Do Superstitions Actually Improve Sports Performance?

Is your lucky wristband or pre-game ritual just a gimmick, or does your sports superstition actually improve your game performance.

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Do you have a certain t-shirt or wristband you wear for good luck when you compete in sports? Maybe you eat the same pre-game meal or go through the same pre-game ritual before taking the field? If any of these apply to you, then you are an athlete who relies on superstitions to play your best. (Learn about Jared Allen's superstitions.)

Sports superstitions can include wearing various articles of clothing, listening to inspirational music or going through specific routines or rituals to hype mental toughness. Pro tennis player Rafael Nadal ensures that his water bottles are in the exact same location during each match, and he once got infuriated when a ball boy accidentally moved one.

Athletes like Nadal can't perform without their superstitions. Others think they are nothing more than a gimmick. The answer to whether superstitions actually "work" is a combination of both.

Sports superstitions work if you believe they work—similar to how the placebo effect works in medicine. A sport superstition (e.g., wearing a wristband for good luck) works if the athlete believes that the wristband helps with confidence, focus, motivation and resiliency to succeed. The wristband really doesn't have magical powers, but if the athlete believes the wristband will help, then it is likely it actually will.

Here are a few additional tips regarding sports superstitions:

  • The key for all athletes is to be 100% ready to go before each game. That means focusing on the upcoming game and raising your confidence to a peak level. If a superstition helps you do this, by all means use it.
  • A sports superstition should not interfere with your teammates, nor should it distract you from other important pre-game preparations, like reviewing plays or listening to your coach's pre-game talk.
  • Don't push your superstition on your teammates. What works for you might not work for others. Sports superstitions are unique to each person.
  • If something that used to work for you no longer does, stop using it and move on to something new that feels better. The key to sports superstitions is belief, and if you no longer believe in your superstition, it will no longer work for you.
Learn more mental strategies to improve your game at STACK's sport psychology page. Also, read more articles by Dr. Stankovich here.

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