Practice vs. Procedure

Alana Cervera, Online Managing Editor. Sports Columnist

Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Rafael Nadal, Tiger Woods and a countless number of other professional athletes have some of the weirdest superstitions. From bouncing the ball five times before the first serve, wearing a certain pair of shorts or taking cold 45-minute showers before a match and wearing a red shirt, they cannot go to a game without following their unique patterns.

Their superstitions play a big part in their lives and determine their game play even before the event. They don’t rely on their practice and preparation but the silly acts they perform on the sidelines. They must be repeated every time they play or else they’re doomed.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, many athletes have a problem with being hyper-reliant on superstitions, but their outrageous rituals are ridiculous.

As a former high-level athlete, I know the pressure of competing. Not at the professional level, obviously, but all coaches expect the same thing at each new match, game or meet: your best-ever performance.

During practices, I’d wear my favorite leotard and luckily achieve a new skill on beam that day. I’d nail every routine and feel good about myself coming home from practice.

My parents never encouraged quirky rituals and told me to rely on my preparation rather than my patterns before competing.

Despite hearing this, I would wear that “special leo” every practice. But soon I learned that it had no affect on my performance whatsoever. The next day I had a normal practice, which included many falls in my routines, and therefore, dropped my hope in my superstition.

In Psychology Today, author Susan Krauss Whitbourne explains that superstitions do not affect performance and are only there to help athletes’ anxiety. If so, why do we complete them like our life depends on it?

“For many people, not having control over an outcome is a frightening proposition,” Krauss Whitbourne writes. “The more important these uncontrollable situations are, the more likely you’ll try to dream up ways to control their outcome even though it may be unrealistic.”

Additionally, Joe DeLessio from CNN writes about the conveniences of superstitious rituals.

“Deep down, athletes generally understand that certain actions don’t really affect the outcome of a game, but once the idea that these actions might affect their performance is lodged in their heads, they may choose to do them anyway, because there’s little downside,” DeLessio said.

We, as athletes, will cling to any ounce of certainty with our performance, never letting go.

This seems to be a big problem and an issue we all face. But rather than relying on weird rituals, athletes are called to be better than that.

Professional athletes practice an average of 30 hours a week, putting in their hard work and perfecting their performance in every way possible.

If we put our hope in silly acts, what was all that blood, sweat and tears for? It might be for nothing.

Because without our favorite socks, soccer ball or meal before the big event, we’re completely hopeless and bound to perform poorly. At least that’s what we think..

In reality, the only person who controls the outcome is us.

The exact reason why we practice is to improve our skills and stay consistent. Superstitions are completely irrelevant compared to the amount of hours, days, weeks and even years of preparation athletes put in. Their grind never seems to stop, and it’s their whole life.

It just doesn’t compare to the momentary relief completing a superstition might provide.

The only person who has control over their performance is the athlete. There’s nothing else that should come into play- especially not the type of clothing or pep talk they do before  every game.

An athlete’s hope for a spot-on performance should not come from their anxious pre-game rituals, but their long hours of practice day in and day out.