Settling the score on athletic superstitions

Sophia Woods, Feature Writer

Even the arguably greatest basketball player Michael Jordan was convinced that it wasn’t just his amazing skills and 6’6” build that made up for his success but his University of North Carolina shorts.  Jordan wore these shorts under his uniform  in every NBA game after assisting UNC to win the NCAA Championship in 1982.  

Though many people have an object that they believe is helpful in their everyday lives, athletes take this idea to a whole new level. While it seems extremely unlikely that one pair of shorts could result in a six time NBA champion, the science backs up the positive effect of superstitions. 

Since humans associate objects to experiences and feelings, connecting a big win to a pair of socks or a certain specific routine will bring those memories back leaving the athlete feeling more confident. 

This assurance of feeling positive, calm and prepared is the best thing an athlete can do before starting a big event. Superstitions allow athletes to feel more in control and aware of what is happening, thus lowering stress levels. 

Most humans believe they can control the outcome of an event by engaging in superstitious routines, when in fact one event does not ensure the outcome of a future event.” psychology teacher Brandie Schlott said. “However, superstitions can help an individual feel like they are in control, so in some way it could help athletes ‘feel’ like it will enhance performance.”

This connection is also a common symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. While the two are not directly correlated, obsessive, ritualistic behaviors performed by athletes are a common symptom of the illness. 

OCD is a clinically diagnosed condition that consists of an individual’s obsessive thoughts leading them to compulsive behavior,”  “The technical term is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).Typically, someone with OCD understands it’s not rational but the thoughts are so pervasive they have to engage in compulsive behavior in order to cope.”

When a lucky handshake or sock becomes more harmful than helpful, superstitions can become detrimental. 

Typically engaging in superstitious rituals is simply a flawed way of thinking,” Schlott said.  

Even after tapping a bat three times or wearing their lucky socks, behaviors that should provide confidence, they cannot seem to calm down and repeat habits over and over. They do this without realizing how much time and mental energy is being wasted. 

Any human can have obsessive thoughts, or engage in compulsive (think rituals) behavior.” Schlott says. “However, those with clinically diagnosed OCD have the symptoms to such a degree they cannot function.”

The illness affects more than just players, though. New Jersey college basketball coach Steve Sauers battled OCD back in 2018. states that one of Sauers’ symptoms was strong superstititons: he had to eat the same foods, bring the same pens, and if he didn’t, he took the blame for the loss of the game.

From a certain bat to a perfect routine, superstitions are everywhere. 

North alumni and Elmhurst college tennis player Adrian Songco puts the entire outcome of a game on his racket. “If I don’t play with my Babolot pure drive racket, I won’t win.”