We can find superstitions in just about every walk of life. So it is no surprise to discover the world of sports is filled with them, from hugely successful sports stars who favour certain clothing or good luck charms to fans who carry out the exact same ritual before every game.
Which top stars are slaves to their superstitions and is there any evidence that they provide real benefits? The following are a few of the many ways that deeply rooted, irrational beliefs can be seen in sports.
Caption: Serena Williams showing her fearsome power
Tiger Woods and His Red T-Shirts
As arguably one of the greatest golfers the world has ever seen, you might think that Tiger Woods doesn’t need to rely on superstitions to play well. During a glittering career, he has won 15 major championships and spent well over 500 weeks as the planet’s number one ranked player. He is currently planning a major match with Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Yet, his tradition of wearing a red t-shirt on the final day of tournaments is legendary. If you see him playing competitively on a Sunday then you can be sure that he is wearing red. But why did he decide on this colour?
There have been numerous theories about why he does this, from intimidating opponents to acting as a danger signal for others as he climbs up the leaderboard in the closing holes. Woods has confused matters by giving different reasons for it in his interviews over the years.
Most commonly, he says that his mother told him to wear red, as she believes that it is his power colour. However, he also stated on occasions that he started wearing red as it was high-school sports colour and he just stuck with it.
Whatever the reason, the sight of Woods wearing red on a Sunday has turned into a powerful psychological weapon that puts doubts into the minds of his rivals from the very first hole on the last day.
Serena Williams and Her Unchanged Socks
Serena Williams is another of the most successful sports stars of recent times. She has won 23 Grand Slam tennis titles, which is the most by any player in recent history. Williams also spent over 300 weeks as the world number one in the years in which she dominated the sport.
Her success is most likely down to her powerful physique and endless hours or practising, with a training session with Mike Tyson showing how hard she trains. However, Williams apparently puts a lot of the credit down to her socks.
When she goes on a winning streak in a tournament, she refuses to change her socks even in a tournament that lasts a couple of weeks.
She also has another couple of superstitions you might have noticed too, as she needs to bounce the ball five times before making her first serve. The other is that she ties her laces in exactly the same way before every game.
It isn’t clear why and when she started with these good-luck traditions. However, like many sporting superstitions, they are now firmly engrained in her approach to games and are an integral part of her build-up to games.
Tennis is a sport that is rife with superstitions like these. From Andre Agassi playing without underwear to Rafa Nadal carefully placing his water bottles and only taking cold showers, there are numerous examples of seemingly pointless rituals in this game.
Ordinary Fans Have Their Lucky Charms Too
The use of good luck charms and rituals isn’t restricted to just the top players. Many fans will stick to an established routine or look out their lucky garments before settling down to watch a game. In some cases, watching an event without fulfilling their superstition is unthinkable.
A survey by Wink Slots revealed the fascinating fact that 26% of British adults own a good luck charm, with an estimated 12 million of them relying on lucky pants to guide their favourite team or player to success.
This isn’t a belief that is restricted to the UK, though. All across the planet, sports fans choose anything from blankets to t-shirts and from hats to shoes, to use over and over again if it brings them luck once.
Many people will perform the same rituals before every match, sit in exactly the same position or even not watch the action if this is what they think will guarantee the result that they are after.
Of course, we know that these rituals have no effect on the outcome. Even the luckiest pair of pants in the world isn’t going to influence a game that their owner is watching. But do the players’ superstitions and rituals have more effect?
Caption: Tiger Woods celebrates in red
Do Superstitions in Sport Work?
It seems clear that a pair of dirty socks or a t-shirt of a certain colour won’t cause any player to win more than they otherwise would have done. Stars like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams would be incredible athletes regardless of what they wore or what rituals that carried out.
Yet, there is something reassuring about these superstitions that seems to have a positive effect on them. Some athletes have spoken out about how eating the same meal or wearing the same clothes helps them to relax.
They also inspire confidence for some reason. Dr. Paul van Lange co-authored a study called “The Psychological Benefits of Superstitious Rituals in Top Sport: A Study Among Top Sportspersons”. In it, he pointed out that sports players feel more confident and in control if they truly believe in their rituals.
Perhaps it is about feeling that they have more control over a certain aspect of the preparation. Or perhaps it is about taking their mind off the upcoming challenges, so that they don’t get too uptight.
It is far better to worry about finding the right socks or exactly where to place your water bottle than to worry about your opponent’s serve or your sore shoulder. In this way, these superstitions act as a way of relaxing and focussing on something that even the player probably knows deep down is unimportant.
Superstitions like these have been around for as long as sports have existed, and are likely to carry on being used long into the future. As long as people need to take their minds off the game, they will always find something else to worry about and think about.