Superstitions in SU Sports

SU student-athletes share their daily rituals and superstitions that they believe affect their game.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform every game. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs was known for eating a chicken before each baseball game. Top female tennis player Serena Williams always brings her shower sandals to the court.

But why do these athletes do these same things before every game?

"I wear the same thing every day for practice. I don’t like changing things up, it makes me uncomfortable."
- SU football center Macky MacPherson

Athletes are known to be very superstitious – no matter what level – and there are some unusual ones. Jordan, Boggs and Williams made Bleacher Report's 50 weirdest sport superstitions. At Syracuse University, some athletes recognize they are superstitious, and others just have daily routines.

“I’ll bounce the ball three times for the first serve, and two times for the second serve,” said Maddie Kobelt, a junior on SU’s women’s tennis team. “I think I’ve just been doing that since I was 10. Our coaches taught us you need to have a ritual before you serve, whatever it is, so that’s just what I picked.”

Several SU tennis players mentioned that music was vital to their game time performances. Some, like sophomore Jimena Wu, are very specific about it.

“Music is the biggest thing for me,” Wu said. “I have to start a song from the beginning once I play it. The first song that I play in the morning has to start from the beginning –- it can’t be in the middle of the song because it would ruin my day.”

Supersitions versus rituals

Superstitions and rituals are slightly different. Rituals are things a person does no matter what the outcome (in this case, the outcome of a game); they are daily routines. Superstitions are certain things someone does only when the desired outcome is reached, and will stop the actions when they stop “working.”

SU football center Macky MacPherson has routine rituals, and says it could be distracting if he didn’t do them.

“I like to do the same thing over and over,” MacPherson said. “I wear the same thing every day for practice. I don’t like changing things up, it makes me uncomfortable, so it would probably be in the back of my mind somewhere.”

Since the eighth grade, SU softball senior Morgan Nandin has chewed two pieces of Bazooka bubble gum during every softball game she’s played. During high school at Cicero North Syracuse, Nandin had a close call before a game she'll never forget.

“I remember in high school…I ran out of my Bazooka,” Nandin recalled. “I usually have like 10 boxes before the season starts and that usually gets me through the season. I just pour the boxes out in my bag, and before one game, I only had one piece left, so I couldn’t have my two, and I was obviously having a little panic attack. Now, I always make sure I have enough Bazooka for all my games.”


Do these behaviors actually work? One study's research says yes. A study conducted in the Netherlands showed that rituals could help reduce anxiety, and another conducted by a softball player at McKendree University found that some athletes use superstitions because they believe they can control the outcome of plays, games, and performance simply by doing something that previously worked.

There is no concrete evidence to prove that superstitions or daily rituals actually determine the outcome of a game. Yet athletes all over the world continue to believe wearing a pair of lucky socks or not talking to a pitcher if he or she is pitching a no-hitter will make a difference in a game. And this will continue forever. After all, it seemed to work for Michael Jordan.

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