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Upper Hand

Sports Management Blog

Mental Preparation - The Role of Sports Superstitions and Athletic Rituals

Posted by Upper Hand | Oct 3, 2017 10:31:58 AM

Athletes are notorious for being superstitious. How many times have you seen a pitcher, quarterback or goalie refuse to shave until their playoff run ends or they are champions? We have all seen the slumping player who uses a wild hairstyle to try to regain their former success. Basketball players dribble so many times before free throws and distance runners follow the same rituals before racing in the Boston Marathon - all to help ensure triumph. Here is a look at some of the more prominent, and quirky, superstitious rituals in sports today.


Rafael Nadal, Pro Tennis Player

No one can deny Rafael Nadal’s overwhelmingly brilliant tennis career. The Spaniard is possibly the most dominant player on clay, and has ten French Open titles to back up that claim. He has also captured the Australian Open once, and both Wimbledon and the US Open twice. His on-court rituals are among the most unusual of any tennis player and some even involve “adjusting” the fit of his clothes. His ritual, done just before serving, is to pull his shorts from his bottom, adjust his shirt and use his sleeve as a sweat towel. While most of us would cringe at doing that in front of anyone, let alone the entire world, it seems to have brought Nadal some athletic success.

Molly Huddle, U.S. Track and Field Olympian

Molly Huddle has found great success as a distance runner for the U.S. at distances over 5000 meters. An All-American at Notre Dame, Huddle has owned the American record twice in the 5000 meters and has twice been the nation’s 12K champion, in 2013 and 2014. Her secret to success lies not only in hard training, but in her choice of nail polish as well. Before a big race, she paints her nails with designs that relate to her upcoming race or competition. Her meaningful manicure has been a ritual for her since the sixth grade.

Michael Phelps, U.S. Olympic Swimmer

Michael Phelps won more Olympic medals than any other athlete did in the modern era - winning 28 medals, including 13 golds. No one can deny his natural gifts like his long reach, large hands and large feet that help propel him at record speeds when swimming. He certainly put in his fair share of time in the pool and worked hard for all of his wins. But like many athletes, Phelps was consistent with his pre-race habits and sports rituals. He was known to pace beside the pool while blasting 1980s pop or sometimes the latest hip-hop hits. Then he would remove his headphones and twirl them three times. Twirling headphones is a little more subtle than adjusting your clothes or painting your nails, but just as important if you’re a superstitious athlete.

Bruce Arians, NFL Coach

All football fans know that Bruce Arians is unique, even among the strong personalities present in the NFL. He was no different when he played football as a kid, and he had potentially the most bizarre ritual of anyone in sports today. In order to play tougher and tackle harder, Arians would drink paint before kickoff. Yes, he did have to receive medical attention on more than one occasion to empty the contents of his stomach, but he has since enjoyed career success.

Superstition can play a significant role in an athlete's mind and heart when it comes to their success or failure. In a vocation where positive consistency is an attribute, small rituals like the ones you just read are part of the preparation needed for high levels of dependability. While no one believes that superstitious behavior gives an athlete special power or any physical advantage, the consistency may contribute to his or her mental state. And, as any professional or amateur will admit, the mind often decides the winner and loser.


Topics: Latest in Sports News

Written by Upper Hand

Upper Hand simplifies front and back-end office tasks for sports businesses, provides cutting-edge marketing tools and offers business intelligence that enables unsurpassed performance for its customers. Customized software and pricing are fit to each individual’s sports business needs with the objective of helping every customer grow their business.