Superstition in Sports


Superstitions are prevalent everywhere and the world of sports is no different. Over the years, there have been several sports persons who have indulged in their superstitions time and time again, for they thought doing this bit would help them perform better and win. In all fairness, superstitions are about one’s belief and faith, so while some do it because they find it lucky, others follow suit because they find it to be having actual scientific benefits for them. Some famous instances of athletes at the highest echelon of their sport indulging in seemingly illogical beliefs include our very own Sachin Tendulkar always putting on his left pad first and Rafael Nadal always placing his sports drink and water bottles the same way, diagonally aligned near his bench.

The origin of every athletes’ superstition is varying for each of them. Some superstitions started at the beginning of one’s career, such as Michael Jordan who wore North Carolina practice shorts under his NBA Jersey for good luck. Others developed later in their careers, such as Roger Federer’s belief in the number 8, after winning Wimbledon in 2003, Federer made it a point to have eight bottles of water, light rubs to the face with his towel, eight different rackets in his bag. The stand out aspect about superstition is that it is unifying, from relatively new players to the legends of the game, almost all of them have their own superstitions.

The drive and urge to win for every sportsperson is huge, and if something works for them once, they stick to it, even if it doesn’t work every time, waiting and hoping that it will work again in the next match. For example, Serena Williams once forgot to pack extra pairs of socks and wore the same pair throughout the tournament and ended up winning it. This turned into a superstition, where now she wears the same pair of socks throughout the whole tournament. She hasn’t won every tournament she’s entered with that ritual, but she continues to stick to it till this day because it worked for her once in the past.

People turn to their beliefs and faiths when the chips are down and they are under pressure. Sachin Tendulkar was going through a rough patch against Australia in 2004, having performed below par in the first three test matches. In the fourth test match, at the end of the first day, Tendulkar, having remained unbeaten on 73, made it a point to return to the same restaurant, sit on the same table, and order the same food as the previous night. This went on for 3 consecutive days and Tendulkar ended up scoring 241 not out. This shows that even one of the greatest batsman in the history of cricket turned to superstition because he drew strength and confidence from it, and it helped him score runs.

It is all about the belief in the practice, rather than the practice itself. Even when the practice is not done properly, if the player believes that it has been done, they feel at ease and perform. An example being that of Pele, one of the greatest footballers of all time, who gave his shirt to a fan after a match. Following the match, Pele’s form dipped, and to get back to his best, Pele sent a friend of his to track down the fan, retrieve the shirt from him and bring it back to Pele. His friend did so and after getting the shirt, Pele returned to his best. Years later, Pele’s friend revealed that he couldn’t find the fan, and unknown to Pele, he gave him a replica of the shirt. This shows that it was about Pele’s belief in that shirt, not the shirt itself.

There are various superstitions in the sport itself, rather than the sportsmen. Various numbers, positions, and timelines have been said to be an ill omen and players actively avoid them. In Football, Liverpool coach Jurgen Kloppforbade his players from touching the famous “This Is Anfield” sign. In cricket, especially Australia, the number 13 is said to be cursed in both ways, batsmen actively avoid reaching 13 and 87, 13 less than 100, this superstition stemming from the fact that it was believed that Sir Donald Bradman was once bowled while on 87, although it was later revealed that he was on 89. Yet 87 is known as the Devil’s number in Cricket. Umpire David Shepherd had a habit of standing on one foot and hopping to ward off evil spirits whenever the score reached 111, 222 and such multiples. So superstitions are a part of the current sports world, some are funny, some are common, and while others are outlandish. It’s all about how much faith does a player have in their beliefs and to what lengths are they ready to go to practice it.