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Dragon boat, Figure skating, Psychology, Sport, Uncategorized

Ritual in sports

Watching the Olympics it is interesting to see the pre- and post-performance rituals that many athletes perform and think about all the ones we don’t know of.

Canadian diver Jennifer Abel talked about her ritual with her chamois before she dives, and the fact that she keeps the same chamois for an entire Olympic cycle. Other athletes have specific socks that they need to wear, or they have to zip and unzip their bag three times before they go.

These types of rituals or superstitions carry into any area where performance matters. I had a student who had a lucky pen. She bought several of them so that when one died she always had another one. I do always wear aquatic themed socks to a dragon boat festival, but I do this more for the amusement and the removal of the need for decision than because I think it will affect my performance. I can’t really think of any “pre-game” rituals that I have, or have had so I was curious if these types of things have any benefit.

I’ve read a bunch of papers, and like a horrible referencer didn’t write them all down so I apologize in advance but this is what I’ve gathered.

You can only control what you can control – there is a lot of waiting time and lack of control that athletes (and students) have during competition. They are affected by everything around them. Many of these rituals allow athletes to exercise control in times when they have no control. Tying and retying your skates in between warm up and competition in figure skating may have no physical benefit but while you are waiting for your time on the ice, with no control over what any of your competitors are doing it gives you an element of control.

It fills the time – similarly, these rituals help to occupy you while you wait which can help to reduce the amount of anxiety that can build up.

When is it bad – it seems like it is okay to have a ritual, but it isn’t good to think that something bad will happen if you don’t do it. (This is actually one of the characteristics of obsessive compulsive disorders is the belief that something bad will happen if you don’t do it.) So if you can’t re-tie your skates, it isn’t actually going to affect your performance.

And the thing is that even in community level dragon boating I have been in a race that was decided on a hundredth of a second so if doing one of these rituals has even a minuscule benefit it can actually make the difference between winning and not. But, you cannot let the rituals define your performance. Because then, when something goes wrong, everything else is likely to follow.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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