Many people have seen it or done it themselves; told someone to “break a leg” for good luck, looked for a four-leaf clover or rubbed a rabbit’s foot before a test.
Belief in good luck charms is all in good fun, but when they work, it becomes something more; superstition.
According to a study by Erasmus University that was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, “superstitious rituals are defined as unusual, repetitive, rigid behavior that is perceived to have a positive effect” and athletes are often the leaders when it comes to superstitions.
NKU’s basketball season is underway and several of the players and coaches have little superstitious rituals they do to help ensure they have a good game.
Women’s basketball assistant coach, Courtney Boylan said that people will often latch on to things, especially when they work and athletes are prone to “feed into it.”
“You want to play well so you’ll do whatever it takes to play well for our team to win,” Boylan said.
Lauren White, freshman guard, said she will carry her Carmex chapstick in her sock during warm-ups and will usually have it with her on the bench.
“I always have my Carmex with me no matter what so in order to keep from having to carry it around during basketball, I usually stick it in my sock,” White said.
Another ritual White said she does before every game is to find a mirror and flex her muscles.
“It’s sort of like a pregame pep talk or confidence booster before I go out and take the floor,” White said.
Flexing her muscles started her freshman year in high school when one of her teammates said her arms looked defined and now she flexes before each game.
Kayla Thacker, senior guard said one thing she has to do before every game is to take a nap.
“I know everyone generally likes to nap, but I feel like I have too,” Thacker said with a laugh. “I don’t know if [superstitions] necessarily help us, but I think in our mind we think they do.”
Thacker also said she always chews gum during games and Boylan added that the entire coaching staff will often chew gum as well.
Assistant coach, Karman Graham commented on the gum chewing, calling it “a nervous habit”.
Still, there are several activities the team likes to do together that could be considered a ritual.
Boylan said the team likes to listen to music and dance in the locker room to have fun and stay loose before a game.
“We try to stay out of there,” Boylan said. “We let them have their fun.”
So why do people often engage in a superstitious ritual when they know it may not really help?
According to a study by the University of Cologne that was published in the Association for Psychological Science, “Engaging in superstitions regulates psychological tension and creates a feeling of control and a sense of predictability in otherwise chaotic environments.”
In other words, believing in a lucky charm could help the player relax and focus on the game by giving them a sense of control.
This explains why athletes often believe so strongly in superstitions and White certainly agrees.
“Athletes always want to have good results,” White said. “Sometimes these superstitions may be more of a mental thing…but I feel as long as it is getting you prepared for your challenge then it’s fine to have one.”
Thacker agreed with White and said, “For some reason, we think doing certain things before each game will help you play better. It’s all a mind game, however, once you have a routine, athletes generally stick to it.”
While Sports Information Director Don Owen doesn’t know of any men’s basketball players that have superstitions, he did say that head coach Dave Bezold will often wear the same suit and tie if the team is on a winning streak.
So what happens to the superstition if the game doesn’t go well?
Boylan said, “If it’s a superstition and you believe in it, then you’ll blame it on something else.”