Routines, Rituals, and Superstitions

Many athletes are known for their routines, rituals, and superstitions. Some of them seem strange and irrational to outside observers, but for athletes, they can be very important.

A superstition is defined as a belief in supernatural causality. Wearing the same underwear for every game may be considered a superstition. There is no logical reason why wearing a certain pair of underwear helps performance, but an athlete may still believe in it. Mainly, since these athletes love winning so much, they are afraid to make any changes that could hurt them. Wearing the same underwear may not add any practical value, but they give the athlete a sense of control (one less thing to worry about), which improves their confidence and therefore performance. So that’s the benefit of superstitions. They provide a sense of control, focus the mind, and improve confidence. But why have illogical superstitions when you could have more practical routines and rituals? Superstitions can sometimes be very harmful. If you accidentally lose your lucky underwear, you may freak out and lose confidence during your next game. You may become a slave to your superstitions.

Routines and rituals provide the same benefit of superstitions (a sense of control, confidence, and a focused mind) without the downside. Rafael Nadal has a ritual of drinking from two water bottles during changeovers. This keeps him from getting distracted. But Nadal knows that it only serves this purpose. He knows that it doesn’t magically help him win. So if for some reason his water bottles go missing, he wouldn’t freak out about it. Steph Curry has some noticeable rituals. He points to the sky after every made 3 pointer. He also takes a deep breath before each free throw, and does the same dribbling drill before each game.

Besides providing a sense of control and confidence, routines and rituals have other practical benefits. Most routines and rituals help control your arousal level, and get your body and mindset right for peak performance. Motivational speeches, music, meditation, imagery, deep breathing, eating certain food, and warm-up exercises are common routines and rituals done by athletes.

Now knowing the benefits of having routines and rituals, you should make some of your own. There are many different kinds of routines and rituals that you can make. You can create a pre-game routine to get your mind right before a game. You can do a pre-serve ritual such as bouncing the ball 5 times. You can do a certain celebration after a good shot or victory. Be creative, but make sure you don’t become too obsessed with routines and rituals. You want routines and rituals to serve you, not the other way around.