guard, wore the shorts of his opponents as pajamas the night before the game. He had a pair of shorts from every team in the NBA. Barry Fry, former English soccer player and coach, peed in every corner of his home stadium in order to rid the stadium of evil spirits. Former LSU head football coach, Les Miles, would eat turf during games. On The Zone radio show in 2010, Miles talked about his strange snack.
“I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I’m a part of the field and part of the game,” Miles said during the show. “You should have seen some games before this. I can tell you one thing: the grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best.”
On a less worry-inducing note, famed basketball player Michael Jordan would wear his UNC basketball shorts under his NBA shorts for good luck, which explains why his shorts were always longer than the normal length. NASCAR doesn’t allow peanuts in the shells at the racetrack, an old superstition dating back to real safety concerns: peanut shells on the track would cause numerous accidents.
And some Eagle athletes are true superstition believers as well.
“Superstitions definitely work,” sophomore and varsity lacrosse and basketball player sophomore Sean Browne said. “For each game, I wear ‘Space Jam’ underwear and wear my socks inside out. I fold my socks over so the Nike sign is upside down.”
Superstitions get many ESD athletes game-ready. Some wear specific clothes or accessories during the game, while others eat certain foods or drink certain drinks before game time.
“The night before each game, I sleep with my lacrosse stick next to me,” sophomore and varsity lacrosse and football player Hunt Sands said. “It helps me get ready for the game.”
Other superstitions happen right before game time, a final wish for luck before the game.
For each game, I wear ‘Space Jam’ underwear and wear my socks inside out. I fold my socks over so the Nike sign is upside down.”Sean Browne, sophomore lacrosse player
“I have to tie my cleats a certain way before each game,” junior and varsity soccer player Ella Sjogren said. “They feel strange if they’re tied a different way. Also, before every game, I always encourage the team to do the final cheer on the field. It gets everyone game-ready.”
Many professional sports players have pre-game rituals that center their focus on the game. Wayne Gretzky, professional hockey player, always puts on his uniform in a certain order. During warmups, he would always shoot his first shot wide to the right. He would then drink a diet Coke, a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and another Diet Coke. Before stepping on the ice, he would cover the blade of his stick with baby powder. The pre-game ritual translates a little differently for ESD athletes.
“Before every lacrosse game, I have to listen to ‘Bricks’ by Migos,” junior and varsity lacrosse player Lily Tollison said. “It really gets me in the zone, and I’ve never lost a game when I listen to it.”
Junior Caroline Ragan, varsity field hockey, basketball and lacrosse player, has an elaborate hair superstition that stems from a childhood hairdo.
“I have to put my hair up first using the same kind of hair tie every time. My left braid has to be done first and it has to be longer than the right braid, which is done second,” Ragan said. “I do this because two braids has been my lucky hairstyle since I was little, so I updated it to a ponytail with two braids since I am older. I’ve always worn something to make me stick out so my parents can see me. When I was younger I wore these huge bows that were neon.”
Some athletes have superstitions that began many years ago and carried them all the way through high school.
“I must wake up at least two to three hours before I run a race and eat three small flour tortillas,” senior cross country runner Kai Robinson said. “Along with eating the tortillas, I always wear the same pair of navy and white striped running socks when I run a race. I have been doing both of these [rituals] since freshman year. I wake up early to eat so I have some fuel to use during the race. As for the socks, I always wear the same pair because I believe that they give me good luck. While wearing the socks, I have had great races and some not so great races. However, I believe that without the socks I would not be as lucky, and I would not have been able to run as well as I have.”
However, superstitions extend beyond just the players. Fans of sports all across the world engage in superstitions that they believe in. Many fans believe in the infamous Madden curse, where if a player appears on the cover of the Madden NFL video game, those players have troubling or shortened seasons once their games hit the shelves.
“I totally believe in the Madden curse,” sophomore and lacrosse, football and basketball player Logan Lear said. “I mean, Patrick Mahomes was on the cover [of “Madden”] in 2019, and then he dislocated his knee in the game against the [Denver] Broncos.”
However some student athletes disregard the idea of the Madden curse completely.
“I think it’s really coincidental,” Ragan said. “I don’t believe that by putting certain players on the cover of the game, they will get injured. Many have escaped the “curse” I guess but it’s more of a jinx or just coincidence. Everyone gets hurt, and the best players who work the hardest have a high chance of getting injured. They work the hardest and that’s why they get the farthest and are normally on the cover. The evidence is there for the Madden curse to be real, but it’s definitely just a coincidence.”
“Curses” take another form with the ManningCast curse. When an active player appears on the Manning brothers’ Monday Night Football show, they are “cursed” and lose their next game. Travis Kelce, Russell Wilson, Rob Gronkowski, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Josh Allen have all suffered the ManningCast curse. When golf great Phil Mickelson appeared on the show on Monday, Nov. 15 for the Rams vs. 49ers game, he confirmed his belief in the ManningCast curse.
“No, I believe that it is a thing, and that’s why I’m not playing next week,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t know if it would carry over to golf or not. I think it’s real.”
The Drake curse is yet another “curse” that has swept the sports’ world. The Drake curse is when Drake, a famed rapper, shows support for a team and the team loses their game, often horrifically. In 2015, tennis player Serena Williams looked as talented as ever during the U.S. Open. Drake showed up to support Williams in her match against unranked Roberta Vinci. Vinci upset Williams in the match, and Drake witnessed (or caused?) the whole situation. Other victims of the Drake curse include Conor McGregor during UFC 229, the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2019 NHL Playoffs and the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2019 college football championship.
“The Drake curse is a real thing,” Sands said. “The only reason Kentucky hasn’t won a national championship since 2014 is because Drake is a Kentucky fan. If he’d take off his Kentucky sweatshirt, they would win.”
Playoff beards, where a player stops shaving when their team enters the playoffs and shaves when they are eliminated or win, have taken the sports world by storm. The tradition started in the NHL, when players grew beards in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup. The playoff beard has extended not just to other sports, but to fans as well. Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals grew beards in solidarity with the team as they entered the world series playoffs. In the community, playoff beards often take the shape of eccentric haircuts for male athletes.
“For last year’s season, JV lacrosse cut our hair into mullets,” Lear said. “It brought the team together and made every game so fun. We went 10-0 because of the mullets.”
Many athletes see the benefits of superstitions, and encourage other community members to develop their own.
“I think everyone should have a superstition,” Sjogren said. “It gets you prepared for the game, and really hones your focus so you’re ready to compete when the time comes. Not to mention, [superstitions] are just really fun.”
The science behind superstitions
Superstitions are beliefs that certain actions or events will bring good or bad luck, resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown or trust in chance. A common superstition is the avoidance of the number 13: many buildings skip the 13th floor, while some airlines don’t have a 13th row.
But what is the source of superstitions? An article in the International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences said, “superstition has its roots in our species’ youth when our ancestors could not understand the forces and whims of [the] natural world.”
The main cause of superstitions is anxiety. According to medicalnewstoday.com, superstitions relieve anxiety for many people, allowing people a sense of control over their lives.
Stuart Vyse, author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition” and former professor at Connecticut College, explains the benefits of superstition in an interview with the British Psychological Society.
“There is evidence that positive, luck-enhancing superstitions provide a psychological benefit that can improve skilled performance,” Vyse said.
Superstitions provide an outlet for anxiety in many people, and may even enhance performance. In a poll of 163 ESD Upper School students and faculty members, 48.5 percent consider themselves to be superstitious, while 34.4 percent have a sports superstition.