Superstitious Behaviour!

You’ve heard people talk about them. You may even have one or two of your own – a habit, a ritual, or a personality trait. Some wear special underwear and panic if they forget their tube of body glide; others leave their favourite socks on while a few even take a shower and like to do their hair and makeup beforehand, because it makes them feel clean, and fresh……. a bit silly really considering that they are just about to sweat! I have to make sure I go to the toilet in advance of it.  Many have a preference for the choice of side they do it on with their partner…….. I have to run on the right hand side.   We all have rituals before we run, from the weird ceremony we have before running to the funny things we do while running, there’s no shortage of strangeness.


All sport is full of superstitions, from athletes who perform a specific routine before every event to others who believe certain items to be lucky or unlucky. Poor performance is often blamed on a failure to follow ceremony or the wrong choice of gear, rather than personal responsibility. But all these strange, small and seemingly inconsequential beliefs can actually be linked to improved performance in athletes because they may afford them a sense of control over events that often dependent on chance (Schippers & Van Lange, 2006). Elite athletes are more superstitious than amateurs. The greater the skill and task-difficulty of a sport the more superstitious the participants tend to be (Dömötör et al., 2016) A 1986 experiment   which investigated  the effect rituals carried out before taking a free throw during a basketball game showed that “Rituals” work  because the person believes in them and expects a positive outcome as a result of following their ceremonial routine (Lobmeyer & Wasserman, 1986).

So superstitious tendencies, or rituals as they are better known, are part of a widely accepted practice used by athletes across many different sports and are often renamed “routines” (Bleak & Frederick, 1998). Some may seem silly, others are more on the serious side, but all of them work to ground, calm, and focus. Sometimes the belief in the non-athletic things is so strong it can throw you off your game that it can ruin your race if it isn’t there – forgetting that lucky pair of socks you’ve worn for every marathon or long training run you’ve done can drive you insane. You may have things you do whether you realize them or not, but it’s all important to your race preparation and the race itself. Investing the time to create running rituals will pay come race day; remember you’re not strange or weird….. You’re just a runner.


Bleak JL & Frederick CM. (1998). Superstitious behavior in sport: Levels of effectiveness and determinants of use in three collegiate sports. Journal of Sport Behavior 21, 1-15.


Dömötör Z, Ruíz-Barquín R & Szabo A. (2016). Superstitious behavior in sport: A literature review. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 57, 368-382.


Lobmeyer DL & Wasserman EA. (1986). Preliminaries to free throw shooting: Superstitious behavior? Journal of Sport Behavior 9, 70-78.


Schippers M & Van Lange P. (2006). The Psychological Benefits of Superstitious Rituals in Top Sport: A Study Among Top Sportspersons1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 36, 2532-2553.


3 thoughts on “Superstitious Behaviour!

  1. Nice read Barry, did a paper recently on the efficacy of recovery modalities for high performance athletes- ice baths, compression clothing etc.

    The conclusion I reached after sifting through research was, once the athlete buys into the strategy and is performing optimally, whose to say there’s no merits to it’s use, scientifically or other wise?

  2. Good Read Barry,
    Recently finished a paper on efficacy of 4 post exercise recovery modalities for athletes, compression gear vs ice baths vs pool session vs active recovery. Pro’s & cons , facts & fallacies.

    After going through a lot of research, the conclusion I reached was, If the athlete is mentally buying into it and performance is to a good level, who can criticise any chosen strategy , scientifically sound or otherwise?

    Similar enough take home point.

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