Friday the 13th: Do Superstitions in Sports Work?

In honor of today being Friday the 13th I am going to talk about superstitions in sports and working out! Does anybody have any? When I played tennis in high school and a little bit in college I would do twist my racquet in my hand a certain way before each serve or I would make sure I did the same stretches in the exact same order before starting a match. I thought if I do this I would continue to win! Sometimes it worked (or so I thought) and sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t I would try and figure out what I did in my little ‘ritual’ that was different than usual. Usually nothing was done differently and it was just the luck of the draw but I thought it had something to do with what I did repeatedly every match. In sports this is especially prominent and many teams and athletes have some type of ritual they have to do in their training or games.

Superstition in Sports

Superstitions are usually developed almost by accident and then required in future events. A superstition arises when an athlete or team has a good (or bad) performance and then tries to establish “cause and effect” by reviewing the facts of the day. They will all notice things like what they ate or wore and they’ll notice anything unusual that happened such as getting a haircut, receiving a gift or hearing a certain song. If they have a great performance they attribute their success to that unusual circumstance and attempt to recreate it before every competition.

Does Superstition in Sports Work?

Sometimes the real value in superstitions and rituals are the boost of confidence and the sense of control that they can provide an athlete. If you believe that doing a specific action or behavior will make you perform better, then you probably will perform better. This is the foundation of sports psychology. Many athletes use rituals such as visualization, to recreate a successful race and experience the feelings they had then as though they are happening now. This recall and visualization can prepare them both mentally and physically for competition.

Here are some common rituals for different sports:


  • Spitting into your hand before picking up the bat is said to bring good luck.
  • A wad of gum stuck on a player’s hat brings good luck.
  • It is bad luck if a dog walks across the diamond before the first pitch.
  • Some players believe it is good luck to step on one of the bases before running off the field at the end of an inning.
  • It is bad luck to touch the baselines while running off and onto the field between innings.
  • Lending a bat to a fellow player is a serious jinx.
  • Some players actually sleep with their bat to break out of a hitting slump or stay in a groove.
  • If a pitcher is throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter, never speak of it while it’s going on.


  • The last person to shoot a basket during the warm-up will have a good game.
  • Wipe the soles of your sneakers for good luck.
  • Bounce the ball before taking a foul shot for good luck.


  • To continue a winning streak, wear the same clothes.
  • The number 300, a perfect score, on your license plate will increase your score.
  • Carry charms on your bowling bag, in your pockets, or around your neck for good luck.


  • Fish may not bite if a barefoot woman passes you on the way to the dock.
  • Spit on your bait before casting your rod to make fish bite.
  • Throw back your first catch for good luck.
  • It is bad luck to change rods while fishing.
  • Don’t tell anyone how many fish you’ve caught until you’re done or you won’t catch another.


  • Double numbers on a player’s uniform brings good luck.
  • It’s bad luck for a professional football player to take a new number when he is traded to another team.
  • A mascot is an important good luck symbol.


  • Start only with odd-numbered clubs.
  • Balls with a number higher than 4 are bad luck.
  • Carry coins in your pockets for good luck.

Ice Hockey

  • It is bad luck for hockey sticks to lie crossed.
  • It is bad luck to say “shutout” in the locker room before a game.
  • Players believe they’ll win the game if they tap the goalie on his shin pads before a game.
  • Many players must put their pads and skates on in exactly the same order every day.


  • Always put the right foot in the stirrup first.
  • Avoid wearing the color yellow.
  • Always shave before a competition (for men only!)


  • It’s bad luck to hold more than two balls at a time when serving.
  • Avoid wearing the color yellow.
  • Walk around the outside of the court when switching sides for good luck.
  • Avoid stepping on the court lines.

Do any of you do these sorts of things? How about when you exercise?


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