Superstitions are Game Changers

Garrett Hallinan

As a way of building confidence and gaining an edge, some athletes rely on different superstitions before playing in games.

At any sports event, an athlete is exposed to a sizable crowd. There, the fans are hootin’ and hollerin’, while the player is in a state of mixed emotions. The athlete needs something to stabilize and ready himself for the big game.

For some athletes, that something is a superstition.

“[A superstition] is something that you have to do before you play,” junior Keith Maguire said. “Something easy and quick that you do, it does not have to be something that is perfect.”

Maguire, who starts at linebacker and wide receiver for Malvern’s varsity football team, has a few rituals before playing in a game. Unlike other athletes’ superstitions, Maguire’s revolves around a fellow teammate.

“Usually, I will get Billy Carlini to tape my wrist before we go out every game,” Maguire said. “As we go out, we are right behind the seniors and I am on the left side.”

SAME PLACE, EACH GAME • Juniors Billy Carlini and Keith Maguire head to the field for a fall 2017 varsity football game. “Usually, I will get Billy Carlini to tape my wrist before we go out every game,” Maguire said. “As we go out, we are right behind the seniors and I am on the left side.”

Pre-game rituals don’t only apply to football. There are common superstitions in the whole world of sports.

“For athletics, it could be as simple as ‘I can’t walk on a line as I am walking on a field,’” Head Athletic Director Mr. Kurt Ruch said. “You see a lot of baseball pitchers do that. You see soccer players blessing themselves as they walk on the field and a batter putting dirt in his hands a certain way. I think for them it is a mental thing to get them focused and get them on target with whatever their sport is.”

Quoted in Ohio State Insights, sports psychologist Dr. Stephen Graef suggests that superstitions just might work because athletes perceive that the superstition impacts their behavior—and perception is reality.

“They feel good if they have the superstitious behavior in line,” Graef stated. “But if you really challenge that reality, it doesn’t have an impact… But if it helps help them to feel more confident going into the arena of battle because of it, then it in some ways it is impacting their performance.”

Junior Connor Leyden, who plays for Malvern’s varsity basketball team, also believes that superstitions aid athletes’ performance mentally, not physically.

“If you actually think about it, it’s not like you did this so you are going to be great at it,” Leyden said. “But a lot of sports, like basketball, come down to making shots so it is a mental game. I do think that superstitions help a little to keep your mind in the same routine.”

Leyden has two habits. One applies to everything that he does, the other is just for Malvern basketball games.

“When I go up or down stairs, my last step has to be with my right foot,” Leyden said. “I have certain staircases at Malvern, at my house, and different places memorized.”

For basketball games, different from one’s typical pre-game meal of a turkey sandwich or a bowl of pasta, Leyden stands out with his Swedish Fish.

“Part of the reason I do the Swedish Fish thing is even players at all levels always have their certain pregame meal, whether that’s spaghetti or whatever it may be,” Leyden said. “I want to find my own thing that I have not really heard, so that’s where the Swedish Fish comes from.”

PRE-GAME RITUAL • Junior Connor Leyden dines on Swedish Fish before every varsity basketball game. / G. HALLINAN

Unlike Leyden, senior Quinn McCahon, who plays varsity lacrosse for Malvern, does not believe in superstitions.

“Everything is just luck, things happen,” McCahon said. “ I learned that they really don’t work because you do them and you have a bad game, so basically they don’t mean anything anymore.”

Despite McCahon’s disbelief, he still has a few of his own.

“One of my superstitions is as we run out every game we go into stretch lines and I have to be behind the same captain in the same line every single time,” McCahon said.

BUT HE’S NOT SUPERSTITIOUS • Senior Quinn McCahon stretches on the same line for every lacrosse game. / G. HALLINAN

In addition to an athlete using a superstition to his advantage, the fans who are watching the games have their own too.

The fans may not have an impact on a game’s outcome. “It’s true that growing a playoff beard won’t help your favorite team advance,” Graef stated. “However, if you’re a performer and you feel that growing the beard for the playoffs is something that builds team cohesion and builds some confidence in yourself as you head to the postseason, it can have an impact on confidence and remaining motivated.”

Superstitions can still be fun for sports fans.

“I think that there are a lot more of them if you are not playing,” Maguire said. “I have a lot more superstitions watching the Eagles. If I wore a certain jersey and they [the Eagles] won that game, then I am wearing that same jersey again, or the same clothes, and I am sitting in the same spot.”

Superstitions may not make an athlete better in his sport, but they boost self-confidence, which is what it all comes down to when playing in any sporting event.


REMINISCING THE OLD DAYS • Head Athletic Director Mr. Kurt Ruch holds a t-shirt to represent his superstition. Ruch, who played baseball and basketball back in high school, wore the same t-shirt for each game. / G. HALLINAN