Pre-Game Rituals/Superstitions – By Daniel Scarpino

Athletes are unique creatures. They aren’t average human beings. They don’t do things that the everyday person does. They are different. This is not to suggest that athletes are inferior or superior to anyone who doesn’t partake in sports, but they are in fact different beings.

Pre-game preparations are key for athletes and coaches. But, specifically for players, what we see is that athletes enjoy going through a specific regimen prior to games. It’s actually kind of fascinating, really. Every player has something that they do before a game that becomes their “ritual”. Athletes, by nature, are superstitious characters. This is how it is, and it is one of the things that make sports so interesting.

Just to shine some light on this, I will share a few of my past teammates’ pre-game rituals in order to provide some context.

I once played hockey with a guy who had to tape his stick with white hockey tape before every game. Even if the game prior he only played limited minutes with hardly a puck mark on his white tape, he still had to re-tape his stick with ONLY white tape before every game.

There was another guy that I played hockey with who only sat in the corner of the change room for every practice and every game. It didn’t matter if we had a league game in our home town, or if we had a night time practice, or if we were out of town for a tournament, this guy always sat in the corner of the change room. The good thing was that we always knew where to find him.

An interesting ritual came through for a guy that I played soccer with for a few years. He was adamant that he would never lace up his soccer boots during practice but would only lace them up for games. As unorthodox as it was, that’s what he did.

I once played basketball with a guy who had to score/shoot the last shot in pre-game warm ups before every game. It didn’t matter if it took him 5 or more attempts to score – He was the last one on the court before coming to the bench for our pre-game chat.

I played soccer with another guy for one season who had to put his equipment on from left-to-right. Left shin guard, then right shin guard. Left sock, the right sock. Left cleat, then right cleat. It’s just something he did – Kudos to the lad.

I played soccer with another guy for a number of years who always wore a long sleeve shirt under his jersey. I remember playing a tournament game in the group stage and it was 34 degrees that day – Just blazing hot – The guy still wore that long sleeve shirt – It didn’t matter for him, he had to do it.

These are just SOME examples of my past teammates’ pre-game rituals/superstitions. There are hundreds more that I could use, surely, but these examples certainly provide some context. The reason that I bring this particular topic up for this article is to

#1. Suggest what we probably already know – Athletes are superstitious and interesting people

And more importantly, #2. That coaches shouldn’t step in the way of athletes’ pre-game rituals

There are coaches out there who are very much cemented in their ways and don’t allow their player’s much freedom. I personally utilize a “Cooperative Coaching Style” in order to negate this and allow my players to exude and possess as much personal autonomy as possible (thus, they are involved in decision-making processes and have the freedom/choice to make their own decisions). But, some coaches are just not for this particular philosophy or ideology.

I’m not saying that if you’re an old school, hard nose coach that you need to change your ways entirely – Rather, I am saying that if your players have certain pre-game rituals, then don’t step in the way. Honestly, your players will grow to resent you, they will stop playing hard for you, and they will lose interest in the sport. As a coach, you need to be willing to make accommodations for players who have these rituals.

A good example of this comes about 6 years ago during our soccer season – We had a guy on our team who was a really good player, but soccer was his second sport. This guy really enjoyed basketball and was good at it too. Prior to games he would mess around with the soccer ball and play with it like it was a basketball. Our coach told him, “Hey. This isn’t basketball. Stop using your hands in warm ups”. Our guy went out that game and had a rough performance. I remember after the game talking to my coach – I was captain of our team that year so I knew I had a bit of a license to speak to my coach on touchy matters – I said, “Hey, maybe you can let him do his pre-game ritual before the game. He plays well when he does”. Our coach allowed it from that point forward. We ended up going 25-0 that season. And, that guy who would use a soccer ball as a basketball before every game was an integral part of our success that year.

The bottom line is that players need some freedom. This freedom, in many cases, comes in the form of pre-game rituals/superstitions. Set your players up for success, coaches. Allow room for all that funky, weird, and sometimes unusual pre-game procedures to happen. Your players will respect you for your understanding.