Superstitions What’s the Deal Anyway?

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Oxford Dictionary defines superstition “A widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.”

One morning while living in Markham years ago and working downtown, I used a car service after a late evening the night before. As the sedan slowed in front of our building at York and King St. it suddenly dawned on me the driver had taken a different route than was the norm. It was my error not instructing the driver the preferred directions, so to right the situation he circled back to the DVP and drove my regular arrival route.

John Madden coached the Oakland Raiders during the glory years of the 1970’s and adamantly insisted that travelling to road games the team used the same airline and stayed at the same hotels. Everything was exact in each city, including room floors, taping and meeting rooms, dining Hall, bus departures to and from the stadium, along with the travel itinerary given to the wives of each player.

In 1984 Wayne Gretzky went on a 51 consecutive games point streak that actually extended 10 games from the previous year but wasn’t recognized. In this remarkable time frame Gretzky put up astounding numbers (61 goals, 92 assists, 153 points) and would go on to break the 200 point total (in 74 games) for the 2nd time in his career.
During the streak he wore his traditional Daoust skates, but constant wear split the leather heel inside the boot piercing his Achilles tendon, causing Wayne considerable discomfort. The Oilers training staff failed miserably attempting to correct the problem because usually a player would just replace the skates with new ones but double 9’s wouldn’t change. He wore them through the streak.

Between periods the late Pelle Lindbergh drank a Swedish Beer (had to be Pripps) with no more than two ice cubes in the glass, served by the same trainer.

Wade Boggs only ate chicken on game days and with 40 recipes to choose from his wife would make hundreds of meals each season.

Players are known for rituals that may seem trite or trivial but it’s more about feeling comfortable without distractions. John Madden’s anal-like approach to team travel was directing focus to the opponent rather than a player upset the Westin didn’t blend milkshakes like the hotel they usually stayed or the egg-salad wasn’t made similar.

Nothing defines the copycat world of sports more today than the also ran’s trying to match the winning formula of the successful teams. Five times Wimbledon Champion Bjorn Borg prepared for the tournament each year by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt. Teams in the NHL (1980’s Islanders were thought to be the first) picked up on the beard ritual that’s become almost a pre-requisite to participate in the playoffs. For some players everything from sitting on the team bus, getting dressed, taping a stick, to leaving the ice, is a process Batters choreograph an approach for each plate appearance, from the walk up song to getting set for the pitch.
Patrick Roy talked to his goal posts during games; Mark Fidrych became an overnight pitching sensation with the Detroit Tigers in 1976, spoke to himself between pitches and manicured the mound to start every inning. Glenn Hall threw up before every start in goal; Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Bulls uniform every game; Gretzky drank a diet coke, water and Gatorade between periods, in the same order; Ken Dryden wouldn’t leave the pre-game warm-up until he made one last save. Certain players like to be last on or off the ice after every period; the Pens broke the supposed jinx of touching any Cup other than the Stanley Cup a few years ago, they won.

Throughout my career I refused to listen to the news driving to work for fear I’d have preconceived ideas about what was happening in the markets, choosing instead to play rock music loud. My objective was to react to the impact of what was happening when I turned on the News screens at my desk, creating my own ideas.

Incidentally before turning in each night, I religiously checked the wake-up time on my alarm clock and tested the radio 3-times to make sure it was perfectly positioned. I was up 10-minutes before it was set each morning and the alarm never woke me once throughout my time on Bay St.

It’s of no consequence whether you play sports professionally or are a part of the working world; we all have our own quirky habits to get us through the day.

On a daily basis you may wake up, have breakfast, arrive at work by car or transit, read the paper with a Tim’s coffee sitting at your desk and answer emails before you start work. Is this superstitious because you follow the same ritual everyday? Of course not!

Do really think because Stan Mikita used to smoke between periods and then toss the butt over his left shoulder it contributed to his Hall Of Fame career? Goalies who religiously clean there crease every stoppage packing snow around the goalposts; does this slow a puck from entering the net? (Some used to place snow along the goal line). During the 1976 Playoffs against Philadelphia, Leafs coach Red Kelly without the player’s knowledge placed pyramids under the bench and dressing room. The Leafs came back and tied the series but lost in 7-games.

According to scientist our brain represents, “3% of our body’s weight but uses 20% of the body’s energy;” thus the clearer the mind, the more energy to concentrate on the challenge presented. If you apply that to a professional athlete, by ridding the mind of distraction by a set routine, ritual or if you insist a superstition, then they should react quicker in game situations. It makes sense.

Failing that you could apply ex-Maple Leaf Jim McKenny’s approach to success in the NHL, “Half the game is mental and the other half is being mental”