From NBA talents Steph Curry’s unheralded shooting routine and Lebron James’ infamous chalk toss, to NHL superstar Sidney Crosby’s custom of eating a PB&J sandwich as well as inability to speak to his mother on game days, rituals and sports seem to go hand-in-hand. In a world where there are so many elements that cannot be controlled, rituals, lucky charms and superstitions give an athlete something that they can. As a result, sports psychologists state that game day rituals may enhance an athlete’s ability to perform. Whether they are soothing or downright wacky, athletes use the customs that they have developed to improve focus and decrease anxiety as part of their preparation. LRT Sports spoke with ten college athletes who shared their game day rituals with us.
Across every sport, one of the more iconic and standard game day rituals seen from athletes is the handshake. They are unique to each team and teammate with the intention of fostering camaraderie and team spirit.
“I’ve come up with a couple of handshakes with certain teammates, including my captain and defense partner, that I like to run through with them before each game. For an example, one of them is that at the end of on-ice warm-up (I’ll always be the last one off the ice) I will meet my captain after she has met with the refs and do our handshake on the ice right before we get off and the Zamboni comes on.”
Mallory Souliotis, Yale University, Women’s Ice Hockey
Mental visualization helps many athletes prepare and focus on what is necessary to be successful in their athletic competition because they can control the situations envisioned and feel confident in their preparation.
“I don’t have any specific rituals that I have to do during the day leading up to it, but before the game starts I almost always do some slow-motion swings to make sure my mechanics are correct.”
Harrison White, Yale University, Baseball
Similar to mental visualization, routines or little habits developed to provide an athlete a greater sense of control over the forthcoming competition. Routines can also be altered or ceased entirely depending on how an athlete has been performing.
“Now that I’m in college, I try to focus more on the general feeling of the team. Tennis players tend to be a little superstitious, so I always make sure to put my right shoe on first and tie it before putting my other shoe on.”
Caroline Lynch, Yale University, Women’s Tennis
Equally as important for the physical ability of an athlete, many athletes tend to consume certain meals, snacks, or drinks before the competition with the intention of replicating past successful performance by producing similar energy levels.
“I would say that the majority of my team likes to get to our event early enough to go get a coffee and breakfast so that we can relax for a while before getting out of the car to rig our boats. Personally, I will always get the same coffee – grande americano – before every regatta and most of the people on my team have “their order” as well. We also almost always buy the same snack and pre-competition meal!”
Clara Robertson, Yale University, Co-ed Sailing
From Tim Tebow to the Notre Dame football program, prayer and religion have long had the tendency to coincide with sports. Many student-athletes may believe in the power of prayer before competition to keep players safe, to feel empowered or just to feel united with their teammates.
“It’s nothing crazy, but before every race, I like to say a prayer.”
Oscar Miao, Yale University, Men’s Swimming & Diving
It’s hard to replicate the level of energy felt immediately after waking up from a good night’s sleep. Many athletes now will take a nap before their competition in an attempt to recreate that feeling of rest and power.
“No matter how many hours of sleep I get during the night before a game, I always have to take a 1 ½ hour nap before I play.”
Taylor Marchin, Yale University, Women’s Ice Hockey
For optimal performance and injury prevention, warming up before an athletic competition is essential. As elite competitors, it is only natural that some student-athletes find their physical preparation to be one of the most important game day rituals they possess.
“Last year, I would feel most prepared for every race only after doing a boxing routine with a teammate.”
Amy Warner, Yale University, Women’s Crew
With most sports, music has become an essential component in pre-athletic competition preparation. Research shows that music enhances athletic performance and can be a very compelling intervention for improving how athletes relate to both their actual performance as well as the end result.
“On the way to every game – the walk over to the gym when we are at home or on the bus when we are away – I like to listen to my game day playlist. I ALWAYS listen to the song Panda.”
Elizabeth Haley, Yale University, Women’s Basketball
In the heavy, team-dynamic emphasis of collegiate sports, pre-game preparation typically involves activities that bring the whole team together. This can range from team dynamic warm-ups to games, such as locker room dodgeball, to team cheers that keep everyone focused and calm.
“I don’t have any particular rituals that I do before every game. I try to go-with-the-flow and stay loose. But last year before every game, our team made up and would do this dance to the song ‘Work’ by Fifth Harmony.”
Victoria Moore, Yale University, Women’s Lacrosse
Likely the most anticipated game day ritual at any college is that of hearing the school’s victory song after a hard-fought win. It’s not always guaranteed, but it is the most rewarding ritual of all.
“My favorite ritual that our team has is that after every game we win, all of the players and coaches will gather together in front of our fans and sing the Yale fight song.”
Darius Manora, Yale University, Football
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