Kirby Hora doesn’t follow the typical bedtime routine, at least not the night before a game.
Before he hops in the shower or brushes those pearly whites, Hora must lay out his clean equipment in preparation for the next day’s game.
He starts with his pants, putting the necessary pads and belt inside. Next, he puts his socks in his shoes, starting from left to right. He continues until he has all of his pads in order and his jersey on his shoulder pads. Only then is he ready to go.
This is the routine that Hora, a redshirt freshman who plays linebacker, follows consistently. For Hora, this part of the routine is just the beginning.
When it is time to walk to the football complex for the game, Hora makes sure that he is first in line. When he arrives he takes a 17-minute nap. After he wakes up, he heads to the baseball field, where he quietly sits for a while. When he is ready he heads back to the complex and takes a shower.
Throughout this whole process Hora deliberately puts each piece of clothing on from left to right, until he is fully equipped to head out to the field.
While this is just Hora’s routine, he knows that there are other athletes who make a point to keep to a regular system.
“Whether a football player or any athlete wants to admit it, they each have their own routine that they do, whether they believe it or not,” said Hora.
Even Hora’s teammates have their own ways of getting ready.
“Some guys seclude themselves and listen to their own music. Some guys are watching college football that’s already being played,” Hora said. “Some guys just sit there and talk to each other.”
Before an event, almost all athletes have a way to prepare themselves for what is to come. But these performances differ from person to person. And while some practices, like stretching, are proven to help performance, others, like putting your clothes on a certain way, have not been proven to be helpful or necessary. So why do athletes do them?
According to Benjamin Jeppsen, a psychology professor at Augustana, these routines have to do with something called the anxiety avoidance cycle. Jeppsen explains that people get anxiety from high-pressure situations, like an athlete before a big game. To escape the anxiety of these situations the person affected will often perform an action to decrease their anxiety. If successful, the person will continue to perform that action every time they are in a similar situation. This process is called operant conditioning.
The routines that athletes follow before a game operate along the same principles.
“Athletes who wear the same socks operate along these same lines where they did something and it helped them succeed,” Jeppsen said. “So the next time it comes around they might feel nervous about a performance and they realize ‘well last time I was wearing these socks.’ If I put on those socks my anxiety goes down a little bit because that was just one thing I did that makes me feel a little more confident, even though it’s not related to my performance at all. They’re just socks.”
So, if an athlete does something specific to prepare, does that make the “routine” a superstition? Not according to Jeppsen.
“In sports we have something called a pre-performance routine,” said Jeppsen. “Pre-performance routines are similar to superstitions but they are not the same thing. Tennis players, before they serve, do the same thing every time. Those are pre-performance routines, not superstitions, because they have a clear, logical purpose.”
This purpose is what separates superstition from a pre-performance routine. Pre-performance actions are like a script in athletes minds that they have repeated over and over. By now the action is so ingrained in their reflexes that it becomes essential to a good performance.
Superstitions, however, do not have a direct connection to a good performance, but they can have an indirect one.
Augustana golf coach Danny Sinksen recognizes the influence that both superstitions and pre-performance routines have on the players.
Sinksen’s personal superstition actually involves marking the ball the same way every time and using a coin that has a picture of his daughter on it to do so.
Not all superstitions practiced by athletes are necessarily meant to improve individual game day performance. Some are done to prevent negative things from happening.
“If we would talk about a game or something, I would feel like we would jinx it, so I would have to knock on wood,” said Shelby Selland, a junior who plays center on the women’s basketball team.
Selland admitted that it is also necessary for her to chew gum during the warm-up period before a game, spitting it into the garbage after the national anthem. This practice is done before every game and is a routine that she plans to keep.
One of Selland’s basketball coaches, Katie Bourk, also has her own special way to make sure that both she and the team are ready on game day.
“I always have a Mountain Dew at our shoot-around, so usually it’s at 10, but whenever our shoot-around is,” said Bourk. She prefers canned Mountain Dew versus bottled.
“I don’t necessarily believe in it or am crazy about it, but I just do it to do it, I guess,” Bourk said.
However, even if she doesn’t necessarily believe, she still does it as part of her routine to prepare before a game. “When you have success in something, you don’t want to change it up,” she said.
Bourk also admitted that superstitions affect a number of choices made by coaches when preparing for a sporting event. If a team loses to another team in a certain color jersey, the team will wear a different color jersey if possible.
No matter the sport, the way that athletes prepare themselves is important to making sure that they are prepared to perform at their highest capacity and most importantly, that they are comfortable doing so.
“If you feel prepared in what you’re doing, it’s like a system, it’s routine, it’s what you know,” Hora said. “I always do the exact same thing and I feel comfortable doing that, I’ve always done it and I’m going to do it next year too.”
Leave a Reply