by 105 student
To the detached observer, athletes may seem like a strange group of people, performing irrational routines in preparation for an event. Perhaps you have heard that Michael Jordan wore blue University of North Carolina shorts under his Bull’s uniform for good luck or that National Hockey League goaltender, Patrick Roy, was said to have talked to the goalposts throughout games, or noticed that Tiger Woods always wears red on Sundays. If you have ever played a sport, you or your team may have had certain rituals such as wearing purple socks on game days or eating waffles at the previous meal.
Superstition is generally first developed in hindsight, for example: an athlete reviews a performance and then establishes cause and effect between certain circumstances such as wearing green socks and playing well. In 1948, B.F. Skinner studied superstitious behavior in pigeons. After a pigeon was reduced to 75 percent of its weight (when well fed), a food hopper was presented at regular intervals into the pigeon’s cage. In the majority of cases, the birds started to perform distinct behaviors such as turning counter clockwise or swinging the head and body in a pendulum motion close to the time the food was presented. Even though there was no actual causal relationship, the birds continued to perform certain behaviors presumably because of an initial coincidence. By definition, superstitious actions do not have any inherent value yet many athletes still refuse to change their behavior. Are they wrong or simply stubborn by acting this way? Many studies indicate the opposite, superstitious behavior does serve a purpose.
Chance plays a part in the outcome of virtually all sports, creating a relatively uncertain environment. Optimal athletic performance demands a heightened mental state known as the flow state or being in the zone,essentially a good match between the demands of the sport and the abilities of the athlete (Marr, 2001). A survey of male and female athletes at the University of Western Ontario indicated that athletes use superstitions to regulate their emotions in stressful situations such as sporting events. Though superstitious behavior may have no rational foundation, athletes believe they have a greater sense of control over the outcome of the situation, helping them to reach an optimal mental state (Burke, 2006).
Regardless of an athlete’s specific rituals, superstitions may serve an important role in athletic performance. Remember this the next time you hear about an athlete’s strange pregame routine.
Burke, Kevin L. (2006). An Exploratory Investigation of Superstition, Personal Control, Optimism and Pessimism in NCAA Division I Intercollegiate Student-Athletes. Athletic Insight, 8(2). Retrieved April 21, 2010 from http://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol8Iss2/Superstition.htm
Gregory, Jane C. and Brain M. Petrie. (1972). Superstition in Sport. University of Waterloo. Presented at the Fourth Canadian Psychomotor Learning and Sports Psychology Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/34/0f/45.pdf
Marr, Arthur J. (2001). In the Zone: A Biobehavioral Theory of the Flow Experience. Athletic Insight, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol3Iss1/Commentary.htm
Skinner, B.F. (1947). Superstition in the Pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, pgs. 168-172. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/