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Superstitions in Sports

Superstitions have been around since the dawn of man. In our contemporary age, we do as much as anyone has in history perpetuating superstitions. "Superstitions tend to be passed down from one generation to the next through the strong oral tradition of the locker room"(Sports Illustrated p.88).

Athletes seem to be heavily burdened with the mysterious beliefs of superstitions. Sport contests of today involve athletes trained at their highest maximum potential, meaning that most of the time, athletes compete with other athletes - all of whom possess equal skill levels. Whether it is an individual sport or a team sport, a win that has had to be scraped up by a close call, one point difference, or last minute play, usually falls credit to some kind of luck in the eyes of a majority of athletes. In the world of competition, athletes love to win, not surprisingly, and they will do whatever it takes to keep winning, whether it's believing in superstitions, making sacrifices, or worshipping all kinds of gods. "'A superstition is a way to get through a tough situation1 wrote Carole Potter in Knock On Wood, a 1983 book on superstitions.

For athletes, superstitions are a crutch, a secret weapon, a way to get that little edge."(p.88).Some athletes use superstitions to psyche up themselves. Challenged by fears of misfortunes, injuries, or losing, athletes reach that pinnacle edge to suffice their required potential in a competition.

It is through fear that an athlete feels that he or she is being "held down", forced to hold back, and never reaching the maximum skill needed to achieve. "Some athletes turn to superstitions for the same reasons that others turn to religion or drugs -- to relieve pressure, to convince themselves that results are predetermined, to take the fear out of the unknown".(p.88) Athletes, coaches, and other sport personnel (aka. physicians, equipment man, and alumni), follow daily and game time routines religiously because of their beliefs in superstitions.

In the past, teams have been known to never wash their uniforms or socks during a winning streak for fear of losing the good luck. Coaches follow the same exact routines, which can be called habit or tradition, routines such as entering and exiting through certain doors, picking up hair pins for good luck, saying the same prayers and wearing the same outfit that was worn during a won game. Legendary Oakland Raiders head coach, John Madden, would never let his players leave the locker room to start a game until the team's running back, Mark van Eeghen, had burped. "Perhaps Madden was aware of ancient aural superstitions, such as the wailing of a banshee, which foretold death in Gaelic culture."(p.

91).Such "superstitions like these will always have a place in sport, if only because an athlete's life style makes him vulnerable to them. Athletes do the same thing day after day. They practice at the same time; they play at the same time and eat at the same time.

Important parts of their lives are very ordered, and so, perhaps, they want to bring that same kind of order into every aspect of their lives. Little rituals become obsessions. Obsessions become superstitions."(p.

94).The psychological aspects of superstitions on athletes can have very drastic effects on their performance. Many athletes feel obligated to pray and worship some kind of favored god before a contest, for fear that if not worshipped, that god will strike great misfortunes on them. This can be tied to an athlete's upbringing and culture -- not necessarily superstitions. Athletes tend to lose confidence in their own abilities, talents, and skills and reward a god for their renowned fame and assets.

If they do not worship their god, they fear losing their skills and success. Why do athletes think like this? Do superstitions really motivate an athlete?.Whatever makes an athlete perform at his or hers highest potential is a force that only they should be able to control. And in some cases, we all can control our superstitions ? it's just that, we need to control our minds first.For more information, please contact: izzojohn@sbcglobal.net.

.John Izzo holds a BS in Public Health and Community Nutrition, along with certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, National Endurance Sports Trainer Associations, and American Fitness Professional & Associates. Presently, he is Health & Wellness Director of the YMCA of Greater Hartford (CT) and Master Lecturer for World Instructor Training Schools (WITS).

By: John Izzo


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